Ukrainian Navy sailors stand guard on top of the Ukrainian navy command ship Slavutych at the Crimean port of Sevastopol. Credit: Reuters
Russia on Saturday vetoed a U.N. Security Council draft resolution that declares a planned referendum on the status of Ukraine's Crimea region "can have no validity" and urges 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 the 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.
Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, said he was incredulous at what he called Russia's annexation of Crimea, under the pretext of protecting Russians in the region.
"This annexation ... goes beyond Ukraine, it concerns us all," he said in a statement after the vote. "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 says. It calls 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, told reporters before the council met: "No surprises at this vote."
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.