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Russia Takes Helm Of UN Security Council, Turns Focus On Ukraine


Russia holds the presidency at the United Nations Security Council at the moment. That role rotates monthly. And this is shaping up to be a month of high diplomatic drama. Russia's ambassador is trying to keep the council focused on Ukraine. He's calling for humanitarian corridors to provide aid the east of the country. The U.S. and other council members accused Russia of hypocrisy. And they plan to focus on other humanitarian concerns like Syria. Here is NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The way Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin speaks about Ukraine sounds similar to the way the U.S. and others talk about Syria, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, besieged cities in need of aid. Churkin has already circulated a draft resolution, calling for an end to Ukraine's military operations against separatists in the east of the country and demanding aid corridors.

VITALY CHURKIN: It would be very important to adopt this resolution and do it rapidly because it could play a role in stopping the violence in Ukraine.

KELEMEN: And that, he says, should be a priority for the Security Council. Ukraine's Ambassador calls the draft cynical and immoral, coming from a country that recently annexed part of Ukraine, the Crimean Peninsula. Here in Washington, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki was also dismissive of the Russian diplomatic move.

JEN PSAKI: It is hypocritical of the Russian leadership to call for an end to violence in the creation of humanitarian corridors, when at the same time armed, irregular forces are entering Ukraine from Russia. Weapons are being bought illegally from Russia into Ukraine. Russian-backed separatists are attacking new targets and holding OSCE monitoring teams hostage. And Russia is doing nothing to stop this activity.

KELEMEN: None of that critique seems to bother Ambassador Churkin, who often complains about U.S. double standards.

CHURKIN: Some members of the council seem to believe that the situation there can be settled by force, in fact, encourage Kiev to continue their punitive operation in eastern parts of Ukraine. We believe it's a grave mistake.

KELEMEN: Russia's words wouldn't ring so hollow if not for its position on Syria says Philippe Bolopion, who tracks the United Nations for Human Rights Watch. He says, at the moment, it's hard to take Russia seriously.

PHILIPPE BOLOPIAN: There is certainly a lot of political theater around the Ukraine in the Security Council right now. What we, as the human rights organization, are focused most on are the massive human rights violations that are happening in Syria and which are left unaddressed because Russia has chosen to block any Security Council action on this this.

KELEMEN: Toward the end of the Sochi Olympics, Russia did vote for one resolution calling for more humanitarian access in Syria. But U.N. officials say that has not been effective. And some council members want a follow up with a stronger resolution that has some teeth. Bolopion isn't sounding optimistic.

BOLOPIAN: Russia is very reluctant to do anything in the Security Council that will be seen as putting pressure on the Syrian government, which is most to blame for the lack of humanitarian access in Syria.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Churkin has already said he won't agree to a legally binding resolution that would force Syria to open up border crossings to aid convoys. Syria sees that as a violation of its sovereignty and Russia agrees. Asked at his news conference whether it's hypocritical that Russia doesn't support Ukraine's sovereignty, in a similar way, Churkin said simply no it's not and moved on to another question. Michelle Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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