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Russia’s U.N. session amplifies disinformation on Ukraine child abductions


Britain and the United States charged Wednesday that Russia is using its position as current president of the U.N. Security Council to spread disinformation and propaganda, and blocked the U.N. webcast of a Security Council meeting Moscow called to defend its removal of children from Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court last month issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Moscow’s commissioner for children’s rights, for the “war crime” of “unlawful deportation and … transfer” of children to Russia from regions in Ukraine occupied by its troops.

Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador said Wednesday on Twitter that “Russian authorities have interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported over 19,500 Ukrainian children from their homes within Ukraine to Russia.”

Moscow has said the children were removed for their own safety and that it is working to return those who have families or legitimate guardians in Ukraine. Lvova-Belova, who addressed the meeting by video, denied that any children have been formally adopted.

The United States, Britain and several other countries sent only junior representatives to the meeting, who stood up and left the room when Lvova-Belova was speaking. Before the session began, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters outside the council chamber that “we do not support [U.N. webcasts] being used by an individual to brief that we know has committed war crimes.”

“If she wants to give an account of her actions, she can do so in The Hague,” the site of the ICC, a spokesperson from the British mission said in a statement.

ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin over war crimes in Ukraine

The meeting was the latest clash on Ukraine at the United Nations, which has become the principle venue for face-to-face diplomatic confrontations between Russia and the West. It was held under the so-called “Arria formula,” which allows any member to call an informal meeting and to decide on who will brief it.

On Monday, Thomas-Greenfield said that Russia’s assumption on April 1 of the council presidency, which rotates monthly in alphabetical order among its 15 members, was “like an April Fool’s joke.” Russia last held the seat in February of last year, the month when it began its invasion of Ukraine.

“We expect that they will behave professionally,” she said. “But we also expect that they will use their seat to spread disinformation and to promote their own agenda as it relates to Ukraine, and we will stand ready to call them out at every single moment that they attempt to do that.”

Russia has scheduled several other council sessions on Ukraine, including one on April 24 that will be chaired by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — who also plans to chair a second meeting on the Middle East the following day.

In a Monday news conference announcing its plans for the month, Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Lavrov was open to meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken while he is in the United States, if “the secretary would like to have a meeting.” A State Department spokesman did not respond to questions about Blinken’s willingness to meet. The two spoke by telephone last weekend over U.S. demands that Russia release Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested last week on charges of espionage.

Wall Street Journal reporter ‘wrongfully detained’ by Russia, Blinken says

Both the United States and Russia have used the Security Council’s informal meeting format over the past year to voice their positions on Ukraine, but all U.N. members must approve airing the sessions on the live U.N. webcast. Britain first objected and the United States joined its effort.

Russia did not release the names of its invited briefers until Tuesday evening. In a note emailed to council members, it said that the meeting “is aimed at providing the participants with objective information on the situation of children in conflict zone in Donbass as well as on the measures taken by the Russian authorities to evacuate the children from danger.”

“Western mainstream media and some of the delegations,” it said, deliberately misrepresented the situation as “abduction, forced displacement [and] adoption.” Instead, the briefings would provide an opportunity to hear “first hand” from Lvova-Belova and some of the children themselves.

Nebenzia began the session, which Russia aired on its YouTube channel, with videos depicting women who said they were Ukrainian mothers who had lost custody of their children after they were evacuated to what the ambassador called “European slavery” by Kyiv during the war — specifically, to Germany, Spain and Portugal. It was, he said, a “widespread practice” by Ukrainian forces to remove children in combat areas whose families were “waiting for Russian soldiers to liberate them.”

The United States has “cynically accused us of the abduction of children,” Nebenzia said, charging without elaboration that the United States had used “racist methods” to remove over 2,500 children from Vietnam in 1975, allowed them to be adopted and subsequently refused to relinquish them “when their Vietnamese parents showed up.”

In her presentation, Lvova-Belova showed prepared videos of what she said were Ukrainian children in Russia — smiling, doing arts and crafts, playing on swings and happily hugging their Russian caretakers.

“I hope that this will help us understand the real facts rather than rumors or unfounded accusations,” she said.

She added that Russia had “taken in” more than 5 million people from Ukraine and Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which were illegally annexed by Russia last year, 700,000 of them children. “All came with parents or guardians,” including 2,000 who came with their “custodians” from orphanages or children’s homes. The decisions to evacuate them, she said, were “taken by the [local] authorities because there are no safe areas within the Donbas.”

To date, Lvova-Belova said, “about 1,300 were returned to their orphanages,” while 400 were sent to Russian orphanages because the areas they had come from were being “constantly shelled,” and 358 were “placed with foster homes.”

Charges that Russia was taking children from Ukraine to Russia — illegal under international law, regardless of motive — began shortly after the Russian invasion in February last year. In its statement on the war crimes charges, the ICC said that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that both Putin and Lvova-Belova bear “individual criminal responsibility” for illegally deporting and transferring children.

Russia has said it does not recognize the authority of the ICC, of which neither it nor the United States is a member. But the arrest warrants are valid in the 123 countries that are parties to the Rome Treaty under which it was established.

Reports that several thousand children were taken from the besieged city of Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine last year were untrue, she said. “They were not evacuated, but were first transferred to a hospital” in Donetsk in Donbas. Later, a group of 31 were sent to “a sanatorium for children in Moscow.” Another 22, she said, were transferred to “temporary custodianship.”

Lvova-Belova said that while some Ukrainian children have been given Russian citizenship, it was only to facilitate the receipt of services. All, she said, had also retained their Ukrainian citizenship and could decide at age 18 which nationality they wanted.

In response to the Russian presentation, the French representative at the meeting called it a “cynical exercise of disinformation,” saying that “a lie repeated a thousand times remains a lie. … Madame Lvova-Belova has given a totally false version of the situation. … These are war crimes.”

One year of Russia’s war in Ukraine

Portraits of Ukraine: Every Ukrainian’s life has changed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion one year ago — in ways both big and small. They have learned to survive and support each other under extreme circumstances, in bomb shelters and hospitals, destroyed apartment complexes and ruined marketplaces. Scroll through portraits of Ukrainians reflecting on a year of loss, resilience and fear.

Battle of attrition: Over the past year, the war has morphed from a multi-front invasion that included Kyiv in the north to a conflict of attrition largely concentrated along an expanse of territory in the east and south. Follow the 600-mile front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces and take a look at where the fighting has been concentrated.

A year of living apart: Russia’s invasion, coupled with Ukraine’s martial law preventing fighting-age men from leaving the country, has forced agonizing decisions for millions of Ukrainian families about how to balance safety, duty and love, with once-intertwined lives having become unrecognizable. Here’s what a train station full of goodbyes looked like last year.

Deepening global divides: President Biden has trumpeted the reinvigorated Western alliance forged during the war as a “global coalition,” but a closer look suggests the world is far from united on issues raised by the Ukraine war. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed and that sanctions haven’t stopped Russia, thanks to its oil and gas exports.

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