The chairperson of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday that Russia’s targeting of Ukrainian civilians, as well as schools and hospitals, is “state terrorism.”
“The invading force started to target the civilian population and infrastructure in an attempt to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people,” Zbigniew Rau said. “This is deplorable and shameful and amounts to state terrorism. Schools, hospitals and kindergartens are being deliberately targeted with internationally banned weapons.”
The United Nations has said it has credible reports that Russian forces are using cluster munitions in populated areas.
Rau, who is Poland’s foreign minister, addressed the U.N. Security Council Monday in his capacity as the chairperson-in-office of the OSCE for 2022.
Russia is an OSCE member, and Rau said Moscow has accused him of bias in response to the conflict.
“I have only one response to this kind of allegation: The impartiality ends where blatant violations of international humanitarian law start,” he said.
Rau urged Russia and Belarus, which is hosting Russian troops on its territory and has been accused of allowing missiles to be fired from its soil, to stop this “cruel endeavor.” He said it serves neither their government nor their people’s interests and will only further isolate both countries internationally.
“The door to diplomacy is still open, and I call on Russia to engage in a meaningful and substantial dialogue to seek a peaceful solution to the current crisis,” Rau said.
Rau said he expects Moscow to honor its international obligations and commitments, adding that any sustainable political solution “must fully respect sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”
Russia’s envoy dismissed the OSCE chairperson’s offer for diplomacy, saying he had picked a side in the conflict and was, therefore, not an honest broker.
“The point of the work of the chairperson in office is precisely to solve disagreements between participating states and to bring positions closer; it is in no way to take biased steps which further inflame confrontation, and especially not to head up an anti-Russian campaign in the OSCE,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council.
Situation worsening on the ground
U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the meeting that the situation worsened over the weekend, with Russian forces launching deadly strikes in the west of the country.
“Ukrainian cities are under unrelenting shelling and bombardment, with many civilians killed daily,” she said.
The U.N. human rights office put its verified toll since the start of the conflict at 636 civilians killed and 1,125 injured as of midnight Sunday but acknowledges that it is likely much higher. Meanwhile, nearly 2 million people have become displaced inside the country and 2.8 million have fled to neighboring countries.
“We must not allow any questioning of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders,” DiCarlo added.
Her boss, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, addressed reporters outside of the Security Council chamber. He announced $40 million from the U.N. central emergency response fund for meeting urgent needs in Ukraine, where food, water and medicine are growing scarce.
“This war goes far beyond Ukraine,” he warned of the humanitarian implications.
Guterres said it is threatening food security for millions in the developing world, as Russia and Ukraine are responsible for nearly one-third of the planet’s wheat trade and more than half the world’s supply of sunflower oil for cooking.
“Now their breadbasket is being bombed,” Guterres said.
It is especially concerning for the United Nations, as Ukraine supplies the World Food Program with more than half of its wheat supply. With 41 million people on the brink of famine in 43 countries, a poor or nonexistent harvest from Ukraine will make it much harder to feed them.
The Kyiv government has made repeated appeals for the West to close the skies over Ukraine with a no-fly zone. Asked about this, Guterres said a number of countries have analyzed that possibility, but that it could risk escalating the conflict into a global one.
“It is based on that analysis, that I think we need to be prudent, even if I understand the dramatic appeal of the Ukrainian government,” he said.
The U.N. chief repeated his calls for the war to stop and dialogue to begin.
“We need peace. Peace for the people of Ukraine. Peace for the world,” he said. “We need peace now.”
Meanwhile, the sponsors of a draft Security Council resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, which has been in negotiation for two weeks, said they will not seek a vote in the council but will take it to the wider membership in the General Assembly.
“Obviously, it would have been difficult in the Security Council, no need to explain to you why,” France’s envoy Nicolas de Riviere said in response to a reporter’s question.
Russia holds a veto in the 15-nation council.
“We think it’s time to take action to move to the General Assembly and have the whole membership supporting an initiative on humanitarian access, on cessation of hostilities, on respect of international humanitarian law, on respect of the Geneva Conventions,” Ambassador de Riviere said. “So we are very optimistic we can do that. The sooner the better. The situation on the ground deteriorates by the hour.”