Moscow calls on UN to support ceasefire in eastern Ukraine

Russia has called an emergency meeting of the United Nations’ most powerful body, seeking an immediate halt to the deadly clashes in eastern Ukraine – after months of blocking any Security Council action.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow now wanted Security Council action to end weeks of violence between government troops and pro-Russian insurgents, a move immediately denounced by the United States as “hypocritical”.

The draft resolution “urges the parties to commit themselves to a sustainable ceasefire” and demands “that the parties establish humanitarian corridors” so aid can be delivered and civilians who wish to leave can do so safely.

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But US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Russia was being “hypocritical” by calling for a ceasefire and help for civilians to leave combat zones safely while “doing nothing” to stop Ukrainian separatists from attacking targets in the east and holding international monitoring teams hostage.

“So if they’re going to call for... reduction in tension and a de-escalation, it would be more effective for them to end those activities,” Ms Psaki said in Washington.

Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, described Russia’s move as “cynical and immoral” following its occupation and annexation of Crimea.

He called the resolution “needless”, saying Russia should implement the April 17 Geneva agreement aimed at bringing peace to the east, and stop the flood of mercenaries and weapons.

Russia holds the rotating Security Council presidency this month and the council met behind closed doors to discuss the proposed resolution, which is drafted so it cannot be militarily enforced.

Moscow has been virtually isolated in more than a dozen previous Security Council meeting on the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing crisis. But because of Russia’s veto power as a permanent member, the council has been unable to act.

Russia has repeatedly demanded an end to violence in eastern Ukraine, but this is the first time it has called for a Security Council resolution.

While council members said they need to consult their capitals, initial reactions to the draft indicate Russia faces an uphill struggle to win approval.

Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters that Red Cross representatives in the south-east had expressed “extreme concern” about the humanitarian situation as a result of large-scale military operations by Ukrainian troops “and so-called national guard”. He pointed to heavy and indiscriminate shelling of residential areas which he said was killing civilians every day.

But British counterpart Sir Mark Lyall Grant said “there was a lot of scepticism about the scale of the humanitarian situation”, given that there were no restrictions on movements, no food shortages, no besieging of cities, and only 10,000 internally-displaced Ukrainians.

Ukrainian troops launched an offensive against pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern city of Slovyansk yesterday and advanced through the city’s outskirts, the nation’s interior minister said.

Arsen Avakov said government troops had broken through rebel positions around the village of Semenovka on the eastern fringe of Slovyansk.