The United States announced it was expelling 12 Russian diplomats at the United Nations for spying, as Washington steps up pressure on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine.
Details of the expulsions emerged in theatrical style when the Russian ambassador to the United Nations halted a news conference.
‘Would you allow me just a second because I need to answer this call please,’ he said.
Vassily Nebenzia finished the call and turned back to journalists to say he had ‘just received information that the US authorities have undertaken another hostile action against the Russian Mission to the … United Nations.’
He said 12 people had been declared ‘persona non grata’ and told to leave by March 7.
But White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki undermined the dramatic performance, and said the move had been in the ‘works for months.’
‘The United States informed the United Nations and the Russian mission to the United Nations that we were beginning the process of expelling 12 intelligence operatives from the Russian mission who had abused their privileges of residency in the United States by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security,’ she said.
‘Would you allow me just a second because I need to answer this call please,’ said Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia moments after starting a news conference at UN headquarters
After finishing the call he accused the US of a hostile action by declaring 12 members of the Russian mission to the UN to be ‘persona non grata’ and told to leave by March 7
White House Press Secretary said the 12 were intelligence operatives who abused their position to engage ‘in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security’
Nebenzia raised the issue again at the start of a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. He said it was a violation of America’s role as host of the UN headquarters in New York
US Deputy UN Ambassador Richard Mills responded: ‘Those diplomats that have been asked to leave the United States were engaged in activities that were not in accordance with their responsibilities and obligations as diplomats.’
It came during an intense day of international diplomacy, the fifth day since Russian forces entered Ukraine.
Ukrainian and Russian officials held talks on the Belarus border, but they left without resolution.
President Joe Biden spent more than an hour on a secure call with allies and partners, discussing how to intensify pressure on Russia.
Meanwhile the Pentagon said three-quarters of the estimated 160,000 Russian troops massed around Ukraine had not entered the country, as Moscow tries to overcome fierce Ukrainian resistance.
An official said Russia appeared intent on encircling the capital Kyiv.
The Western response has been to impose swingeing sanctions on Russia, and to supply military hardware to Ukraine.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is among the figures sanctioned, warned of consequences for anyone sending arms
Rubble burns in the Donetsk region of Ukraine in an area controlled by pro-Russian rebels
Ukraine war, day 5: Russian forces are now attempting to skirt around Kyiv and encircle it from the west. Troops fighting out of Crimea continue to make gains and are likely to surround Mariupol soon, while also reaching the outskirts of a key Ukrainian nuclear plant. Fighting in the east continues to be heavy with no breakthrough for Putin
The 193-nation General Assembly is expected to vote this week on a draft resolution demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops. However, its resolutions are non binding
He said ‘those supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine will bear responsibility,’ according to the Interfax news agency.
The White House paid no heed, saying it was working to expedite delivery of arms approved in a $350 million package by President Joe Biden on Friday.
‘We expect equipment to start arriving within the next couple of days from this package that brought the total security systems we’ve approved for Ukraine to $1 billion over the past year,’ said Psaki.
The package includes small arms, munitions, and body armor as well as the tank-busting Javelin missiles that have proved essential to the defense of Ukraine.
‘We’re also working with NATO allies to facilitate the transfer of us made equipment from their inventories to Ukraine,’ said Psaki.
Ealier the 193-nation UN General Assembly gathered for an emergency meeting on Ukraine.
It will vote this week on a draft resolution demanding Russian troops withdraw.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations read what he said were the final text messages from a Russian soldier to his mother – describing his horror at the unfolding war before he was killed.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya, on Monday read out what he said were the final text messages from a Russian soldier to his mother – describing his horror at the unfolding war before he was killed
People walk past burned cars a day after a shelling on a residential area in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. The country is enduring its fifth day of fighting after Russian invaded on Thursday
Sergiy Kyslytsya help up a screenshot of the texts as he made a powerful plea for help.
‘Mom I’m no longer in Crimea,’ they began. ‘I’m not in training sessions.’
His mother asks: ‘Where are you then? Papa is asking whether I can send you a parcel.’
‘What kind of a parcel mama can you send me,’ he responds
‘What are you talking about? What happened?’
‘Mama, I’m in Ukraine,’ he responds, before describing the horror unfolding.
‘There is a real war raging here. I’m afraid. We are bombing all of the cities together, even targeting civilians.
‘We were told that they would welcome us and they are falling under our armored vehicles, throwing themselves under the wheels and not allowing us to pass.
‘They call us fascists. Mama. This is so hard.’
Kyslytsya concluded the exchange by saying the last message was sent ‘moments’ before the soldier was killed.
Details of the messages could not be immediately verified.
But Kyslytsya continued by comparing Russia’s actions with those of Nazi Germany, as he described a militarized state invading a smaller neighbor and deadly airstrikes on civilians.
Firefighters tackle blaze at a house after recent shelling, in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine, as the conflict rages into its fifth day
‘Very clear parallels can be drawn with the beginning of the Second World War,’ he said.
‘And Russia’s course of action is very similar to what their spiritual mentors from the Third Reich employed on the Ukrainian land eight years ago.’
In 2014 Moscow annexed Crimea, beginning eight years of clashes in the eastern Donbas portion of Ukraine.
Kyslytsya continued his comparison by mocking President Vladimir Putin’s decision to put Russia’s nuclear forces on alert
‘If he wants to kill himself he doesn’t have to use a nuclear arsenal, he has to do what the guy in Berlin did in a bunker in 1945,’ he said, in a reference to Hitler’s suicide.
Kyslytsya concluded his appeal with a warning that the international order depended on Ukraine’s survival.
‘If Ukraine does not survive… international peace will not survive,’ he said.
‘If Ukraine does not survive, the United Nations will not survive.
‘Have no illusions. If Ukraine does not survive, we cannot be surprised if democracy fails next.’