US and Russia trade accusations at UN over Ukraine conflict

UNITED NATIONS: The United States and Russia blamed each other on Friday for the continued conflict in Ukraine, with Washington accusing the Kremlin of attempting to suppress public discussion of facts about the nearly two-year-old war.

The mutual accusations came during a meeting of the UN Security Council on Ukraine, a session that was delayed for an hour and a half after Russia insisted UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic should not brief the 15-nation council.

In the end, Simonovic spoke during the meeting, though Russian United Nations Ambassador Vitaly Churkin made clear his displeasure. He said human rights discussions belong in Geneva at the Human Rights Council.

Churkin also criticized U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power's handling of the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, saying she has "introduced wrong elements."

On Thursday, China and Russia tried unsuccessfully to block a US-organized council meeting on alleged human rights abuses in North Korea.

"Washington is playing a destructive role" in Ukraine, Churkin said.

Fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels seeking independence from Kiev erupted in April 2014. Violence dropped significantly in September, but Kiev and separatists continue to report daily ceasefire violations and casualties as a result of enemy fire.

Power said Russia was the destructive one and accused the Kremlin of trying to prevent the open discussion of facts.

"In arguing, as the Russian ambassador did earlier, that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should not brief, one does wonder what Russia seeks to hide," she said. "But we understand its very unfortunate desire to prevent the council from hearing inconvenient facts."

Power cited the latest UN report on Ukraine, which said arms and fighters were still pouring into eastern Ukraine from Russia, with the death toll from 20 months of fighting approaching 9,100.

"We are here because even today Russia continues to arm, train, support and fight alongside separatists in eastern Ukraine," Power said.

Russia denies arming and financing pro-Moscow rebels.

Simonovic said there continued to be fresh allegations of human rights abuses in eastern Ukraine - "killings, torture and ill-treatment, illegal detention and forced labor." He also cited allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and other abuses by the Kiev government.

Churkin said Kiev was continuing an economic blockade of eastern Ukraine and refused to engage in direct dialogue with the separatists.

Power encouraged Kiev to speed up efforts to ensure supplies and services make it to the east. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin blamed Russia for blockages.