Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko delivered a scathing denunciation of Russian expansionism before the United Nations, accusing Moscow of exploiting its veto power on the UN Security Council as a "license to kill" by stymying international action to punish Moscow for its "aggression."
In his September 29 address to the UN General Assembly, Poroshenko described Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea territory last year and a Russian-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine a "brutal violation" of international law that the UN has failed to adequately respond to.
He said UN efforts to penalize Russia for its actions in Ukraine have sputtered due to the veto power accorded to Moscow as a permanent member of the Security Council.
"Abuse of the veto right, its usage as a license to kill, is absolutely unacceptable," Poroshenko said, addressing the assembly in English.
Poroshenko's speech came amid Ukraine’s recent push to restrict Russia’s use of its Security Council veto, building on a French initiative to persuade the other four permanent members -- Britain, China, Russia, and the United States -- not to use their veto in matters concerning mass atrocities.
Russia has vetoed a Security Council resolution criticizing a widely-denounced referendum that preceded the Kremlin’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March 2014.
It also vetoed a resolution to establish a tribunal to try those suspected of responsibility for the July 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine, which killed all 298 people aboard.
Kyiv and the West suspect the jet was shot down with a Moscow-supplied missile system by Russian-backed separatists. Russia denies the allegation and claims it is not backing the rebels.
"Veto power should not become an act of grace and pardon for the crime which could be used anytime and pulled out from the sleeve in order to avoid fair punishment," Poroshenko said.
Deploying blunt and forceful rhetoric, Poroshenko said that, despite Russia’s denial that it is involved militarily in Ukraine, "there is no doubt" that Moscow is leading "an aggressive war against my country."
"I would like to stress: It is neither a civil war, nor an internal conflict," he said, a reference to the Kremlin’s characterization of the violence in eastern Ukraine.
'Terrorists And Mercenaries'
With the UN General Assembly's 70th anniversary meeting devoting considerable attention to combating Islamic State militants, Poroshenko framed Kyiv's conflict with the rebels as part of a broader global campaign against terrorism.
Russia has repeatedly portrayed the separatists as resistance fighters who oppose the pro-Western government that came to power after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin ally, was ousted in February 2014 following mass street protests.
"Russia’s aggression against my country has been continued through the financing of terrorists and mercenaries, and [the] supply of arms and military equipment to illegal armed groups in" the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, he said.
The Russian delegation was not present in the assembly hall for Poroshenko’s speech, Ukrainian and Russian media reported. Ukrainian officials did not attend Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech before the General Assembly a day earlier.
Poroshenko criticized Putin's call for escalated global efforts to counter terrorism, which the Russian president accused the United States of fostering by forging alliances with unreliable groups in war-torn Syria and other countries in the Middle East.
"Over the last few days we have heard a conciliatory statement from Russia, in which, in particular, it called for an establishment of [an] antiterrorist coalition and warned of [the] danger of flirting with terrorists. Cool story, but really hard to believe," Poroshenko said, drawing applause from the audience.
'Truth Is On Our Side'
Poroshenko characterized Russia’s seizure of Crimea and the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine as one part of a wider Kremlin strategy to destabilize governments in its former Soviet backyard.
"In order to preserve its influence in neighboring countries, Russia for decades has deliberately created around itself a belt of instability," Poroshenko said.
As examples he cited Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan that is claimed by both ex-Soviet nations; Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester; and the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russian soldiers are stationed.
"All of these are protracted conflicts supported by or directly linked to Russia," Poroshenko said.
Ukrainian and rebel forces have blamed each other for repeated breaches of a cease-fire agreement reached in Minsk in February, but both sides are now broadly respecting a renewed truce that came into effect on September 1.
Poroshenko called on "global" action to assist Ukraine in the standoff, saying Kyiv needs "solidarity and assistance, which is really a powerful instrument against aggression and injustice."
"Ukraine will surely win because truth is on our side, but we will do it much faster if we feel [the] support and solidarity of the whole international community," Poroshenko said.
He demanded the withdrawal of Russian military forces and equipment from Ukraine, as well as "full access for OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] monitors" in areas controlled by the separatists and "Ukraine’s full control over its state border with Russia."
"Freedom, peace, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity -- Ukraine does not demand more," Poroshenko said. "However, it will not settle for less."