Conflict in Ukraine Must Be Averted ‘at All Costs’, Political Affairs Chief Tells Security Council as Delegates Reject Moscow’s Recognition of Donetsk, Luhansk
Kyiv Demands Russian Federation Return to Negotiations, While United States, United Kingdom, Germany Pledge Robust Response
In an emergency meeting late tonight, the United Nations political affairs chief declared that the Russian Federation’s decree to recognize the independence of certain areas of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions constitutes a violation of the latter’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
“We very much regret this decision, which risks having regional and global repercussions,” said Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, who also sounded an alarm over the Russian Federation’s decision to deploy its troops into eastern Ukraine, reportedly on a “peacekeeping mission”.
She said the coming hours and days will be critical, warning that the risk of major conflict is “real” and must be prevented at all costs. Negotiation is the only way to address differences over regional security and the settlement of conflict in eastern Ukraine, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2202 (2015).
The Russian Federation’s delegate said President Vladimir Putin’s decree followed declarations of independence by Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014. Recognition only occurred now, despite high support for doing so in the regions since the beginning. Moscow had hoped for peace and welcomed the election of a new President of Ukraine who had promised to establish peace in Donbas — but instead resorted to bellicose rhetoric, shelling and a flat refusal to speak with the representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk, despite that being included in the Minsk accords.
He clarified that the Russian Federation is not a party to the Minsk agreements, which have been sabotaged by Ukraine “with the backing of our Western colleagues”. To be sure, Moscow remains open to a diplomatic solution. He condemned the negative role played by the Western alliance led by the United States, which has whipped up alarm over an impending invasion while sending weapons to Ukraine.
In turn, the United States representative rejected Moscow’s claim that Ukraine is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, stressing that her country has no intention of supplying them to Kyiv, which does not want them. While Putin may want the world to travel back to a time of empires, it is not 1919. Today, Putin has “torn the Minsk agreements to shreds”; tomorrow, the United States will take further measures to hold the Russian Federation accountable, she declared.
Ukraine’s delegate said his delegation called for tonight’s meeting to draw attention to the Kremlin’s illegal decision to recognize the occupied parts of his country’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions as so-called “people’s republics”.
Today, “the entire membership of the United Nations is under attack” by the Russian Federation, he said, a country that occupied parts of Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and 2014 respectively. “The internationally recognized borders of Ukraine have been and will remain unchangeable, regardless of any statements by the Russian Federation,” he assured.
Yet, Moscow now seeks to legalize the presence of its troops that have occupied areas of the Donbas region since 2014. A country that has fuelled war for eight years is not able to maintain peace, despite its claims, he said, demanding that the Russian Federation cancel the latest decision, return to the negotiating table and effect an immediate, complete withdrawal of its occupying forces. “We are committed to a peaceful and diplomatic path,” he assured, while expressing also confidence that Ukrainians are on their own land. “We will not give away anything to anyone.”
Also speaking today were representatives of Albania, France, India, Brazil, United Kingdom, Mexico, Ireland, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Ghana, Gabon, Norway, China and Germany.
The meeting began at 9:07 p.m. and ended at 10:29 p.m.
ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said the Secretary-General was clear that he considers the decision by the Russian Federation to recognize the independence of certain areas of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions to be a violation of that country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and inconsistent with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. “We very much regret this decision, which risks having regional and global repercussions,” she said, expressing regret over the order to deploy Russian troops into eastern Ukraine, reportedly on a peacekeeping mission. Those developments followed the decision to order a mass evacuation of civilian residents of Donetsk and Luhansk into the Russian Federation, she noted.
Expressing concern over the escalating shelling across the contact line, which reportedly led to casualties, she noted that the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has recorded 3,231 ceasefire violations in the Donbas area from 18 to 20 February: 1,073 ceasefire violations, including 926 explosions in Luhansk; and 2,158 ceasefire violations, including 1,100 explosions, in Donetsk. She reminded all involved of their responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law.
Expressing extreme concern about the possible implications of the latest developments for the existing negotiation frameworks, she said that given the current risks and uncertainty, it is even more important to pursue dialogue. “Negotiation is the only way to address the existing differences among the key actors regarding regional security issues, and the settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2202 (2015),” she said, calling upon all relevant actors to focus their efforts on an immediate cessation of hostilities. Civilians and civilian infrastructure must be protected, and actions and statements that may worsen the situation must be avoided.
In recent weeks, key actors have been engaged in intense diplomacy to avert a new eruption of conflict in the heart of Europe, she said, adding that the Secretary-General fully supports those efforts and has deplored even the possibility that a new conflict could break out. She went on to express the full commitment of the United Nations to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders, noting that the next hours and days will be critical. “The risk of major conflict is real and needs to be prevented at all costs.”
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said that looking the other way in the face of the Russian Federation’s hostility is not possible, as its action defies the Charter of the United Nations and international law. President Vladimir Putin made a series of outrageous and false claims about Ukraine, aimed at creating a pretext for war. Rejecting his claim that Ukraine is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, she said the United States has no intention of supplying such weapons and Kyiv does not want them. President Putin wants the world to travel back to a time of empires, but it is not 1919; it is 2022. The consequences of the Russian Federation’s actions will be dire, she said, emphasizing: “President Putin is testing our international system and seeing just how far he can push us all; we must act together in response to this crisis.” Today, President Putin has “torn the Minsk agreements to shreds”; tomorrow, the United States will take further measures to hold the Russian Federation accountable. The United States and its partners will ensure that there will be a severe and swift response. In this moment, no one can stand on the side-lines. An attack on Ukraine is an attack on the United Nations Charter, she said, adding that the diplomatic table is the only place to preserve peace.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) condemned the Russian Federation’s recognition of non-Government-controlled areas of Ukraine as independent entities, noting that such action ends the Minsk agreements and has no international legal validity. Calling on the Council and Member States to reject the same, he said the world has witnessed how the Russian Federation has continuously worked to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and determine its geopolitical orientation. Noting that this action is a repeat of events in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014 — namely, “aggression by fabrication of phantom republics” — he stressed that every Member State should be alarmed and should not accept that the “made in Russia” model of destabilization be exported to Europe and beyond.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) condemned the Russian Federation’s recognition of the separatist eastern regions of Ukraine, which represent not just attack on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of that State, but a violation of the Charter of the United Nations and resolution 2202 (2015) which called on all parties to fully implement the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements.” He noted that on 17 February, the Russian Federation’s representative addressed the Council and acknowledged there was no alternative to the Minsk agreements – but today, the reality is quite different. The Russian Federation has chosen a path of confrontation despite recent efforts to deescalate, notably by France’s President Emmanuel Macron. Calling on Moscow to “match its words with its deeds”, he expressed concern over the additional steps taken on the border of Ukraine. Welcoming the restraint shown by Kyiv, he urged the Russian Federation to refrain from any further destabilization of the situation, reaffirming concern over President Vladimir Putin’s deployment of an army on the premise of peacekeeping.
T. S. TIRUMURTI (India) noted that the escalation of tensions along the border of Ukraine with the Russian Federation is a matter of deep concern. He called for restraint on all sides, stressing that the immediate priority is the de-escalation of tensions, taking into account the legitimate security interests of all countries. Welcoming the intense efforts under way, including through the Trilateral Contact Group and under the Normandy format, he said “we cannot afford to have a military escalation” and called for greater efforts to find common ground to facilitate the implementation of the Minsk agreements, including key security and political aspects. “Constructive diplomacy is [the] need of the hour,” he stressed. Emphasizing the importance of civilian safety and security, he said more than 20,000 Indian students and nationals live and study in different parts of Ukraine, including in its border areas, and he underscored India’s priority to maintain their well-being.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) called for immediate de-escalation and steadfast commitment to political and diplomatic efforts leading to a peaceful solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Recalling the core principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations — the sovereign equality and territorial integrity of Member States, restraint in the use or in the threat of use of force, and the peaceful settlement of disputes — he called again on all parties to maintain dialogue “in a spirit of openness, understanding, flexibility and a sense of urgency”. A first “inescapable objective” is an immediate ceasefire, he said, with comprehensive disengagement of troops and military equipment on the ground, which would be an important step in building trust, strengthening diplomacy and seeking a sustainable solution to the crisis.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) said actions taken by the Russian Federation will have severe and far-reaching consequences, first to human life. She expressed concern that women and children in Ukraine will suffer most. The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is protected and guaranteed by the United Nations Charter. Moscow’s decisions violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and make a mockery of the commitments Russian Federation has made in the Budapest Memorandum and Minsk agreements, endorsed by resolution 2202 (2015). Its actions demonstrate contempt for international law. The United Kingdom therefore will announce new sanctions against the Russian Federation in response to its breach of international law and attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico) pointed out that the Council, through resolution 2202 (2015), supported a range of measures as the only way to resolve the situation in eastern Ukraine. Stressing that this resolution must be respected, she urged parties to immediately end the unacceptable shelling and other ceasefire violations that have occurred over preceding days. She also recalled the Russian Federation’s categorical statement that it would not invade Ukraine — made recently in the Council chamber — and expressed hope that the Russian Federation would comply fully with that statement.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) said current events pose great danger to the people of Ukraine, to peace and security in Europe, and international norms and principles that all sitting at the Council table must defend. This moment should have been averted by diplomacy and dialogue. Reaffirming Ireland’s unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, she said Ukraine has the same right to choose its own foreign policy and defend its territory as every State — commitments that are binding on all Member States. Citing the Russian Federation delegate’s statement one week ago that there is no alternative to the “milestone document” of the Minsk agreements, she noted that four days later, President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into the separatist regions, the second time in 10 years that the Russian Federation has violated international law in that domain. The Russian Federation has therein abandoned the Minsk accords and cast into doubt all diplomatic efforts. Commending the restraint shown by Ukraine, she stressed that the Russian Federation’s unilateral actions only escalate tensions and frustrate the pursuit of diplomacy. Urging the Russian Federation to withdraw the recognition of the regions, she commended those engaging in dialogue and called on them to redouble their efforts. “We owe nothing less to the people of Ukraine,” she said, a country that has endured eight years of bitter conflict with 14,000 lives lost. The Council cannot yield to a grim new chapter.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) said her delegation’s position was expressed in its statement on 17 February. Stressing the importance of de-escalating tensions, she called for good faith efforts to mitigate the risks and chart a diplomatic path consistent with international law. The Minsk agreements form a good basis from which to build, she said.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), expressing grave concern over the Russian Federation’s announcement to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as independent states, stressed that the possibility of serious security concerns in these regions does not justify such recognition. Recalling that Kenya, and almost every African country, was “birthed by the ending of empire”, he pointed out that Kenya chose to follow the rules of the Organization of African Unity and the Charter of the United Nations “not because our borders satisfied us, but because we wanted something greater forged in peace”. Condemning the trend of powerful States breaching international law with little regard, he called on all Member States to rally behind the Secretary-General in defence of multilateralism.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) expressed regret over the Russian Federation’s decisions to recognize the regions of eastern Ukraine, send in troops and abandon the Minsk agreements. His delegation remains convinced in the integrity of States as the foundation of a stable world. Noting that the United Nations has set out the pathway for all its Member States, regardless of differences in political ideology, he expressed support for the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine, opposing any actions that violate its sovereignty. Ghana does not recognize any entity not recognized under the United Nations Charter. Recalling that the international community has pulled back from many dangerous scenarios when logic and reason have prevailed, he said that “while the sound of war may be loud, the voice of peace runs deeper.” The true test of greatness is restraint in the use of power - and on this occasion, the international community must reaffirm the common purpose of the Charter. Reiterating concern about civilians in Donetsk and Luhansk, he said “we may be at the precipice, but we have not fallen over. The path of diplomacy remains.”
LILLY STELLA NGYEMA NDONG (Gabon) said the call for sovereignty over the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have sent signals of imminent action. The Russian Federation’s decision to recognize the sovereignty of these self-declared republics is “heavy with consequence” for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and undermines implementation of the Minsk agreements, constituting an attack on international relations. She called on all parties to de-escalate, use restraint and settle disputes peacefully through dialogue and diplomacy.
MONA JUUL (Norway) strongly condemned Moscow’s recognition of the self-proclaimed “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states as a clear violation of the Minsk agreements. It also runs counter to the work of the Normandy format and the Trilateral Contact Group towards a negotiated peace. The Russian Federation’s actions constitute “a clear violation of international law,” she stressed, demonstrating that Moscow has “chosen unilateral action and military threats rather than diplomacy and dialogue”. She urged the Russian Federation to return to the path of diplomacy, and to de-escalate by withdrawing its military forces from within Ukraine and from the vicinity of its borders. “We are facing the prospects of a war that would not only threaten Europe’s security architecture but would also lead to unparalleled suffering for the civilian population,” she stressed. She called on the Russian Federation to fully adhere to international humanitarian law, and on all parties to both protect civilians and to facilitate safe, rapid and unhindered humanitarian access.
ZHANG JUN (China) called on all parties concerned to exercise restraint and avoid any action that may fuel tensions. Noting that the current situation in Ukraine is the result of “many complex factors” and that China “always makes its own position according to the merits of the matter itself”, he said that all countries should solve international disputes by peaceful means in line with the Charter of the United Nations.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the Council had heard a number of emotional statements and categorical assessments of President Putin’s decree. However, it must now focus on how to avoid war and force Ukraine to stop the shelling and provocations against Donetsk and Luhansk. That decree followed declarations of independence by the regions in 2014, and only occurred now — despite high support for doing so in the regions and the Russian Federation. The Government had asked Kyiv to listen to the aspirations of people in Donbas to teach their children their mother tongue, and who had fought against rather than alongside fascists in the Second World War. Moscow had hoped for peace and welcomed the election of a new President of Ukraine who had promised to establish peace in Donbas — but who instead resorted to bellicose rhetoric and shelling, a flat refusal to speak with the representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk. He reminded the Council that in all other conflicts, be it Libya or Yemen, all Member States insist on direct communication between the parties to conflict, but that Ukraine is exempted. The Russian Federation is not a party to the Minsk agreements, he affirmed, which have been sabotaged by Ukraine “with the backing of our Western colleagues”. While the Russian Federation remains open to a diplomatic solution, he condemned the negative role played by those colleagues, led by the United States, which had whipped up alarm over an impending invasion while sending weapons to Ukraine. He stressed that refugees from the regions have fled to the Russian Federation and not Ukraine, with 68,000 people seeking shelter there. Calling on Western colleagues to think twice and hold back the militaristic plans of Kyiv, he noted that most statements in the Council had not mentioned the nearly 4 million residents of Donbas.
SERGIY KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine) underscored that “today, the entire United Nations membership is under attack” by the country that occupied parts of Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and 2014, respectively. The Russian Federation now seeks to legalize the presence of its troops that have occupied areas of the Donbas region since 2014, and he stressed that a country that has fuelled war for eight years is unable to maintain peace, despite its claims. “We are committed to a peaceful and diplomatic path – and we will stay firmly on it,” he assured. “We are on our land […] we will not give away anything to anyone.” Ukraine will now know its friends and partners — on the side of the United Nations Charter — from those who will “continue to deter Russia by words only”. He demanded that the Russian Federation cancel its decision of recognition, return to the negotiating table and effect an immediate, complete withdrawal of its occupying forces. Also pointing out that Moscow copy-pasted, “word for word”, today’s decree relating to Ukraine from the one relating to Georgia in 2008, he observed that “the copying machine in the Kremlin works very well” and questioned which Member State might be next.
ANTJE LEENDERTSE (Germany) called the Russian President’s decision to recognize the separatist, self-declared “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine a blatant breach of resolution 2202 (2015) and the United Nations Charter — and yet another “flagrant and deliberate” violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, following the illegal annexation of Crimea, and the instigation and fuelling of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014. Recalling that the Russian Federation has repeatedly insisted it was no party to the conflict, he said that “today, it unmasks itself and shows that it always has been”. Germany will take firm and adequate measures in response to Moscow’s breach of international law that will have serious economic, political and geostrategic consequences. She urged Moscow to immediately revoke today’s decisions and recommit to the Minsk agreements, in line with what the Normandy Four political advisers last agreed upon. Further, the Russian Federation must ensure that its forces will not cross the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine, immediately withdraw its troops from regions bordering Ukraine in the Russian Federation and Belarus, and recommit to the rules-based security architecture in Europe. “We are counting 14,000 dead in eastern Ukraine over the last eight years,” she said, “3,400 of them civilians.” She called on Moscow to return to the path of diplomacy.