UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon left Wednesday on a trip to Russia and Ukraine to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders, intensifying efforts to seek a diplomatic way out of the crisis over the Crimean Peninsula.
The United Nations is also deploying a 34-member human rights monitoring mission to Ukraine, scheduled to be in place by Friday. Ivan Simonovic, assistant secretary-general for human rights, expressed particular concern over the security of Tatars and other ethnic minorities in Crimea.
Simonovic highlighted the disappearance of a Crimean Tatar activist after participating in a March 3 protest. Simonovic said the activist was found dead March 16 and his body bore marks of "mistreatment."
Just back from a visit to Ukraine, Simonovic spoke at a tense meeting of the Security Council. It was the council's eighth meeting in three weeks on Ukraine, a show of determination by Western powers to highlight Russia's diplomatic isolation — even if the council is powerless to act because of Moscow's veto power as a permanent council member.
Once again, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was alone in defending his country's actions in Crimea. He began his speech by celebrating the treaty signed a day earlier by Putin declaring Crimea part of Russia.
"Yesterday, something truly historic happened," Churkin declared.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power warned Russia that, two days after the Obama administration and other countries imposed sanctions on Russia, the U.S. and its allies "are prepared to take additional steps if Russian aggression or Russian provocations continue."
Simonovic said he was not able visit Crimea because the authorities there refused to receive his mission or ensure its security until it was too late. But he said he spoke to representatives of displaced Tatars and victims of arbitrary arrests, torture and other human rights violations.
"I am deeply concerned about the human rights of those who oppose recent political events in Crimea," Simonovic said.
Churkin dismissed Simonovic's assessment as "one-sided," accusing him of underplaying the threat to ethnic Russians in what is a largely Russian region.
Churkin also blamed snipers for the killing of a Ukrainian soldier and a member of a local self-defense brigade in Crimea on Tuesday, saying the two were deliberately targeted to provoke confrontation.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud later mocked Churkin. "The most shocking was the triumphal way he started his speech," Araud told reporters as he left the council.
Ban will meet with Putin and other Russian officials in Moscow on Thursday, said U.N. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric. On Friday, the U.N. chief will travel to Kiev for talks with the acting-president and prime minister.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this story.