UNITED NATIONS, Feb 3: US Ambassador Nikki Haley has condemned Russia’s “aggressive actions” in Ukraine and pledged strong US support to Kiev even as the new US administration seeks to improve ties with Russia.
In her first public remarks at the Security Council, Haley asserted that US sanctions imposed on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea would remain in place until Moscow gave back the peninsula to Ukraine.
“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,” she said.
A surge in fighting in eastern Ukraine has presented the new administration of President Donald Trump with a first test of its Russia policy and Haley’s comments were closely watched for signs of any shift.
The US ambassador opened her remarks stating that it was “unfortunate” that her first appearance at the council required her to “condemn the aggressive actions of Russia”, describing this as a “replay” of past US statements.
“The United States stands with the people of Ukraine who have suffered for nearly three years under Russian occupation and military intervention,” she said.
“Until Russia and the separatists it supports respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, this crisis will continue.”
The United States “continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea,” she added.
“Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine.”
While the statements were in line with those of the previous US administration, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he detected a change in tone.
“I detected quite a bit of change of tone,” he told reporters after the meeting. “It’s just the beginning of the road and hopefully the road will lead to something more constructive.”
The sharp escalation of fighting since Sunday in the town of Avdiivka has raised concerns of a humanitarian crisis, with some 20,000 people left without heat or water in freezing winter weather.
At least 23 people have been killed in mortar and rocket attacks.
“This escalation of violence must stop,” Haley said, pledging US support for the Minsk agreements aimed at ending the conflict.
Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over who was responsible for the flare-up of fighting.
Ukrainian Ambassador Vlodymyr Yelchenko accused Russia of blocking repair work to restore electricity to Avdiivka. (AGENCIES)