The leader of the United Nations deepened his criticism of Russia on Tuesday over its actions in Ukraine, not only describing them as a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty but disparaging the Kremlin’s descriptions of its troops as peacekeepers. He called the crisis a test of the global organization.
The remarks by Secretary General António Guterres, who cut short an overseas trip to return to U.N. headquarters in New York because of the Ukraine developments, were among the strongest criticisms the Portuguese statesman has made against a major member country since he became the leader of the organization in 2017.
They went beyond his reaction on Monday, when Mr. Guterres described Russia’s recognition of two breakaway Russian-backed enclaves and its decision to send troops into them as inconsistent with the U.N. Charter and a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
“Our world is facing the biggest global peace and security crisis in recent years — certainly in my tenure as secretary general,” Mr. Guterres said. “We face a moment that I sincerely hoped would not come.”
Referring to Russia’s action, he said that “such a unilateral measure conflicts directly with the principlesof the Charter of the United Nations” and what is known as the Friendly Nations declaration by the General Assembly, “which the International Court of Justice has repeatedly cited as representing international law.”
Russia’s action, he said, also represented a “death blow” to the Minsk agreements that were designed to end the armed conflict between Ukraine and the two Russian-backed breakaway regions that has prevailed since 2014.
Mr. Guterres also said he was “concerned about the perversion of the concept of peacekeeping” — a clear reference to the Kremlin’s portrayal of the troops ordered into the two regions. He sought to distinguish them from the U.N. peacekeepers on assignment in a dozen missions around the world, invited with the permission of the host country.
“When troops of one country enter the territory of another country without its consent, they are not impartial peacekeepers,” he told reporters “They are not peacekeepers at all.”
Answering a few questions, Mr. Guterres also disputed assertions by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that civilians in the two breakaway enclaves were the victims of “genocide” by Ukrainian forces.
“Genocide is a crime that is clearly defined and whose application must be done in line with international law,” he said. “I do not think it is the case.”
Mr. Guterres, who has said more than once that he believed the Ukraine crisis would not devolve into war, appeared to be far more worried about that prospect on Tuesday.
“Any additional Russian military deployments into Ukraine would only further inflame tensions,” he said. “It is high time to return to the path of dialogue and negotiations. We must rally and meet this challenge together for peace, and to save the people of Ukraine and beyond from the scourge of war.”
Mr. Guterres said that the “United Nations and the entire international system are being tested” and that “we must pass this test.”