UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia is pushing the U.N. Security Council to demand a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have launched an offensive against pro-Russian separatists, Moscow's ambassador to the world body said Friday.
It marked the third time Russia has asked the U.N. for a cease-fire in Ukraine, and Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters he hopes Western nations that blocked previous action now realize that something must be done.
"We should not allow the situation in the east of Ukraine to get out of hand because it will have really dramatic, tragic consequences for the people in that part of Ukraine, but also we believe for the entire country," he said.
Tension between Russia and Ukraine escalated in February when protests by people who wanted closer ties with the European Union drove pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych from office. Russia called that an illegal coup and seized Ukraine's Crimea region, saying it was protecting the rights of people there who speak Russian as their main language.
Russia's annexation of Crimea — which the overwhelming majority of Security Council members opposed — was one reason that Moscow's two previous draft resolutions received little support.
The insurrection in the eastern regions near the Russian border started in April, with separatists occupying buildings and declaring independence. Since then, battles between Ukrainian forces and the separatists have left over 400 people dead and thousands homeless. Ukraine's government has accused Moscow of supplying the rebels with weapons and smuggling them across the border — a claim Russia denies.
"This idea that people in the east are wrong and the Kiev authorities are right and Russia is to blame for everything — this is not going to lead anywhere," Churkin said.
The Russian envoy said he circulated key elements for a proposed draft resolution to council members on Friday and asked for reactions by Monday morning.
The Russian proposal asks that the council support international plans to settle the crisis agreed on this year in Geneva and Berlin, demands that both side stop the violence and implement the two plans, and calls for international monitoring to facilitate settlement of the conflict.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called a unilateral cease-fire last month to try to persuade the rebels to lay down their weapons and hold peace talks. Some rebels signed on as tentative negotiations began, but each side accused the other of repeated violations. When Poroshenko ended the cease-fire after 10 days on June 30, he said the rebels were not serious about peace.
Churkin criticized Poroshenko's ultimatum to the separatists to lay down their arms and accused the Ukrainian government, whose forces pushed pro-Russian fighters out of their stronghold city of Slovyansk last weekend, of treating the city as "an occupied territory" and of conducting a "witch hunt" for people loyal to the protesters.
If the Security Council wants "to return Ukraine to any semblance of normalcy — economically, politically, in humanitarian terms — we must act as quickly as possible," he said.
Churkin said Russian President Vladimir Putin in a recent teleconference with the leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine offered to allow Ukrainian border guards and monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to be deployed at two crossing points on the Russian side of the border in order to help end the violence.
"Unfortunately, OSCE has been unable to follow through on this offer," Churkin said.