Russian envoy claims West is determined to destroy Russia

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A week before the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin’s U.N. ambassador claimed that the West is driven by its determination to destroy Russia and declared: “We had no choice other than to defend our country — defend it from you, to defend our identity and our future.”

Western ambassadors shot back, accusing Russia of using a Security Council meeting it called on lessons learned from the failure to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists that began in 2014 to justify what France’s U.N. Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere called “the unjustifiable” – Russia’s invasion of its smaller neighbor on Feb. 24, 2022.

Friday's meeting in the council — the only international venue where Russia regularly faces Ukraine and its Western supporters — put a spotlight on the deep chasm between the warring parties as the conflict moves into its second year with no end in sight, tens of thousands of casualties on both sides, and new military offensives expected.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Western nations including France and Germany of “holding back” on implementing the Minsk agreements brokered by the two countries to end the conflict between Ukraine and the separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk in the country’s mostly Russian-speaking industrial east that flared in April 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“You knew very well that the Minsk process for you is just a smoke screen, so as to rearm the Kyiv regime and to prepare it for war against Russia in the name of your geopolitical interest,” Nebenzia said.

U.S. deputy ambassador Richard Mills accused Russia of failing to implement “a single commitment it made” in the Minsk agreements while the other signatories — France, Germany, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — “sought to implement them in good faith.”

France’s De Riviere said his country and Germany have worked “tirelessly” since 2015 to promote dialogue between parties. “The difficulties encountered in implementing these agreements can never serve as justification or mitigating circumstances for Russia’s choice to end the dialogue with violence,” he stressed.

De Riviere recalled that exactly a year ago, on Feb. 17, 2022, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin reaffirmed to the council that the Minsk agreements were “the only international legal basis” to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, and that rumors of Russian military intervention were unfounded and stemmed from Western paranoia. Four days later, Russia recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, and on Feb. 24 it invaded Ukraine.

“The one and only lesson to be learned here is that Russia, by attacking Ukraine, has chosen alone, to put an end to dialogue and negotiation,” De Riviere said. “It took the decision alone to shatter the Minsk agreements, whose main objective, let us remember, was the reintegration of some regions of Donetsk and Luhansk under full Ukrainian sovereignty, in exchange for broad decentralization.”

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward also cited Vershinin’s statement to the council that allegations of a Russian attack were baseless a week before President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion, and said the United Kingdom had learned some lessons.

“Russia lied when we warned of its intention to attack Ukraine,” she said. “Russia was planning for war while we called for diplomacy and de-escalation, and Russia continues to choose death and destruction while the world calls for a just peace.”

Russia’s Nebenzia blamed “a criminal policy by the Ukrainian leadership which was goaded by the collective West” for refusing to implement the Minsk agreements.

After a year of war, he told Western members of the Security Council, “Obviously, we will not be able to live in the future the way we did in the past.”

Nebenzia accused the West of “deep Russophobia," and a “determination to destroy my country, using others if possible.” And he claimed it is not interested “in building a European and Euro-Atlantic security system together with Russia” because “for you such a system can only be aimed against Russia.”

“We have no trust left in you and we are not able of believing any promises you make — not as regards a non-expansion of NATO in the east, or your desire not to interfere in our internal affairs, or your determination to live in peace,” Nebenzia said.

“You have shown that it’s impossible to negotiate with you," he said. “You’ve shown how treacherous you are by creating on our borders a neo-Nazi, neo-nationalist beehive and then stirring it up.”

Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya accused Russia of violating the Minsk agreements, citing as an example the Minsk memorandum of Sept. 19, 2014 ordering all military, militias and mercenaries to leave Ukraine that was never implemented.

“The truth is that Putin has proved once and for all to be impossible to negotiate with,” he said. “Russia’s consistent undermining and final killing of the Minsk agreements make that crystal clear.”

Ukraine urges “healthy forces in Russia, if there are any, to come to their senses and force Putin to implement the demands of the U.N. General Assembly to immediately cease the use of force and to withdraw Russian military forces from Ukraine,” Kyslytsya said. “The dictator should give up and recede into the past.”

Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press