European countries backed by the United States have blocked a Russian request to hold a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine’s new language law.
Last month Ukraine’s parliament passed the law, which enforces the use of the Ukrainian language in official settings, a move strongly denounced by Russia.
Russia failed to garner the nine votes required to hold the meeting, which was requested on Monday, the same day that Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky took office.
A procedural vote to hold a meeting requires the support of nine countries in the 15-member council. Vetoes do not apply.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre told the council ahead of the vote that the Russian call for the meeting was “not intended to have a constructive discussion” but to “put the new president of Ukraine in the worst light.”
Five countries voted in favour of holding the meeting — China, Russia, South Africa, Equatorial Guinea and the Dominican Republic — while five EU members — Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Belgium — and the United States voted against. Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Kuwait and Peru abstained.
The new law increases Ukrainian-language television and radio programming and obliges all citizens to speak Ukrainian, making it mandatory for civil servants, doctors, teachers and lawyers under the threat of fines.
Despite the decision to block the meeting, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia took to the floor to denounce that the Russian language was being “pushed out” of Ukraine and accused the council of “censorship”.
Russia argued that the language law was in violation of the so-called Minsk agreements, signed in 2014 to end the conflict in east Ukraine.
In his inaugural speech, Zelensky, a comedian who at 41, became Ukraine’s youngest post-Soviet president, called for a ceasefire and a prisoner swap to pave the way to talks.
The conflict pitting Russian separatists against Ukrainian government forces is estimated to have claimed more than 10,000 lives — one-third of them civilian — since it broke out five years ago.
At least 1.5 million people have been driven from their homes.
Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko said it was “not a coincidence” that Russia had asked for the council to meet on the day of Zelensky’s inauguration. Russia wanted the council to “send a message to the new president of Ukraine”, Yelchenko told AFP.
The Europeans and the United States had offered to postpone the meeting, but Moscow rejected the proposal.