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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

‘Outrageous’: Russia accused of spreading disinformation at UN event

Maria Lvova-Belova, head of Russia’s children’s protection agency, addressed the U.N. Security Council via video on Wednesday.

By Farnaz Fassihi

Days after Russia took the helm of the U.N. Security Council’s rotating presidency, a coalition of more than 50 countries earlier this week called Moscow’s first event a brazen disinformation showcase and an abuse of its role at the world body.

Russia hosted an informal Council meeting on the fate of thousands of Ukrainian children forcefully deported to Russia and placed with Russian families for adoption — a move that the International Criminal Court of Justice labeled a war crime. The court also issued arrest warrants last month for President Vladimir Putin of Russia and the head of that country’s children protection agency, Maria Lvova-Belova.

But not only did Moscow host and livestream an event on Wednesday about the very issue that drew global condemnation, Lvova-Belova also appeared via video before the Council to deny the charges and defend Russia’s actions.

When she spoke, representatives of several Western countries, including Britain, Malta and the United States, walked out of the chamber, returning only to deliver speeches condemning Russia.

“No amount of disinformation spread by the Russian Federation can deny the truth of the matter nor shield individuals from accountability for these crimes,” a joint statement by the United States, Ukraine and European Union member states said.

Lvova-Belova said that she was pleased to have the opportunity to “dispel the fakes and show the opposite side,” and that Russia was ready to cooperate with the reunification of the Ukrainian children with their families. “We have no doubt that this is a campaign to discredit our country and attempts to conceal their irresponsible actions about children,” Lvova-Belova told the Council.

She noted that Russia did not recognize the jurisdiction of the international court.

Britain’s mission to the United Nations had said that it would block the U.N. webcast of Russia’s session because of Lvova-Belova’s appearance. “If she wants to give an account of her actions, she can do so in The Hague,” it said in a statement.

But on Wednesday, Russia found a way, providing a livestream of the event, with simultaneous translation, on YouTube.

“It is outrageous, outrageous that Russia’s event today included Maria Lvova-Belova,” said Ngoyi Ngoyi, a representative of the U.S. mission to the United Nations. He said Russia’s actions demonstrated its contempt for the United Nations and international law, and called its attempts to justify its actions “appalling.”

Russia took over the rotating presidency of the Security Council more than year after its military stormed across the borders of neighboring Ukraine. The session on Wednesday flew in the face of American and European diplomats’ hope. They said they expected Russia to conduct its work professionally but would call out Moscow if it used the platform to spread propaganda and disinformation to justify its actions in Ukraine.

Britain’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, said on Twitter that his country would “never allow Russia’s lies to go unchallenged.”

Russia’s moves also called into question a statement made on Monday by its ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, who said, “We do not abuse the prerogatives of the presidency,” adding that “we cherish” the role of the Council presidency.

The session on Wednesday included a stream of video appearances and images apparently meant to make the case that Russia’s actions in Ukraine were justified and that the children were in good hands.

There were upbeat testimonials from officials from regions in Ukraine illegally annexed by Russia and not recognized by the United Nations; video messages from women claiming to be Ukrainian mothers who said that they were very pleased to have their children whisked away to Russia; and three promotional-style videos showing Lvova-Belova visiting Ukrainian children in hospitals and homes — and hugging and kissing them and handing them toys.

Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador, also used the forum to spin highly questionable narratives. He said, without providing any evidence, that Ukrainian children were being forcibly separated from their families and taken to European countries like Germany, Spain and Portugal for placement in shelters and with local families. Nebenzia said a Russian lawyer was involved in “extracting Ukrainian children from European slavery.”

He also accused the United States of forcibly transferring Vietnamese children to American shores after the Vietnam War and placing them with American families for adoption and refusing to return them to their families.

Not all Council members condemned Russia on Wednesday.

China, another permanent member of the Council and an ally of Russia’s, said it had taken note of Russia’s willingness to unify children with families and spoke generally of the need to protect children in armed conflicts.

Japan, one of the countries that signed the joint statement condemning Russia, said Moscow needed to evacuate its forces from Ukraine instead of evacuating children.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, sat out the session on Wednesday but said she had met with her Russian counterpart, Nebenzia, on Tuesday to demand the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained in Russia on espionage charges.

It was the first time that American and Russian ambassadors to the United Nations had a one-on-one meeting since the Russian invasion.

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