Kenya on Monday night waded into the Eastern European conflict, warning that Russia’s move to recognise two breakaway Ukranian regions as independent could rekindle dangerous expansions by “dead empires”.
Martin Kimani, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN, told the UN Security Council that Ukraine’s territorial integrity had been breached and that Russia’s move could easily be borrowed by another ambitious power.
This marked a departure from Kenya’s position early this month when it abstained from a vote on whether to discuss Russia’s conduct.
Kenya, a non-permanent member of the Council, stayed away from the vote, which would have allowed Russia to be debated or reprimanded, to avoid raising further tensions and give “diplomacy a chance.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday recognised two breakaway regions of Ukraine as independent and told Russia’s defence ministry to deploy troops to the two regions to “keep the peace,” heightening tension with the West over Ukraine.
The crisis looks set to deliver higher energy and food costs to Kenyan households due to rising global oil prices and restricted wheat exports. In a statement issued to the UN Security Council, Nairobi said Russia must borrow a leaf from African countries that have had to live with artificial boundaries planned by colonial masters for the sake of peace.
“In our considered view, this action and announcement breaches the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Dr Kimani said.
“Kenya and almost every other African country were birthed by an ending empire. Our borders were not our drawing. They were drawn in a distant metropole in London, Paris and Lisbon with no regard to the ancient nations that were cleaved apart.”
With ethnic communities cut in the middle by borders, he argued, many countries “would still be waging bloody wars many decades later” had they chosen to reclaim the original territories.
Instead, the continent chose to live with the colonial borders and pursue integration while safeguarding territorial borders, he argued.
The statement came as the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Russia’s decision to declare Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent of Ukraine, sparking controversy and criticism.
That declaration added to the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine by Russia, after a controversial referendum in which locals ‘chose’ to be part of Russia.
Western countries are imposing sanctions on Russia after it ordered troops to be sent to eastern Ukraine.
The UK hit five banks and three wealthy individuals with sanctions in response while the US promised to announce new ones against Russia later Tuesday.
Germany meanwhile has put on hold a major gas pipeline project from Russia, Nord Stream 2. Kenya initially sought to maintain a non-aligned stance over the conflict.
Russia and Ukraine were historically part of the Soviet Union until it collapsed in 1990.
But the regions in question had been annexed, released and annexed again by today’s Russia several times in history. Under the UN, Donetsk and Luhansk are recognised as Ukraine territory.
Kenya said Russia’s bid was like “looking over backward into history with a dangerous nostalgia.”
“We must complete our recovery from embers of dead empires in a way that doesn’t plunge us back into new forms of dominion and oppression.
“We rejected irredentism and expansionism on any basis, including racial, ethnic, religious or cultural factors. We reject it again today,” Dr Kimani said.
During the session, American diplomat Rosemary A DiCarlo warned that Russia had raised the risk of conflict.
Ukrainian Ambassador Sergei Kislitsa said Russia was a “virus” for instigating war and chaos since annexing Crimea eight years ago.
“We are on our land. We owe nothing to anyone. And we will not give away anything to anyone. We are not afraid of anything or anyone.”