U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power Monday strongly challenged Russia's defense of its invasion of Ukraine's Crimea region as a human rights mission aimed at protecting the ethnic Russian population there.
Power, arguing in front of her Russian counterpart and other members of the U.N. Security Council, went further than other Obama administration officials have so far in condemning Russia's actions over the weekend, saying Moscow's rationale for violating Ukrainian sovereignty has “no basis in reality.”
“Russian military action is not a human rights protection mission,” she said. “It is a violation of international law and a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the independent nation of Ukraine, and a breach of Russia’s Helsinki commitments and its U.N. obligations.”
Laying out several facts she said were indisputable about the siege of Crimea, Power said Russian military forces have taken over Ukrainian border posts, a ferry terminal in Kerch, and Russian ships are moving in and around the city Sevastopol, the second largest port in the country.
She also highlighted some other less publicized intelligence on the situation in Crimea, saying that Russian forces are blocking mobile telephone services in some areas and Russian jets on Monday entered Ukrainian airspace.
All of this is occurring, Power said, even though there are no reports of violence against Russian or pro-Russian communities in the area.
Power was responding to statements from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the U.N. meeting in Geneva earlier Monday, where he said Russia was simply defending the human rights of Russian-speaking citizens in Crimea.
“This is a question of defending our citizens and compatriots, ensuring human rights, especially the right to life,” he said, according to reports.
But Power angrily denounced Russia's claims of providing protection, noting that the recent change of government in Ukraine does not constitute a danger to Russia's “legitimate interests.” In fact, she said, the new government in Kiev has pledged to honor all of its international agreements, including those covering Russian bases in Crimea.
Crimea became a part of the Ukraine in 1954, and after the soviet collapse Ukraine and Russia signed a treaty in 1997 allowing Moscow to keep its fleet in Sevastopol.
“Russian mobilization is a response to an imaginary threat,” she said.
President Obama, speaking before a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday afternoon, said the U.S. is considering a number of measures aimed at isolating Russia if Moscow does not de-escalate the crisis in the Ukraine.
Other administration officials said they are preparing economic sanctions against Russia and were working with European allies to try to show Putin that the costs of invading Crimea outweigh the benefits.