UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The United Nations chief and representatives from Western nations berated Russia's top diplomat as he chaired a U.N. meeting Monday, accusing Moscow of violating the U.N. Charter by attacking Ukraine and occupying part of its territory.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded by defending his country's military action and accusing the U.S. and its allies of undercutting global diplomacy, the foundation of the United Nations, which was created to prevent a third world war.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called cooperation among the U.N.'s 193 member nations the organization's "beating heart" and "guiding vision," and he warned the Security Council that global collaboration is under the greatest strain since the creation of the United Nations in 1945 on the ashes of World War II.
Tensions between major powers are at a "historic high" and so are the risks of conflict "through misadventure or miscalculation," he said, pointing first and foremost to the war in Ukraine.
The U.N. secretary-general and the ambassadors of the U.S., Britain, France and their allies all pointed to the U.N. Charter's underlying principle requiring all countries to support the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every nation -- which Russia violated by invading its smaller neighbor on Feb. 24, 2022, and illegally annexing several regions.
Russia convened the ministerial meeting on making "multilateralism" -- when countries work together -- more effective through the defense of the U.N. Charter, calling it the high point of its month-long presidency of the Security Council. It has been the most contentious presidency in the memory of longtime U.N. diplomats and officials, and Monday's meeting added to the antagonism.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called Russia a "hypocritical convener" of the meeting whose "illegal, unprovoked and unnecessary" war in Ukraine "struck at the heart of the U.N. Charter and all that we hold dear."
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward said the world has seen "what Russia's idea of multilateralism means for the world" -- the trampling of the U.N. Charter and a war that has brought unimaginable suffering to Ukraine and been "an unmitigated disaster for Russia, too."
The 27-member European Union called Russia's attempt to portray itself as a defender of the U.N. Charter and multilateralism "cynical," saying it is "in contempt" not only of the U.N. Charter but U.N. General Assembly resolutions demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces.
But Lavrov defended what Moscow calls its "special military operation," reiterating accusations that Ukraine was promoting "Nazi practices" and banning the Russian language and culture, and NATO was planning to expand into Ukraine. He stressed, however, that "it's not all about Ukraine" but what he called the West's plans to leverage the Ukrainian government in the hope of weakening Russia.
"We cannot consider the Ukrainian issue separately from the geopolitical context," Lavrov said. "It's about how international relations will continue to be shaped through the establishment of a sound consensus on the basis of balance of interests, or through aggressive and volatile advancement of Washington's hegemony."
Lavrov strongly criticized NATO members' activities in the Western Pacific, specifically the alliance between Australia, Britain and the U.S., and also strengthening U.S. ties with Japan, South Korea and a number of Southeast Asian countries.
Lavrov also accused the U.S. Embassy in Moscow of blocking Russian journalists from accompanying him to New York by approving their visas only after his plane left.
The Russian minister stressed that multilateralism is a key part of the U.N. Charter and accused the United States and its allies of "destroying globalization" despite touting its benefits.
Lavrov said the West is promoting a "rules-based order" where nobody has seen the rules and which bars access to modern technologies and financial services to punish countries it disagrees with. The West has imposed a series of economic sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
"Let's call a spade a spade. Nobody allowed the Western minority to speak on behalf of all humankind," he said.
Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador, told the council that Russia's actions during the 14-month war show that the invasion of Ukraine isn't an isolated incident.
"This does not just concern Ukraine or Europe," she said. "It concerns all of us. Because today it's Ukraine, But tomorrow it could be another country, another small nation that is invaded by its larger neighbor."
There were about 50 countries that spoke, and many pointed to the increasing confrontation among U.N. member nations. They stressed the importance of preserving multilateralism, including by reforming the Security Council to reflect the 21st century world instead of the post-World War II power structure.
"The world is standing at a historic crossroads now," China's U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun told the council. "Humanity is facing unprecedented global challenges. Acts of hegemony and bullying are causing colossal harm to the world. Politics are creating huge divisions and confrontations. It has become all the more urgent and important to uphold the U.N. Charter."