UNITED NATIONS — Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution declaring Sunday’s referendum on the future of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula illegal, and close ally China abstained in a show of Moscow’s isolation.
Supporters of the U.S.-sponsored resolution knew that Russia would use its veto. But they put the resolution to a vote Saturday morning to show the strength of opposition to Moscow’s takeover of Crimea in the U.N. Security Council.
The final vote was 13 members in favor, China’s abstention, and Russia as a permanent council member casting a veto.
The resolution would have reaffirmed the council’s commitment to Ukraine’s “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.” It would have declared that the referendum on whether Crimea should become part of Russia “can have no validity, and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of Crimea.”
The resolution also urged all parties to immediately pursue a peaceful resolution to the dispute over Crimea through direct political talks — something Russia refuses to do because it says Ukraine’s new government came to power in an “illegal coup d’etat.”
“The resounding message from today’s vote is that Russia stands isolated in this council and in the international community,” Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told the council after the vote.
“Russia alone backs this referendum. Russia alone is prepared to violate international law, disregard the U.N. Charter and tear up its bilateral treaties,” he said. “This message will be heard well beyond the walls of this chamber.”
Before the vote, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council it was no secret that he would veto the resolution.
“We cannot go along with its assumption — that is declaring illegal the March 16 resolution,” he said.
Churkin said the people in Crimea have a right to self-determination and confirmed “that we will respect the will of the Crimean people during the March 16 referendum.”
China is very sensitive to the issue of territorial integrity because of Tibet and other restive areas.
China’s U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi reiterated Beijing’s support for “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states.”
He called for a political solution and an “international cordinating mechanism” to resolve the dispute.
The council meeting was the seventh on Ukraine in just over two weeks, but the U.N.’s most powerful body has been unable to take any action because of Russia’s veto power.
A six-hour meeting in London Friday between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov failed to delay the referendum.
Lavrov said Moscow will make no decisions about Crimea’s future, including whether to embrace it as a new territory, until after Sunday’s vote, but Kerry said the results are all but a foregone conclusion, and urged Russia’s parliament against accepting any offer to claim Crimea as its own.