At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Samantha power took on Russia's legal justification for sending its military into the Ukrainian region of Crimea. In her remarks, Power called Russia's action "a violation of international law and a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the independent nation of Ukraine."
Her statement was in direct response the Russian delegation's argument that it sent troops into Ukraine off of a signed order from ousted and exiled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
First, let's look at what Russia said. The country's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the Council that Yanukovych sent a signed letter to the Russian government asking the Russian military "to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine." Churkin held up the letter for the Security Council as evidence of his claim. If authentic, the directive goes against what Yanukovych said late last week — in a press conference, the former Ukrainian leader vowed not to ask for the help of Russian forces. Although Ukraine has already appointed an interim government, Yanukovych has continued to insist that he is the "legitimate" president of the nation.
When it was the U.S.'s turn to speak on the Ukraine situation, Power rejected several recent arguments from Russia to defend its military action in the country. "Russian military action is not a human rights protection mission," Power said, referring to the Russian government's claim that it is boosting its troop presence in the Ukrainian region of Crimea in order to protect its people and business interests there. She continued:
The central issue is whether the recent change of government in Ukraine constitutes a danger to Russia’s legitimate interests of such a nature and extent that Russia is justified in intervening militarily in Ukraine, seizing control of public facilities, and issuing military ultimatums to elements of the Ukrainian military. The answer, of course, is no. Russian military bases in Ukraine are secure. The new government in Kyiv has pledged to honor all of its existing international agreements, including those covering Russian bases. Russian mobilization is a response to an imaginary threat.
Power also addressed a second argument, namely the fact that the Russia-friendly region of Crimea has seemingly welcomed the increased troop presence there. Citing, among other things, the interim Ukrainian president's refusal to sign a bill that would have removed Russian from the list of official languages in the country, Power said "There is no evidence that ethnic Russians are in danger." She added:
I note that Russia has implied a right to take military action in the Crimea if invited to do so by the prime minister of Crimea. As the Government of Russia well knows, this has no legal basis. The prohibition on the use of force would be rendered moot were sub-national authorities able to unilaterally invite military intervention by a neighboring state. Under the Ukrainian constitution, only the Ukrainian Rada can approve the presence of foreign troops.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the U.N. Human Rights Council today that he believes Ukraine should go back and honor an earlier agreement with former president Yanukovych, one that would have resulted in early presidential elections. Earlier on Monday, President Obama hinted that the U.S. was considering sanctions against Russia should their military presence in Crimea remain. Obama added that he believe Russia was acting "on the wrong side of history."