U.N. Envoy Run Out of Crimea by Pro-Russian Thugs

U.N. Envoy Run Out of Crimea by Pro-Russian Thugs

First he was abducted by unidentified gunmen. Then, he wasn’t. Now, Robert Serry, the United Nations’ special envoy for the Ukraine crisis, is leaving the Crimean peninsula as fast as his plane can return him to Kiev.

On Wednesday, officials at the Ukrainian foreign ministry claimed that Serry had been abducted while traveling in Crimea, but those reports turned out to be incorrect. According to James Mates of ITV News, Serry’s car was blocked by thugs who wanted him to come with them. Serry refused and left the car, hiding out in a café while pro-Russian militias blocked the entrance to the eatery. 

The entire episode played out live on Twitter: 


The U.N. has been eager to carve out a diplomatic role for itself in Crimea, and on Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon instructed Serry, his special envoy, to travel to Crimea and try to mediate a political settlement between Kiev and pro-Russian leaders there. But Crimea’s new leadership refused to extend an invitation to Serry, and unidentified armed men controlling Crimea’s key airports refused to permit him to land.  

Serry, a former Dutch ambassador to Ukraine, finally arrived in Crimea this week to begin talks with key players.

Serry was accosted by a group of about 10 to 15 men, some of them carrying arms and dressed in fatigues, following a visit to Ukraine’s regional navy headquarters on Wednesday. The men, who didn’t reveal where they were from, threatened Serry, saying he "should leave Crimea and go to the airport" immediately, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told reporters in an audio press conference from Kiev. When Serry refused to head to the airport, the men blocked his car from moving, forcing him to head back toward his hotel on foot. Serry stopped at a local café, where he placed a call to Eliasson and hid out with the ITV crew.

Eliasson denied reports in the press indicating Serry had been kidnapped. He said Serry was not traveling with a U.N. security detail and had relied on Ukrainian authorities to ensure his safety. Given Wednesday’s drama, it seems like that may have been a mistake.