By Mirjam Donath
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia on Saturday vetoed a U.N. Security Council draft resolution that declared a planned referendum on the status of Ukraine's Crimea region "can have no validity" and urged nations and international organizations not to recognize it.
"This is a sad and remarkable moment," Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said after the vote by the 15-member Security Council.
The Russian veto of the draft resolution, drawn up by the United States, was expected. Moscow, which has sent military forces to Crimea, is backing Sunday's referendum, which would transfer control of the region from Ukraine to Russia.
Thirteen countries voted in favor, Russia against and China abstained. Russia and China are among the Security Council's five permanent, veto-holding members.
"This annexation ... goes beyond Ukraine, it concerns us all," Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, said in a statement. "This veto must be seen as a defeat only for Russia."
The brief resolution noted that the referendum was not backed by the Ukrainian government in Kiev.
"This referendum can have no validity, and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of Crimea," it said. It called on "all states, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alteration of the status of Crimea on the basis of this referendum."
Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, said before the council met, "No surprises at this vote."
Later, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the draft resolution as another U.S. attempt to interfere in Ukraine.
"Unfortunately neither the stability of that country (Ukraine), nor its security nor the flourishing of its citizens concerns Washington," the ministry statement said.
Sunday's vote, dismissed by Kiev as illegal, has triggered the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, and ratcheted up tensions not only in Crimea but also eastern Ukraine, where two people were killed in clashes late on Friday.
Russia, which has close historical ties to Ukraine and especially to Crimea, began seizing the region after the February 22 ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.
China has voiced support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity during Security Council sessions on the crisis, although diplomats said earlier they were not sure Beijing would break from Russia on Ukraine and further isolate Russia.
"We condemn and oppose all violent acts," Chinese U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi said on Saturday.
Power said Russia stood alone and was wrong.
"Crimea is part of Ukraine today. It will be part of Ukraine tomorrow. It will be part of Ukraine next week," she said. "It will be part of Ukraine unless and until its status is changed in accordance of Ukrainian and international law."
(Reporting by Mirjam Donath; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Gunna Dickson and Nick Zieminski)