SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine: UN special envoy to Crimea Robert Serry said Wednesday he cut short a mission to the disputed region after being threatened by unidentified pro-Russian gunmen and heckled by protesters.
Serry, who had been sent to the tense Black Sea peninsula by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, was confronted by armed men after visiting the Ukrainian naval headquarters in Crimea’s capital Simferopol, he told CNN television by phone.
Prevented from returning to his vehicle, Serry said the men who refused to identify themselves said “they have received orders…. to bring me immediately to the airport” although they declined to say from whom.
“They said it was in my own safety. I refused and a standoff ensued,” he added, saying at one point his driver was pulled from the car.
Serry sought refuge in a local cafe with his assistant to phone the mission and then after a tense two-hour standoff, he was driven to the airport and boarded the first flight out of the region — to Istanbul.
An assistant told Agence France-Presse by phone from the car on the way to the airport: “He’s fine. The self-defence militias in Simferopol have guaranteed his security.”
“I hope this serves as a reminder to all how dangerous the situation has become in the Crimea. There is a very urgent need to de-escalate this situation,” Serry told CNN.
“All those who are responsible and can do that must have cool heads, lower their rhetoric and fix this situation. I am very worried for what would happen if there is bloodshed,” he said, adding he never felt worried for his own life.
“There are people in the Crimea who actually behaved there with a lot of self-restraint,” Serry said, adding he was “now happy to be in Istanbul.”
Serry “will shortly return to Kiev to continue his mission, which was cut short by today’s incident,” UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement.
The UN envoy added that what was needed was dialogue between the authorities in Kiev and representatives from the Crimean peninsula, as well as international consultations between Russia and the United States. as well as others.
The threat that Ukraine could be “pulled apart in the rhetoric is only increasing rather than decreasing,” Serry added.
Sergei Aksyonov, the newly installed pro-Russian prime minister of Crimea, was quoted by Russian agency RIA Novosti justifying the threats made against Serry, saying: “We did not send them an invitation.”
“They did not warn us of their arrival. The usual procedure in these instances was not followed,” he said of the UN mission.
A former Dutch ambassador to Kiev who was travelling with a UN colleague, Serry only arrived Tuesday in the tense Crimean peninsula, which has come under de facto control by Russian forces.
He had already aborted a trip to Crimea last week, saying tensions made the visit impossible.
Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council has opened an investigation into the incident.