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Ukraine Situation ‘More Combustible than Ever’, Assistant Secretary-General Warns Security Council, Calling for Action to De-escalate Crisis

Security Council

7154th Meeting (Night)

Ukraine Situation ‘More Combustible than Ever’, Assistant Secretary-General


Warns Security Council, Calling for Action to De-escalate Crisis

Warning that the situation in Ukraine was “more combustible than ever”, a senior United Nations political official told an emergency session of the Security Council this evening that without urgent action to de-escalate the crisis, the likelihood of further bloodshed and violent clashes would grow by the hour.

"At this moment, Ukraine teeters on the very brink," said Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs.  Moreover, the Russian Federation, which shared a large border area with Ukraine, as well as the broader European region, would face a spillover effect of potentially severe consequences.

After two weeks of relative calm, last week armed individuals and separatist groups began to seize Government buildings and confiscate weapons in the Donetsk Oblast of Ukraine, including in the cities of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkiv, he said.  Some had declared a "People's Republic of Donestk".

In the last 24 hours, uprisings and seizures of Government buildings occurred in at least five more cities in the eastern part of the country, including in the towns of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Druzhkivka, he said.  United Nations human rights monitors had reported duelling rallies in Kharkiv, which injured 50 people, and authorities in Kyiv had launched an "anti-terror" operation to reclaim Sloviansk, a day after it was overrun by well-armed, well-organized pro-separatist groups.

Ukraine's Acting President, Oleksandr Turchynov, signed a presidential decree giving the self-declared separatists until 6 a.m. Kyiv time to give up their weapons in order to avoid prosecution, he said.  The Acting President also declared in a televised address to the nation that unless illegal activities were halted, the Ukrainian army would launch a full-scale operation — a move which the Russian Federation had publicly stated would compel it to act.

The Russian Federation’s representative, who had requested the Council meeting, cited "terrible actions" by self-claimed Kyiv authorities who did not want to listen to the voices of protestors in south-eastern Ukraine.  Anti-Russian sentiment was prevailing and protestors had been met with long-term prison sentences.  Stressing that the protestors were "not terrorists", he said further escalation must be stopped, urging the United States and other Western sponsors to sever aid to Kyiv authorities.

Ukraine’s representative retorted that the protestors in Sloviansk and Druzhkivka were, in fact, heavily armed Russian troops employing the same organized tactics used in Crimea to seize that area.  Russian agents had staged control over several buildings in the Donetsk region and had attacked a convoy of Ukrainian law enforcement officers trying to protect Sloviansk.   “This is not a war between Ukrainians; this is a war of Russia to destroy Ukraine,” he said, demanding that the Russian Federation “leave us in peace”.

Council members expressed alarm over the escalating violence, calling on the parties to exercise maximum restraint and negotiate a political settlement based on mutual trust and cooperation.  Ukraine’s presidential elections scheduled for May were a clear pathway for resolving differences and they must be able to occur peacefully and freely.

The representative of the United States accused the Russian media of spreading misinformation about the situation and inciting instability.  United States Secretary of State John Kerry would participate in four-way talks in Geneva on 17 April with senior Russian, Ukrainian and European Union officials to de-escalate the crisis.  But, she questioned how such talks could be successful when the Russian Federation was continuing to amass 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Lithuania, United Kingdom, France, Rwanda, Jordan, Australia, China, Argentina, Republic of Korea, Chad, Luxembourg, Chile and Nigeria.

The meeting began at 8:04 p.m. and ended at 9:45 p.m.


As the Security Council met this evening to consider the situation in Ukraine, it had before it a letter dated 13 April from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council (document S/2014/264).


OSCAR FERNANDEZ-TARANCO, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that since the Secretary-General's 28 March briefing, the situation in Ukraine had seriously deteriorated once again.  After two weeks of relative calm, beginning 6 April, armed individuals and separatist groups began to seize Government buildings and confiscate lethal weapons in the Donetsk Oblast of Ukraine, including in the cities of Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkiv, calling for secession from Ukraine and for joining the Russian Federation.  In Donetsk, some of those individuals had declared a "People's Republic of Donestk".  Reportedly, in at least five more cities in eastern Ukraine there had had been uprisings and seizures of Government buildings in the last 24 hours, including in the towns of Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Druzhkivka.  United Nations monitors had reported a consistent reinforcement of barricades and armed civilians, on both sides.  They also had sighted armed militiamen with AK-47s, machine guns and sniper rifles.

United Nations monitors had also reported duelling rallies in Kharkiv today, resulting in injuries to some 50 people, he said.  On the eve of 13 April, authorities in Kyiv launched an "anti-terror" operation to reclaim Sloviansk, a day after it was overrun by pro-separatist activities, which United Nations human rights monitors on the ground had described as well-armed and well-organized militiamen.  As of 13 April, at least one Ukrainian officer had been killed in a gun battle and others had been wounded.  Also today, Ukraine's Acting President, Oleksandr Turchynov, signed a presidential decree giving the self-declared separatists until 6 a.m. Kyiv time to give up their weapons in order to avoid prosecution.  The President further declared in a televised address to the nation that if illegal activities were not halted, a full-scale operation involving the Ukrainian army would be launched.  The Russian Federation had publicly stated on several occasions that it would be "forced to act" if Kyiv employed force against demonstrations in the east.

"The situation is, therefore, now more combustible than ever.  The Secretary-General and the United Nations remain committed to the pursuit of a peaceful solution to this ever-deepening crisis," he said.  The Secretary-General had continued to call for maximum restraint and had urged all others with influence to immediately and publicly follow suit.  The Secretary-General appealed for direct, constructive dialogue between the parties, and between Kyiv and Moscow, to de-escalate the situation and address all differences.  The crisis would continue to deepen if intensive efforts were not urgently deployed.  "At this moment, Ukraine teeters on the very brink," he said.  “However, it is not just Ukraine that will suffer from a scenario where the likelihood of further bloodshed and violet clashes grows by the hour.”  The Russian Federation would also face a spillover effect of potentially severe consequences, causing repercussions for the entire international community.

VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said he had requested to convene today's emergency meeting due to the dangerous situation, citing "terrible actions" by self-claimed Kyiv authorities, who did not want to listen to the voices of protestors in south-eastern Ukraine.  He said he was concerned that anti-Russian sentiment was prevailing.  Protestors had been met with long-term prison sentences.  The Prime Minister of Ukraine was right when he called for dialogue on possibly granting more autonomy in the region during his recent visit to Donetsk.

Ukraine's authorities, however, threatened the use of force against protestors, he said, stressing that they were "not terrorists" and they were not using bulldozers.  Some incidents had led to bloodshed in the south-east region.  Further escalation must be stopped, he said, urging Western sponsors to stop their support of Kyiv authorities.  The United States in particular must disassociate themselves with them.  Dialogue must begin and radical constitutional reform must be implemented to avoid a civil war in Ukraine.  In that regard, the Russian Federation had deployed armies along the borders.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITE ( Lithuania) said that at least 40,000 Russian troops remained deployed in full combat readiness along the eastern Ukrainian border.  The external anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western propaganda machine was in full swing with full-blown allegations from the sphere of the absurd.  Ukraine's traitor Yanukovich who had fled the country and opened the floodgates for Crimea's annexation was pushed again into the daylight to clear the way for Ukraine's further dismemberment.  Ukraine's Government was doing everything possible to respond to the legitimate needs and concerns of the population, to curb corruption and impunity which had reigned under Yanukovich, and to re-establish law and order and the authority of the State.

SAMANTHA POWER ( United States) said the human stakes of what was happening in Ukraine were extremely high.  The lives of innocent civilians were at risk.  Russian media were spreading fiction about the situation.  The international community must focus on the facts.  From early on, the international community had heard the Russian Federation disclaim any claims that it had illegally invaded Ukraine.  It had moved in first to take control of Crimean facilities, claiming it was working to protect the rights of the Russian minority.  It was known that the forces with un-identifying insignia that had moved in were Tatars.  Armed units had raised Russian and separatist flags over seized buildings and called for referendums and reunion with the Russia Federation.  "We know who is behind this — Russia," she said.  The international community had heard laments about instability as if it was organic.  This instability, however, was written and choreographed by the Russian Federation.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry would participate in the Geneva talks on 17 April, during which Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov would participate, she said.  But, she questioned how such talks could be successful when the Russian Federation was continuing to amass 40,000 troops on the Ukrainian border.  The United States stood with Ukraine.  The future of Ukraine must be decided by the Ukrainians themselves.  On Monday, the United States would conclude a $1 billion loan agreement with Ukraine.  Next week United States Vice-President Joe Biden would visit Ukraine.  She strongly supported the World Bank's conclusion of an agreement with Ukraine.  She supported Ukraine's elections at the end of May.

MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom) said there was a dangerous escalation of an already dangerous situation.  The Russian Federation was intervening in Ukraine's military affairs.  As a United Nations and Council member, the Russian Federation was obliged to refrain from the use of force against any State's territorial integrity.  Instead, it had amassed 35,000 to 40,000 troops within the vicinity of eastern Ukraine, in addition to troops based illegally in Crimea.  Contrary to Russian claims, the troop build-up, according to satellite images, had started in early March.  He called on the Russian Federation to remove them and to revoke its mandate to use Russian troops on Ukrainian soil.  The Russian Federation was working to destabilize Ukraine further in order to forward its own interest.  Contrary to Russian claims, the protests in eastern Ukraine were not organic, but a well-orchestrated campaign designed to destabilize the country.  The illegal annexation of Crimea and the stoking of tensions in eastern Ukraine had endangered all Ukrainians.  The Ukrainians had a right to control their own future, free from interference.  The May elections were a clear pathway to resolving differences through peaceful means.

GÉRARD ARAUD ( France) said that the scenario being witnessed today was reminiscent of an incident that had taken place a month ago in Crimea.  The Russian Federation had accumulated its troops along the eastern border of Ukraine, systematically broadcasted anti-Kyiv messages via radio, and raised the price of gas to suffocate what they called "a brother".  The Russian Federation's description of the incidents in eastern Ukraine as "protests" were like denying the existence of the Internet.  What had been shown on via the Internet were not protests.  He saluted Ukrainian authorities for seeking to solve the situation through dialogue, encouraging them to continue to bring its people to reason.  The future of Ukraine must be determined by Ukrainians through such processes as free, transparent elections.  Urging the Russian Federation to stop using double standards, he stressed that it should be a guarantor of peace whether the situation related to its neighbours or not.

EUGÈNE-RICHARD GASANA ( Rwanda) expressed regret over the reports of increased tensions over the past several days and those involved in fatal violence should be brought to justice.  It was imperative to protect all citizens.  His delegation agreed in principle that Ukraine, like other countries, had the right to self-defence.  However, it discouraged the use of force and urged all parties to exercise full restraint.  The international community must ensure that its diplomatic efforts should not let the crisis slip out of its hands.  Expressing hope that the meeting of the United States, European Union, Russian Federation and Ukraine to be held 17 April would generate a positive outcome, he also stressed the involvement of the United Nations in the dialogue.  The international community must be mindful that ordinary people in Ukraine just wanted a peaceful country.

ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL-HUSSEIN (Jordan) expressed deep concern over the recent developments in Ukraine.  A mutiny against the State and the Constitution of Ukraine was occurring.  Its continuation would lead to the dismantling of the State.  Ukraine had the right to restore its territorial integrity and unity.  He called upon the Ukrainian authorities to exhaust all peaceful means to end the crisis with all relevant parties.  He called on them to respect the principles of human rights, and for all others with influence to convince the mutineers to end the crisis peacefully.  The Council must take action to end the crisis.  He called for non-intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine and an end to any act of force against it.  It was in the interest of the international community as a whole to preserve the integrity of international law, which was the cornerstone of equality among States.

GARY QUINLAN ( Australia) expressed mounting concern.  Well-armed paramilitary units had laid siege to control and occupied six provinces in eastern Ukraine.  That had not been a spontaneous, grass-roots movement; it was a highly orchestrated operation by Russian troops operating without identifying insignia.  That playbook was used by the Russian Federation in Crimea.   The State could not seek to avoid responsibility of its actions by seeking to cloak the identity of those working on its behalf.  The world was witnessing violence and destabilization in an effort to manufacture a sense of instability.  There was no evidence of actions directed at Russian speakers in Ukraine.  He welcomed the news that that the number of United Nations human rights monitors in Ukraine would increase in the coming days.  Repeated calls for de-escalation had been ignored.  The Russian Federation’s building up along the Ukraine border only deepened mistrust.  The only way forward was de-escalation and dialogue and free elections.  Ukraine must be able to plan and hold its May elections.  He called on the Russian Federation to withdraw its forces on Ukraine border and negotiate in good faith.

WANG MIN ( China) said that he was deeply worried about the situation and urged all parties to keep calm and work to avoid further deterioration of the tension.  The interests of all parties must be addressed in a balanced manner and within the framework of law and order.  The international community must use its good offices to bring about a peaceful solution.

MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL ( Argentina) said that her delegation could not remain indifferent because it was concerned about the consequences of the situation in Ukraine and the wider region.  All parties involved must adhere to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of States, whether military or economic.  Ukraine's handling of its domestic affairs must be respected and unilateral actions must be avoided.  The meeting of the United States, Russian Federation, Ukraine and the European Union could play an important role.

JOOH OH ( Republic of Korea) said it was closely watching the recent developments and was deeply concerned over the recent escalation of tensions in eastern Ukraine, including the seizure of buildings in Sloviansk and Druzhkivka through the use of force.  Political differences must be addressed in a non-violent way through a political process.  There should not be any influence by outside forces.  He reiterated the importance of respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF ( Chad) expressed deep concern over the violent actions by armed groups in eastern Ukraine, which had taken possession of public buildings in various cities, compromising the search for a lasting political solution.  He condemned all forms of violence committed yesterday and today.  The solution to the crisis could only be political, it could not be military.  Assaults carried out by men in unmarked uniform were making the situation worse.  He called upon all parties to practise restraint, and for them to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  The interests and concern of all in Ukrainian society must be taken into account.  Moving forward, the historic, geographic and secular links between Ukraine and the Russian Federation should form the basis of mutual respect and cooperation.  He encouraged the Secretary-General to pursue mediation to find a peaceful solution.

OLIVIER MAES ( Luxembourg) said he was deeply concerned by recent events, including the incident yesterday of Donetsk in which anti-Government protestors took control of police stations.  The Russian Federation continued its flagrant violations of international law, and their actions ran counter to such key agreements as the Budapest Memorandum and the bilateral Treaty of Friendship.  He welcomed the “cool-headedness” of Ukrainian authorities, but they could not just stand still given the situation.  That country had the right of self-defence.  The Russian Federation should withdraw its troops.  It was still possible to settle the dispute through peaceful means, such as direct dialogue between the two nations.  He hoped that the 17 April meeting in Geneva involving the United States, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the European Union, would find a solution to the most serious crisis Europe has faced since the cold war.

IGNACIO LLANOS ( Chile) said Ukraine was facing a “delicate twist”, expressing regrets over episodes of violence and condemning actions of separatist groups.  There was a need to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  All parties must abstain from the use of or threat of use of force and must adhere to international law and conventions.  A peaceful outcome was possible via political dialogue, which must be inclusive with full respect for minorities.  The Security Council, the Secretary-General, his envoy, and regional groups could all play an important role.

U JOY OGWU ( Nigeria) expressed deep concern that the situation remained tense and had deteriorated.  The lawlessness and state of anarchy in six states in eastern Ukraine was provocative and threatened peace.  She stressed the need to uphold universally agreed principles and international law and to use existing bilateral and multilateral instruments to resolve the crisis.  Only a diplomatic solution achieved by direct dialogue between the parties could end the crisis.  In the current century, the world should not tolerate power blocs or spheres of influence.  She stressed the futility and danger of a military solution to the crisis.  She called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid any further deterioration of the situation.

YURIY SERGEYEV ( Ukraine) said today the Easter holiday had been shattered by aggression and violence.  Russian agents had staged control over several buildings in the Donetsk region.  This morning a convoy of Ukrainian law enforcement officers trying to protect the city of Sloviansk were attacked by assault rifles.  The blood of Ukrainians had been shed for the purpose of maintaining one united, undivided Ukraine.  The Russian Federation had not stopped its aggression in eastern Ukraine.  “This is not a war between Ukrainians; this is a war of Russia to destroy Ukraine,” he said.  In the last month and a half, the Ukrainian Government had done everything to avoid confrontation.  Recently, Ukraine’s Prime Minster had visited the southern and eastern regions, addressing such issues of concern as the language policy, constitutional reforms and decentralization of power.  The Government was ready to consider emboldening local government power.

In the last month and a half, agents of the Russian special service had embarked on large-scale operations in eastern Ukraine to seize power, he said.  Over that time, the Ukrainian mission had regularly informed the Council on the latest developments.  The Russian Federation also had sent subversive groups into Ukraine to destabilize the situation.  He cited several Russian citizens working undercover for the Russian service that were detained by Ukraine in the past several days for subversive activities.  That was further evidence of the Russian Federation’s intentions.  Such terrorists were heavily armed with weapons used by Russian forces.  The tactics of terrorists in the last week were the same as those used in Crimea.  They were acting in an organized manner.  The terrorists’ primary targets had been local Ukrainian police and security services.  Armed attacks with gunfire in Sloviansk had left no doubt that such terrorist groups were not peaceful protesters; rather they were armed Russian troops.

In view of those facts, Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council had decided to launch a large-scale counter-terrorism operation, he said.  "We are not going to let the scenario in Crimea repeat itself in eastern Ukraine," he said.  Terrorist forces that would lay down their weapons would be released from prosecution.  The Russian Federation wanted to disrupt the 5 May elections in Ukraine.   Ukraine was under a large-scale terrorist operation that constituted a serious threat to its security and stability.  The Council had a duty to provide an appropriate solution to the crisis.  “We demand them to leave us in peace,” he said of the Russian Federation.

Speaking for a second time, Mr. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said he heard a great deal of words that had ignored the time.  It was 3:30 a.m. in Ukraine on Monday — just hours before the 6 a.m. deadline for the criminal decree of Ukrainian authorities to use force against protestors.  He also heard a great deal of words describing his country as “a terrorist country.”  But, who terrorized the situation over the past several months, he asked, reiterating his Government’s call for dialogue.  His country in no way wanted the worsening of the situation in Ukraine, which was an important partner.  But it was not his country’s fault.  Instead of encouraging the criminal use of force, the United States should take an immediate action to stop it.  Vice-President Joe Biden, who was scheduled to visit Ukraine next week, should call Oleksandr Turchynov right now to dissuade him from using force.  The high-level meeting of the Russian Federation, United States, European Union and Ukraine slated for 17 April could lead to a broad political dialogue, but the use of force against protestors could undermine that process, he warned.  The implementation of the criminal decree must be avoided.

Ms. POWER ( United States) said her Government had been consistent in its position that military force was not the answer.  There had been no shortage of efforts on her country’s side in that regard.  It was not the United States, but the Russian Federation that had escalated the situation.  It was difficult to reconcile the Russian Federation’s behaviours, such as amassing 40,000 troops on the border and subversive activities within Ukraine, with his appeal for diplomacy.  She agreed with the French delegate that what had been described by the Russian Federation as protests were not protests.  They were professional forces carrying weapons.  Those were military operations.  The credibility of the Russian Federation had been undermined, she said, urging that the country pull back its forces from the border and work to de-escalate the situation in light of the armed takeover of Government buildings.

Taking the floor again, the representative of Ukraine said the Russian Federation’s representative had compared the situation in December and January with the current situation.  But it was important to recall that people had spoken out.  It was the banditry against the authorities before; now it was bandits against the people.  There was a difference.  Several hundred separatists were holding thousands of people living in towns in fear.  Small groups of armed people headed by Russian agents had seized State buildings, had received arms and were handing them out.  Those were terrorist operations.  He said it was just as easy for him to call the Russian Federation’s President and say very simple things here.  He pointed to the statement made today by Ukraine’s Acting President that those not involved in shooting at Ukrainian law enforcement officials and who surrendered their weapons would be not be prosecuted.  So, why don't they phone their people and tell them to come back and sit down together and see how they could live with good neighbourly relations, he asked.  “I would like you to listen to that and do whatever you can within your remit,” he said to the Russian Federation’s representative.

In response, the representative of the Russian Federation said “you are calling your own people bandits far too easily”.  The people calling for the protestors to be killed were terrible.  Weren't the people in eastern Ukraine able to protest without the Russian Federation telling them to do so, he asked.  Surely they could understand the situation without Russian agents telling them what they were experiencing.  Responding to the United States' representative, he expressed hope that after today's discussion some Western colleagues and partners would pick up the telephone and call their leaders and those with influence in Kyiv.  “Please press the red light and say to them that problems can be solved through dialogue, not confrontation,” he said.

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For information media. Not an official record.