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Security Council

Ukraine calls for immediate ceasefire as talks with Russia begin in Belarus

It comes as two UN emergency meetings are held today over the invasion of Ukraine.

LAST UPDATE | 28 Feb 2022

DELEGATIONS REPRESENTING Russia and Ukraine met for their first talks since the outbreak of war last week, with Kyiv demanding an “immediate ceasefire” as the number of refugees fleeing the country hit more than 500,000.

As the delegations arrived for talks on the border between Belarus and Ukraine, the Ukrainian president demanded the ceasefire “and the withdrawal of troops” – which Moscow is almost certain to reject.

“I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said previously of the talks.

It comes as the UN’s two major bodies – the 193-nation General Assembly and the more powerful 15-member Security Council – are holding separate meetings today on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

During yesterday’s Council meeting, many speakers called for diplomatic efforts to peacefully settle the crisis, and said they would be watching the Ukraine-Russia meeting on the Belarus border closely.

fb1e4ad9-396c-475d-aea2-6da7c76f9f96 The UN Security Council. PA PA

The Security Council gave a green light yesterday for the first emergency session of the General Assembly in decades.

It will give all UN members an opportunity to speak about the war and vote on a resolution later in the week that US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said would “hold Russia to account for its indefensible actions and for its violations of the UN Charter”.

French ambassador Nicolas De Riviere announced that the Security Council will hold a meeting on the humanitarian impact of Russia’s invasion, a session sought by French President Emmanuel Macron to ensure the delivery of aid to growing numbers of those in need in Ukraine.

The emergency session of the General Assembly will meet in New York at 10am (3pm Irish time), while the Security Council will meet at 5pm (10pm Irish time).

Both meetings follow Russia’s veto on Friday of a Security Council resolution demanding that Moscow immediately stop its attack on Ukraine and withdraw all troops.

The vote was 11-1, with China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstaining.

De Riviere said France and Mexico will propose a draft resolution “to demand the end of hostilities, protection of civilians, and safe and unhindered humanitarian access to meet the urgent needs of the population”. It said it will probably be put to a vote tomorrow.

Yesterday’s vote in the Security Council on a resolution co-sponsored by the US and Albania to authorise the General Assembly session was exactly the same as on Friday – 11-1 and three abstentions.

But because Council approval for such a session is considered a procedural vote there are no vetoes and the resolution got more than the minimum nine yes votes needed for approval.

The US ambassador told the Council after Sunday’s vote that members had taken an important step forward in holding Russia accountable for its “unjustifiable assault, fabricated out of lies and the rewriting of history”, and now all nations can be heard in the General Assembly.

“We are alarmed by the mounting reports of civilian casualties, videos of Russian forces moving exceptionally lethal weaponry into Ukraine, and the widespread destruction of civilian facilities like residences, schools and hospitals,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

“To the Russian officers and soldiers, I say: the world is watching. Photographic and video evidence is mounting, and you will be held accountable for your actions. We will not let atrocities slide.”

Ukrainian ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the council that “Russia persists in its aggression” despite its initial invasion plan for this week that “failed – and we all see it”.

“This failure prompted the bloody and mad Russian leadership to order heavy shellings of the residential areas, critical infrastructure and storages of hazardous materials, in retaliation for Ukrainian resilience and resistance,” he said.

“It is extremely alarming that the Russian president has resorted today to open nuclear blackmail. The world must take this threat very seriously.”

Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he voted against the resolution because the council has not made “even a hint at an attempt to reach a constructive solution” on Moscow’s “legitimate concerns” about its security and Nato’s policy, which leave the door open to Ukraine’s membership.

During yesterday’s meeting, he said: “Once again we hear lies, deceit and fakes about the indiscriminate shelling of Ukrainian cities, hospitals and schools.

“The Russian army does not threaten civilians in Ukraine. It is not shelling civilian infrastructure.”

Nebenzia accused “Ukrainian nationalists” of seizing civilians and using them as human shields and taking heavy equipment and multiple rocket launchers into residential areas.

And he said civilians are also being threatened by “prisoners, escapees from jail … marauders, thieves and criminals” who have been given weapons.

Plummeting rouble

Meanwhile, Russia’s central bank has sharply raised its key rate in a desperate attempt to shore up the plummeting rouble and prevent the run of banks amid crippling Western sanctions against Russia.

The bank hiked the benchmark rate to 20% from 9.5%.

The measure follows a Western decision yesterday to freeze Russia’s hard currency reserves, an unprecedented move that could have devastating consequences for the country’s financial stability.

The central bank ordered other measures to help banks cope with the crisis by infusing more cash into the financial system and easing restrictions for banking operations.

At the same time, it temporarily barred non-residents from selling the government obligations to help ease the pressure on the rouble from panicked foreign investors trying to cash out of such investments.

The rouble sank about 30% against the US dollar early today, but steadied after the central bank’s move.

It was trading at a record low 105.27 per dollar, down from about 84 per dollar late Friday.

Sanctions announced last week had taken the Russian currency to its lowest level against the dollar in history.

With reporting from AFP.

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