UNITED NATIONS, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Moscow on Saturday vetoed a UN Security Council draft resolution that declared invalid a planned referendum in Ukraine's autonomous republic of Crimea on whether to break away and join Russia.
The draft resolution drawn up by the United States and backed by Western countries also called on international organizations to ignore results of Sunday's voting in Crimea, expected to be approved by the 60 percent ethnic Russian majority in the peninsula.
Before the vote, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin recalled how Crimea was given to Ukraine by the Soviet Union in 1954 without the consideration of the people of Crimea. "We will respect the will of the Crimean people during the March 16 referendum," Churkin said at the open council meeting, the seventh on Ukraine in just over two weeks.
He said the current crisis in Ukraine started during "a legal vacuum rising from an unconstitutional coup d'etat carried out in Kiev by national radicals in February of 2014 as well as from the direct threat from these said individuals in stating their order across all Ukraine."
Churkin was referring to a European-mediated peace deal signed on Feb. 21 between now-deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and leaders of what were then opposition parties which foresaw a national unity government and an early presidential election.
Within days of the signing, Yanukovych fled Ukraine for Russia under apparent threat of life after Ukrainian parliament voted to remove him and hold new elections.
Opposition leaders quickly formed an interim government headed by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and set elections for May 25. Moscow does not recognize the interim government in Kiev.
Shortly afterwards, reports surfaced of unidentified Russian- speaking armed forces in trucks with Russian identification plates in Crimea -- Russia identified them as "self-defense" troops to protect against anti-Semitic attacks and threats to Russian speakers. The Crimean parliament later called the referendum for Sunday.
Thirteen countries in the 15-member Security Council voted in favor of the draft resolution, while China, a permanent Security Council member, abstained.
Western supporters of the draft resolution told the Security Council that Russia had sent tens of thousands of its armed forces to protect ethnic Russians it said were threatened in Crimea, where Moscow's Black Sea fleet is based in the port of Sevastopol.
They said the referendum was being held at gunpoint.
Liu Jieyi, Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations, told the Security Council after the vote that "China holds an objective and fair position on the Ukraine issue."
"The vote on the draft resolution by the Security Council at this juncture will only result in confrontation and further complicate the situation, which is not in conformity with the common interest of both the people of the Ukraine and those of the international community," said Liu.
Vowing to "continue to mediate and promote dialogue so as to play a constructive role in bringing about a political solution to the crisis," Liu offered three proposals.
He called for formation of an international coordination mechanism to explore as soon as possible a political settlement, urged all parties to refrain from escalation, and for international financial institutions to help shore up economic and financial stability in Ukraine.
Kiev is plunged into deep financial trouble after months-long tumultuous unrest triggered by Yanukovych's move to backtrack a trade and economic agreement with the European Union and turn to Russia for financial aid instead.
Russia's veto came as no surprise after last-ditch talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov yielded no tangible results in London on Friday.
"This is, however, a sad and remarkable moment," Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after Saturday's vote. "The Security Council is meeting on Ukraine because it is the job of this body to stand up for peace and to defend those in danger."
"Under the UN Charter, the Russian Federation has the power to veto a Security Council resolution, but it does not have the power to veto the truth," she said.
"The truth is that this resolution should not have been controversial," she said. "It was grounded in principles that provide the foundation for international stability and law: Article II of the UN Charter."
"These are principles that Russia agrees with and defends vigorously all around the world -- except, it seems, in circumstances that involve Russia," Power added.