But the debate was illuminating, not only for the abundance of the usual gibberish in the face of genuine crisis, but also for the lack of any serious threat, from any quarter, that might compel Russia to back away from Ukraine (Crimea, which Russia is now digesting, figured less as a point of current contention than as an example of behavior Russia is urged not to repeat). Here was the supreme conclave of the “international community,” and for about two hours, the Security Council debated. There was a briefing from a UN assistant secretary-general, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, who warned that Ukraine “teeters on the brink.” Luxembourg’s envoy pronounced his government “deeply concerned.” China produced a heap of potted language about the need for “constructive dialogue.” Nigeria said that the world has graduated from the adventures of past centuries, deplored “spheres of influence” and called for a “diplomatic solution.” There was plenty of praise for Ukraine’s “restraint” — which, as the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens noted a few weeks ago, is less a function of being restrained than of being outgunned.
America’s UN ambassador, Samantha Powers, went a step beyond the State Department’s implied accusations of the day, spelling out that the “instability” in Ukraine “was written and choreographed in and by Russia.” Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, went beyond that, to the real point, describing the armed provocations not as “instability,” but as “a war which Russia is waging against Ukraine.”
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, dismissed it all. He described as “terrorists” the Ukrainians whose protests ousted former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. He accused the U.S. of making false accusations about Russia. With Ukraine threatening military operations to stop the armed takeovers within its own borders, Churkin threatened that Russia would regard any such action by Ukraine as a provocation encouraged by the U.S., involving “criminal use of force.”
The Security Council adjourned. Ukraine is no safer for that meeting. This week will bring more talking, in Geneva. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has pronounced herself “gravely concerned,” reiterated the EU’s “strong support for Ukraine’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity” (or what’s left of it) and called upon Russia to do the same. Next week, Vice-President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Ukraine, a prospect that Russia’s ambassador mocked at the Security Council meeting — suggesting Biden phone ahead and tell the Ukrainian government to refrain from using force. Shades of the Cold War, which may be over at the White House, but in too many other venues is rising from the grave — with the difference that while Washington is mobilizing the talking shops of the “international community,” Russia is mobilizing its troops.