Security Council Briefed on Fast-Breaking Developments in Ukraine, as Political Official Warns Failure to Secure Russian-Ukrainian Border Obstructing Peace
Hostilities in eastern Ukraine had reignited, and for the past several days, artillery fire was exchanged between the Government and separatists amid reports from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe of large convoys of heavy weapons and troops flowing into rebel-held areas, the Security Council heard today in step with the fast-breaking developments.
Failure to secure the Russian-Ukrainian border continued to impede the path to peace, while the humanitarian situation deteriorated and the numbers of displaced persons was expected to rise as winter approached, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen, reported.
Also briefing the 15-member body, via video-conference, was the Chief Monitor of the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Ertuğrul Apakan, and Chair of the Trilateral Contact Group (made up of the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the OSCE), Heidi Tagliavini.
Among other worrying developments, noted Mr. Toyberg-Frandzen, were the 2 November alternative elections held by rebels in Donetsk and Lugansk, which, he said, had been condemned as unconstitutional by Ukraine and deplored by many in the international community, including the Secretary-General. In response, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had proposed revoking the law allowing greater autonomy to rebel-controlled areas.
On the other hand, he said, the recent parliamentary elections held throughout the country, except for Crimea and parts of Donbas under rebel control, along with the prospect of a new, reform-oriented ruling coalition, could move the country closer to a path of peace and stability and provide the avenue for all “to support Ukraine out of this debilitating conflict”.
The solution, he added, was renewed commitment by all concerned parties to the Minsk agreements of September, which called for a ceasefire and reform measures. However, those had been breached in various ways and were fragile, but no side had unilaterally abrogated them, he noted.
Mr. Apakan concurred that fighting in Lugansk and Donesk regions had worsened and said that OSCE monitors, on three occasions, had observed unmarked heavy weapons and tanks in areas controlled by armed groups. The mission consisted of 266 international members from 42 States, he said, and of those, 170 had been deployed to Donesk and Lugansk. It had communicated with all those involved in Minsk Protocol and Memorandum process, including the Trilateral Contact Group.
In that context, he said, a security zone had been planned under the Minsk documents to serve as a reference point for monitoring military personnel and equipment, but it had not been established. He agreed that it was critical to secure the Ukrainian-Russian border, noting that the stretch beyond the control of Ukrainian forces was about 400 kilometres. To increase its monitoring ability, the Mission had deployed unmanned aerial vehicles since 28 October, which had encountered jamming devices.
He said that the Ukrainian President’s proposals provided a road map for a stable and pluralistic Ukraine and the 26 October elections had brought about a positive atmosphere. He pledged that the Monitoring Mission would continue to facilitate dialogue and to cooperate with the United Nations in addition to conducting its monitoring functions. “We need de-escalation and maximum restraint,” he said, pressing signatories to urgently commit to full implementation of the Minsk documents.
Ms. Tagliavini agreed that the central issue was to ensure that all signatories kept their commitments in good faith, including the ceasefire provisions and respect for the “line of contact” separating opposing forces. She said the Minsk documents were at a crossroads. On one side, there had been progress: a ceasefire, no major military operations, and the release of hundreds of hostages and other detained persons. On the other, there had been a “blunt disregard” of some Minsk commitments, she said, pointing in particular to ceasefire violations and the 2 November alternate elections.
With that, she called for strict observance of all Minsk commitments, and for parties to agree to additional elements for strengthening the arrangements, among them, an inclusive political dialogue, elaboration of a comprehensive economic rehabilitation programme, and provision of humanitarian assistance to the conflict-zone population.
Following those briefings, Council members took the floor to express concern over the continued fighting in Ukraine and urge strict compliance with the Minsk agreements. Many welcomed the recent parliamentary elections. The United States, United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg and Lithuania, among others, strongly urged the Russian Federation to end support for the separatists, citing reports of convoys bringing materiel over the border and criticizing endorsement of the alternative separatist elections.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that delegates had used the Council — and OSCE representatives — to put forward “propaganda with new flourishes”. He concurred that fighting had flared, noting that shelling into Donetsk had killed two children, among other casualties, but denied claims that his country had sent troops into Ukraine, stating convoys carried humanitarian aid. On the other hand he noted reports of OSCE monitors that Ukrainian Army positions had been strengthened.
He said the 2 November elections were a demonstration of the people’s will and did not threaten the Minsk Agreements. There was no alternative to inclusive dialogue and it was time for Kyiv to uphold its obligations, he stressed.
Finally, Ukraine’s representative thanked Council members for their solidarity, but warned that the situation in his country threatened to become another frozen conflict, with the Minsk agreements having been grossly violated by the Russian Federation and the militants. He asked who was allowing military convoys to cross the border, if not the Russian Federation. He urged the Council to shoulder its responsibilities and ensure compliance with the Minsk agreements.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Rwanda, Chad, Nigeria, Jordan, Argentina, Luxembourg, Republic of Korea, China, Chile and Australia.
The meeting began at 2:32 p.m. and ended at 4:41 p.m.
SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said that the root of the problem in Ukraine was the Russian Federation’s flagrant violation of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Neither the Russian Federation nor the separatists it supported had fulfilled their responsibilities under the Minsk agreements, with separatists even firing on monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Russian Federation had done nothing to rein in the separatists and had continued to provide them with materiel; it was also holding abducted Ukrainian citizens. A Russian air defence system was protecting separatists’ convoys, and columns of Russian equipment had been observed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) entering Ukraine over the last 48 hours. The alternative elections also violated Ukrainian sovereignty, she said, calling them a shameful attempt to legitimize such violations.
None of the Russian activities had anything to do with humanitarian aid, as had been claimed, she added, describing repression in areas under rebel control. The Ukrainian Government and the people had taken many measures to de-escalate the situation and observe the Minsk agreements. There was only a political solution to the conflict, but the parties must act in good faith to bring it about. “There must be consequences when Russia continues to flout the commitments it has made,” she said, adding that pressure could be ratcheted up to ensure that that happened.
OLIVIER NDUHUNGIREHE (Rwanda) said that political progress in Ukraine had repeatedly unravelled to the detriment of the people. The parties seemed unwilling to implement the agreements, with continued shelling and military build-ups. He urged all parties to facilitate the work of the OSCE monitors. Concurring that the alternative elections were unconstitutional, he called on all parties to recommit to the Minsk agreements. The international community should use its influence to make that happen. It was also time for the Security Council to agree to remain seized of the matter under the proper agenda item that referred to the situation in Ukraine.
BANTE MANGARAL (Chad) called for an immediate cessation of hostilities as per the Minsk agreements. He expressed concern over the suspension of payments in the east as well as the alternative elections held there, and he called on the parties to exercise maximum restraint and work towards a political solution, which was the only way out of the crisis. He also called on the international community to use their influence to help bring that about.
KAYODE LARO (Nigeria) expressed concern about the mounting civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine and the “atmosphere of uncertainty” that had obstructed peace. He called for opening communication channels and taking steps to consolidate the ceasefire, stressing that there was no military solution to the crisis. Elections in Donetsk and Lugansk threatened Ukraine’s peace, unity and sovereignty, and he urged everyone with influence to facilitate dialogue towards a peaceful solution.
EIHAB OMAISH (Jordan) voiced concern over increased shelling in eastern Ukraine, saying that the fallout of an unchecked situation could spread throughout the region. The illegal weapons flows into Ukraine violated the Minsk agreements, and she urged all parties, notably armed groups, to show restraint and to make intense efforts to prevent a worsening of the situation. Any deferral of a political solution would exacerbate violence and worsen the humanitarian situation. Shared challenges — political reforms, national reconciliation and economic development — could only be tackled by all parties. Elections on 26 October were an important step towards reform, and she encouraged the Government to strengthen national dialogue. Jordan would continue to support the Minsk agreements. There must be no impunity or immunity for the perpetrators of violence, she added.
MARIO OYARZÁBAL (Argentina) was concerned that the slow implementation of the Minsk agreements risked the collapse of the ceasefire. He cautioned against an escalation of hostilities, urging parties to refrain from unilateral actions that contravened efforts towards peace. The international community must assist in the implementation of the Minsk agreements, while avoiding intervention into Ukrainian internal affairs, whether military, political or economic. He deplored that the Council had not overcome its divisions, which had prevented it from helping parties move towards a diplomatic solution. All must facilitate the distribution of humanitarian assistance on the basis of non-discrimination, and investigations into reports of human rights and humanitarian law violations must be conducted.
SYLVIE LUCAS (Luxembourg) expressed concern over the worsening situation in eastern Ukraine since the illegal elections in Donetsk and Lugansk. Non-compliance with the Minsk documents had led to a spike in tensions. She was concerned at the build-up of Russian troops along the border and movement of convoys in separatist-controlled areas towards Ukrainian army positions. She also condemned the “farcical” elections on 2 November held by separatists with the blessing of the Russian Federation, which violated the Minsk Protocol and had been denounced by the United Nations. Welcoming measures by Ukraine to uphold its Minsk commitments — notably the laws for amnesty and temporary local autonomy status — she called for the withdrawal of armed groups and for border security. Separatists and the Russian Federation must halt the violence, and the Russian Federation should shoulder its responsibilities in the full implementation of the Minsk documents, notably by stopping the movement of combatants to Ukraine.
OH JOON (Republic of Korea) expressed acute alarm over the OSCE report detailing an in-flow of military weapons and personnel to parts of Ukraine controlled by armed groups. Recalling that the withdrawal of troops and equipment under OSCE monitoring was part of the Minsk agreements, he urged an end to provocative actions that would derail the fragile peace process. In addition, outside military intervention in the situation must cease. He welcomed the parliamentary elections held on 26 October, expressing hope that the results would pave the way towards stability. Elections held by armed groups in the eastern regions had undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) said that Russian actions were flouting international norms, including the United Nations Charter, and had undermined the Minsk agreements by continuing support to the separatist rebels. Recounting OSCE reports of heavy weaponry being supplied through unmarked columns of military vehicles, he said that there was no credible explanation but that they had come from the Russian Federation, despite Russian denials. Monitoring must be allowed over the whole length of the border, he stressed. He regretted the holding of what he called illegal elections in the east, as well as the Russian refusal to disavow them. Describing reports of human rights abuses under rebel-held areas of the east as well as in Crimea, he called for focus on the situation in the next OSCE report. The Minsk framework required genuine commitment from the parties, of the kind not yet seen from the Russian Federation. He called on that country to withdraw its troops and weapons from Ukraine and support a durable ceasefire.
WANG MIN (China) expressed concern over continued fighting in Ukraine, while hoping the recent gas agreement between Ukraine and the Russian Federation would help pave the way to a political solution, the only way out of the conflict. For that purpose, the Minsk agreements should be implemented in a comprehensive manner. The legitimate rights of all parties must be taken into account and a balance of interests achieved between them in a comprehensive solution. All parties should work together to achieve that goal. China respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine, he stressed.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that Ukraine had chosen democratic modernization in its latest elections and reforms. Such progress had been hampered, however, by the actions of separatists and interference in the country’s internal affairs. The alternative elections in rebel-held areas were detrimental in that light. The Minsk agreements continued to represent a good framework for ending the conflict. Under those accords, the parties must be brought to the negotiating table to shore up the ceasefire and end the conflict. He called on the Russian Federation to end the transfer of arms and men into Ukraine and to pressure the rebels to hold to the ceasefire. The OSCE mandate should be strengthened and broadened. Europe had presented the Russian Federation with alternatives of hardened sanctions or the strengthening of friendly relations between all States in the region.
CARLOS OLGUÍN CIGARROA (Chile) expressed deep concern over escalating violence in eastern and southern Ukraine, with possible foreign military support in the east. He requested more information from the OSCE, urging that the ceasefire be implemented by all parties and monitored by that organization. Civilians in those regions had suffered human rights violations by all actors. Humanitarian assistance must be delivered in line with humanitarian principles, he said, recalling that the Government had the main responsibility for civilian protection. The principles of non-intervention and non-interference must be observed, while parties must seek a peaceful solution through direct political dialogue. He reiterated support for the Secretary-General’s good offices, expressing hope that independent international mechanisms also would continue to work towards a peaceful solution.
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) pointed to an “alarming rise” in the gravity of provocations involving Russian jets over a widening territory as evidence of a more “aggressive unilateral Russian military posture” that went well beyond Ukraine’s borders. The conflict in Ukraine was not an internal affair, or a civil war or rebellion of disgruntled citizens; it was Russia’s war against Ukraine for daring to choose a different — namely, European — path. While Ukraine had followed the ceasefire agreement, Russia-backed separatists used the time to rearm and grab more territory, he said, asserting that those illegal groups were better armed than some smaller European States. Moreover, Lithuania was “profoundly worried” by recent reports by the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission of unmarked convoys carrying substantial heavy weaponry, ammunition, rocket systems and howitzers, as well as armoured personnel carriers and tanks moving across the borders and westward inside the separatist-held areas.
Another clear violation of the Minsk agreements, he added, was the holding of illegal elections by the separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia had endorsed those “sham” elections and even arranged the presence of “observers”, comprising a bunch of hard-line nationalists, Nazi sympathizers, and anti-Semites. As Russia flirted with Europe’s extremist fringe, the myth of Ukraine’s fascist junta was being advanced by Russia’s propaganda machine. However, since Russian troops had “liberated” the Crimea, the human rights situation in the region had deteriorated dramatically, and the separatist-held regions in eastern Ukraine had been repeatedly described by United Nations human rights reports as an “abyss of lawlessness and criminality”. Under the pretext of humanitarian aid, Russia was preparing the seventh convoy to be sent into Ukraine without the country’s consent and in violation of its borders. To date, the cost of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine amounted to 400,000 displaced, at least 4,035 killed and 9,336 wounded.
ALEXANDER A. PANKIN (Russian Federation) urged delegates not to turn Council meetings into “farces”. While he was interested in the evaluations of those working on the ground, the inclusion of international players under OSCE was not “totally appropriate”, as it distracted them from their obligations and it politicized practical activities. That had been confirmed today, with declarations by delegates who had used the Council — and OSCE representatives — to put forward “propaganda with new flourishes”.
The situation in Donetsk and Lugansk was tense, he conceded, noting that military assets and personnel had not been withdrawn. There had been clashes between parties in areas controlled by Ukrainian armed forces and shelling near Donetsk airport. From the north-west, shelling had killed two children on a school soccer field. Earlier, shelling from the same position had led to the deaths of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) members. As the truth had been ignored, it was logical that rebels would seek to strengthen their positions under attack by armed forces.
To claims, notably by NATO, that his country had sent army members and fighters into Ukraine, he called them empty statements and propaganda falsifications. His Government was carefully monitoring the situation and discouraged by the lack of response from the OSCE Monitoring Mission on the strengthening of positions by Ukrainian armed forces and others. On 9 October, tanks had entered in Lugansk. On 7 November, 500 Ukrainian armed forces entered the area. On 6 November, a tank convoy had entered Donetsk and he asked why such developments, and others, had not been discussed. He urged rectifying the “provocative picture” being painted of the ground situation.
Going forward, he said, a genuine ceasefire must be complied with by both sides. Of equal importance were the decentralization of power, an inclusive national dialogue and measures for improving the humanitarian situation in Donbas. Yet, Ukraine was doing nothing. The President had proposed to annul the special status law, despite that it could have been the basis for talks between Kyiv and the rebels. Guarantees for personal security for participants in consultations also had not been provided. To rebuild Donbas, Ukraine had made new offers vis-à-vis the budget. Yet, all such moves were cancelled.
He rejected allegations that convoys being sent by the Russian Federation had been filled with anything other than humanitarian supplies, saying that such contents were always recorded. As for 2 November elections in Donetsk and Lugansk, he said the Russian Federation respected the demonstration of people’s will. There had been a high turnout and they did not threaten the Minsk agreements. There was no alternative to inclusive dialogue and it was time for Kyiv to uphold its obligations.
GARY QUINLAN (Australia), speaking in his national capacity, said he had seen “consistent and credible” reports of Russian-supplied military reinforcements, including heavy weapons and tanks moving to the frontlines of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. In further violation of the Minsk Protocol, the OSCE had been prevented from adequately monitoring the Ukraine/Russian border, where Russian troops appeared — once again — to be massing in significant numbers. Those recent developments came against the backdrop of the “illegitimate, pseudo-elections” in eastern Ukraine, which were another direct contravention of the Minsk Protocol. Australia would do everything possible to bring to justice those responsible for the downing of MH17. It supposed a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the cause of the crash, but that could only happen if Russian-backed separatists complied with the ceasefire. A political solution in Ukraine would “come to naught” without Russia’s “genuine engagement”. Russia’s continued refusal to heed the international community’s call to de-escalate the crisis could only lead to Russia further isolation, he concluded.
YURIY SERGEYEV (Ukraine), while thanking members of the international community for their solidarity, warned that the situation in Ukraine threatened to become another frozen conflict, even though the Minsk agreements had provided a way out. However, those had been grossly violated by the Russian Federation and the militants. Detailing such violations, he said Russian-backed militants continued to shell Ukrainian forces, disregarding efforts to establish a touch line and maintaining a supply corridor for arms. He described observations of convoys bringing in weapons, some of them as big as 50 trucks. The Russians denied this. He asked if someone else was allowing military convoys to cross its border. There were thousands of troops and hundreds of Russian tanks and artillery units, in addition to attack aircraft, massed on the border.
The only reason there was no open war yet in the region was Ukraine’s restraint, he said. That country had cooperated fully with the OSCE monitors, Russia and “its puppets” had not. He urged the Russian side to allow monitoring of the whole border. Measures had been taken to allow democratic local self-government in the east, but instead separatists had held their own elections, supported by the Russian Federation. Despite all Russian violations, however, his Government continued to call for implementation of the Minsk agreements, including withdrawal of men and materiel and return of abducted citizens. He urged the Council to shoulder its responsibilities and ensure compliance with those accords.
Taking the floor a second time, Mr. PANKIN (Russian Federation) said Kyiv had made no secret that the ceasefire would be used as a way to regroup armed forces. He cited remarks by an adviser to the Ukrainian President during a radio address on 24 October and of a military adviser on 7 November to assert that Ukraine was using the ceasefire regime as a way to receive high-tech equipment and financing from the West. Some actions did not help the situation. The de-limitation and territorial agreement was a serious matter. The equipment and forces cited by his counterpart were on Russian territory. They were not moving.
Mr. SERGEYEV Ukraine said his Russian counterpart had quoted two advisers. On the other hand, everyone remembered when the Russian President had pledged to withdraw troops, which was why Ukraine was worried about the origins of armaments. Despite those promises, 49,000 people were still on the border. The question was about trust. He asked what those troops were doing.