Ukraine has reacted strongly to remarks by the UN secretary-general that appeared to praise Russia in settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The Kyiv envoy said Ban Ki-moon could not be a "provider of good offices."
Ukrainian Ambassador to the United Nations Volodymyr Yelchenko has said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "cannot be a provider of good offices" in the Ukraine conflict. His comments follow remarks Ban made at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Thursday which appeared to praise Russia.
Ban said Moscow had "a very important role to play and I really count heavily on the leadership of the Russian Federation."
The UN chief's spoken comments were slightly different from the text in his prepared speech which said Russia "has a critical role to play ... in addressing other pressing global issues, from ending the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, to safeguarding human rights and controlling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
The government in Kyiv has accused Russia of supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. "I'm completely outraged by such a statement," Yelchenko said. "I don't understand how the head of the United Nations can say such things."
The ambassador added that Ban's remarks appeared "to praise the role of the Russian Federation in settling the conflict in Ukraine, when the Russian Federation is the main player [being aggressive towards] Ukraine."
Yelchenko said he would be writing an official protest letter to the UN chief and added: "I don't think that he has any moral right anymore to say anything about the conflict between Russia and Ukraine."
European guests at the summit
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also attended the forum in St. Petersburg. He said the European Union needed to engage with Russia, despite the sanctions of the last two years.
"I take the view that we must talk with Russia, the leadership, its people: for some it must be a radical idea; for me it's common sense," he said.
Juncker became the highest-ranked European Union official to visit Russia since Moscow forces annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in March 2014. The move triggered sanctions from the United States and the European Union. Russia retaliated by banning imports of meat, vegetables and dairy products from the EU.
Juncker said the relationship between Russia and the EU was "not broken beyond repair. We need to mend it, and I believe we can." He also conceded that "some in Europe weren't pleased" with him meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin. But he said it was an opportunity to "exchange opinions."
Juncker called for the terms of the Minsk peace accord for eastern Ukraine to be implemented: "The next step is clear: the full implementation of the agreement, no more, not less. This is the only way to lift the economic sanctions."
Italy's prime minister, Matteo Renzi, was due to attend the forum on Friday. The three-day conference in Russia's second city is being held just weeks before EU sanctions are due to expire.
Delegates from international companies with projects in Russia including BP, Total and ExxonMobil have attended the St. Petersburg forum. A panel discussion brought praise for the Russian energy sector and their business partners.
US authorities had advised businesses against attending the forum.
"We've been very clear on our engagements with US companies that we believe there are clear risks, both economic and reputational, associated with top-level engagement with a government that is flouting the most fundamental principles of international rule of law by intervening military in a neighboring country," US State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Russia's state-owned Rosneft and London-based BP announced they would invest $300 million (266 million euros) in prospecting and geological data analysis.
Putin met Royal Dutch Shell chief Ben van Beurden before the energy giant signed a memorandum of understanding with Russian gas giant Gazprom on the potential construction of a major liquefied gas plant in the country.
The CEOs of France's Total, Societe Generale and JCDecaux and European multi-national Schneider Electric are participating in the forum.
In May, Putin sealed a number of economic deals during a visit to Greece aimed at reinforcing Russia's relationship with Athens.
jm/sms (Reuters, AFP)