Nikki Haley, newly appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, made her first appearance before the U.N. security council on Thursday, and took that opportunity to shine a light on the surge of violence that has erupted over the past week in the Ukraine, and in particular, Russia’s role in the fighting.
“I consider it unfortunate on the occasion of my first appearance here I must condemn the aggressive actions of Russia,” Haley said. “It shouldn’t happen, or be that way. We do want to better our relations with Russia. However, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.”
President Trump has repeatedly stated that he seeks friendlier relations with Russia if possible, and Putin’s regime has acted as though they too are prepared to start anew with the controversial president. However, efforts to de-escalate tensions between the two nations have been tempered by accusations of collusion between Trump and Russian intelligence along the campaign trail, as well as concerns about Russian hackers working to discredit Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.
“Eastern Ukraine, of course, is not the only part of the country suffering because of Russia’s aggressive actions. The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea,” Haley said. Some have speculated that Trump’s administration would consider easing sanctions set against Russia by the Obama administration as a result of Russia’s military annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine,” Haley said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukrainian leaders of escalating the conflict in Crimea in recent weeks as a part of an effort to bolster support in the Western world, despite claims made by Ukrainian military officials that the separatists struck first in the Donetsk suburb of Avdiivka. The region has been relatively calm over the past two years.
“The Ukrainian leadership needs money, and the best way to get the EU, the U.S., and international organizations to pay is by posing as a victim of aggression,” Putin said earlier this week while visiting with Hungarian President Viktor Orban in Budapest.
The Trump administration has been uncharacteristically quiet regarding the new fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists over the past week. Haley’s statements are among the first, and most stern, directed toward Putin’s regime regarding Crimea since Trump took office.
At least 12 people have been killed since fighting erupted around Avdiivka over the past weekend, with a total death toll of over 9,700 since fighting began in 2014. Almost two years ago, a ceasefire was arranged between the two opposing forces prompting a rollback of heavy equipment on both sides, but small skirmishes still occurred from time to time.
Ukrainian leadership has been concerned that Trump’s softer stance on Russia could prompt him to eliminate sanctions placed on Putin’s administration, and that the European Union may follow suit. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia to use its influence over the separatists to stop the fighting, but thus far, no indication that Putin intends to heed Stoltenberg’s request has materialized.
Image courtesy of the Los Angeles Times