WASHINGTON - Russia on Friday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution introduced by the United States and Albania condemning Moscow's proclaimed annexation of parts of Ukraine, with Russia's strategic partner China abstaining from the vote.
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed Russian rule over four regions that make up 15% of Ukraine's territory - the biggest annexation in Europe since World War Two. The move has been firmly rejected by Western countries and even many of Russia's close allies.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield introduced the resolution that called on member states not to recognize any altered status of Ukraine and obliged Russia to withdraw its troops.
She argued in the council's chamber that the attempted annexation of a sovereign nation's territory went against the founding principles of the United Nations, and said Putin was celebrating "this clear violation of international law" with a concert held after he proclaimed the annexations on Friday.
Ten nations voted in favor, while China, Gabon, India and Brazil abstained.
"Not a single country voted with Russia. Not one," Thomas-Greenfield told reporters after the meeting, adding that the abstentions "clearly were not a defense of Russia."
Washington would turn to the 193-member U.N. General Assembly to condemn Russia's actions, she said.
"In the General Assembly, the nations of the world will say loud and clear: It is illegal, and simply unacceptable, to attempt to redraw another country’s borders through force," Thomas-Greenfield said.
ANNEXATIONS 'A FANTASY'
Russia has been trying to chip away at its international isolation after nearly three-quarters of the General Assembly voted to reprimand Moscow and demand it withdraw its troops within a week of its Feb. 24 invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
Russian ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia, who raised his hand to give the only vote against the resolution, argued the regions, where Moscow has seized territory by force and where fighting still rages, chose to be part of Russia. Kyiv and Western leaders denounced the referendums as a sham.
"There will be no turning back as today's draft resolution would try to impose," Nebenzia said.
Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya said the single hand raised against the resolution "again testified to Russia's isolation and his desperate attempts to deny reality in our common commitments, starting from the UN charter."
Britain's envoy, Barbara Woodward, said Russia had "abused its veto to defend its illegal actions" but said the annexations had "no legal effect." "It is a fantasy," she added.
China abstained from the resolution, but raised concerns about "a prolonged and expanded crisis" in Ukraine.
China has been firmly on the fence over the conflict, criticizing Western sanctions against Russia but stopping short of endorsing or assisting in the military campaign, despite the two nations declaring a "no-limits" strategic partnership in February. In a surprise acknowledgement, Russian President Vladimir Putin this month said China’s leader Xi Jinping had concerns about Ukraine.
Beijing's UN ambassador Zhang Jun argued that while "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be safeguarded," countries' "legitimate security concerns" should also be taken seriously.
A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said China's abstention showed that Russia's "saber rattling" and moves that threatened states' territorial integrity put China in an "uncomfortable position."
"We don’t have China signing up for this much more aggressive agenda that Russia is trying to sell," the official said.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Timothy Gardner; additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Franklin Paul, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)