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Tensions around the Ukraine war were high at today's UN Security Council meeting


Russia is doubling down on its war in Ukraine. Ukraine is demanding that Russia face an international tribunal for the crime of aggression and war crimes. That is the backdrop for today's U.N. Security Council meeting, where peace talks appeared a long way off. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and other world powers gathered in the Security Council chambers. But Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told reporters as he headed in that he was in no mood to speak directly to his Russian counterpart.

DMYTRO KULEBA: I will keep safe social distance with him.

KELEMEN: Kuleba said his meetings here at the U.N. are focused on getting more support to push Russian troops out of Ukraine and restore the country's sovereignty.

KULEBA: The best way to stop Putin is to provide weapons to Ukraine.

CATHERINE COLONNA: And justice is one of those weapons.

KELEMEN: That was French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna chiming in. She chaired the Security Council meeting, which focused on accountability for war crimes in Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said countries large and small at the U.N. want to see this war come to an end. But instead, he said, President Vladimir Putin is doubling down, calling up more troops, moving ahead with plans to annex parts of Ukraine and suggesting that there could be a nuclear confrontation.

ANTONY BLINKEN: That President Putin picked this week, as most of the world gathers at the United Nations, to add fuel to the fire that he started shows his utter contempt for the U.N. charter, for the General Assembly and for this council.

KELEMEN: Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said it's the West that's adding fuel to the fire.

SERGEY LAVROV: (Through interpreter) And here, what's particularly cynical is the position of states that are pumping Ukraine full of weapons, training their soldiers, that the goal is obvious. They're clearly stating it - to drag out the fighting as long as possible, in spite of the victims and destruction in order to wear down and weaken Russia.

KELEMEN: Lavrov, who didn't sit through any of the other speeches, called the Ukrainians Nazis and Russophobes and said reports of Russian atrocities in Ukraine are pure propaganda. The International Criminal Court's prosecutor general, Karim Khan, gave the Security Council a reality check.

KARIM KHAN: When I went to Bucha and went behind St. Andrew's Church, the bodies I saw were not fake. When I walked the streets of Borodianka, the destruction that I saw of buildings and schools was all too real.

KELEMEN: Khan told the Security Council there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the ICC's jurisdiction have been committed. In other words, war crimes. The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres raised alarms about Russia's plans to annex parts of Ukraine, saying that would be a violation of the U.N. charter. British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told reporters outside the council that the Russians are already preparing the results of upcoming votes in Russian-held parts of Ukraine.

JAMES CLEVERLY: Our information shows Russian officials are setting targets for invented voter turnout and approval rates for these sham referendums. For example, in some regions, they have reportedly already set the required figure for voter turnout and support for accession into Russia at needing to be over 75%.

KELEMEN: But asked what the U.N. can really do to stop that, Cleverly said the world has to make clear that no one will accept the outcome of such votes. The EU's foreign policy chief said Europeans will continue to arm Ukraine and impose sanctions on Russia. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations. 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.