New York - Russia's UN mission criticised a Lithuanian-organised meeting at the United Nations on Crimea on Monday, saying the region was now Russian territory and therefore no longer an issue on the Security Council's agenda.
“The Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation considers as inappropriate the organisation by a Member of the Security Council of an 'Arria-formula' meeting 'on the human rights and media freedom situation' in Crimea, the Russian Federation,” the mission said in a statement to other UN delegations.
An “Arria” meeting is an informal gathering of Security Council members. The meetings are usually on divisive topics, such as Russia's recent annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine, a move that has met with wide condemnation.
“This initiative represents just another attempt to distract the attention of the international community from the grave situation in Ukraine,” it said. “It is obvious that it has been designed not to give an objective account and analysis of the events in the region but to stage a biased propaganda show.”
The Russian statement said that such meetings “undermine the standing of the Security Council Members and damage the image of the Council as a whole”.
Russia boycotted the meeting. China and Rwanda were the only other council members that did not attend, according to diplomats present at the closed-door session, which included a human rights activist from Crimea's minority Muslim Tatar population and a Crimean journalist.
Lithuania's Deputy UN Ambassador Rita Kazragiene dismissed the Russian criticism, saying it “is the right of any Security Council member to raise awareness, or to raise concerns, related to any situation”.
Kazragiene said that most nations do not accept the Russian position that Crimea is now part of Russia. She said most believe “that the autonomous republic of Crimea is still part of Ukraine and the referendum was illegal, and there is support for Ukraine's territorial integrity”.
Kazragiene said those who attended the meeting voiced concerns about human rights abuses in Crimea, including a crackdown on media and worries about the fate of minorities.
The Committee to Project Journalists, a New York-based press freedom watchdog, has warned about the eroding climate of media freedom in Crimea since the region voted to secede from Ukraine.
The UN General Assembly on Thursday passed a non-binding resolution declaring invalid Crimea's Moscow-backed referendum earlier this month on seceding from Ukraine, in a vote Western nations said highlighted Russia's isolation.
There were 100 votes in favour, 11 against and 58 abstentions in the 193-nation assembly. Twenty-four nations did not vote. Some UN diplomats accused Russia of threatening them with retaliation if they voted for the resolution, an allegation Russia's UN mission denied.
Ukraine's former Russian-backed president, Viktor Yanukovich, was ousted last month after a crackdown on demonstrations in Kiev that left dozens dead. That prompted Moscow to seize the Black Sea peninsula, a move that was welcomed by the vast majority of Crimeans in a plebiscite.
China's UN mission did not respond to a request for comment on why it did not attend. Rwanda's deputy ambassador said his country did not boycott the meeting. “We had important meetings to prepare commemorative events for April 2014,” he said, referring to 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
Rwanda and China abstained from last week's General Assembly vote on Ukraine. Beijing also abstained from a vote on a similar resolution in the Security Council that declared the March 16 referendum invalid. Russia vetoed the Security Council resolution, while Rwanda voted in favour of it. - Reuters