Expressing alarm over the high civilian death toll in Ukraine of recent days, along with the shelling of the city of Mariupol, the top United Nations political affairs official called on the rebels to “recommit to the ceasefire and back down from their offensive” in an emergency Security Council meeting this afternoon.
“In just five days since we last met on 21 January, close to 50 civilians have been killed and nearly 150 have been seriously injured,” Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said at a meeting requested by Ukraine, less than a week after a full Council briefing on the situation (see Press Release SC/11746).
He reiterated that the Minsk ceasefire must be immediately restored, “with the onus particularly on the rebels”. At the same time, he expressed hope that the negotiating mechanism known as the Trilateral Contact Group, consisting of the European Union, the United States, Ukraine and the Russian Federation, could soon renew efforts to implement the broader Minsk accords.
Noting that the rebel announcement of withdrawal from the ceasefire on 23 January was accompanied by threats to seize further territory and a boycott of future “consultations” with negotiating mechanisms, he said that it was a violation of their commitments under the Minsk accords signed in September, under which the nominal truce had been declared. He called on them to abide by their commitments.
He also urged the leadership of the Russian Federation to use its influence to call on the rebels to cease hostilities immediately. “This will be a critical step in stopping the bloodshed,” he said. While affirming that the Ukrainian leadership had been vocal about their commitment to the Minsk agreements, he, however, appealed for their maximum restraint in light of recently announced emergency measures.
Among the worst recent violence, he reported, was the death of dozens of civilians this past Saturday, 24 January, when a “barrage of attacks with multi-launch rocket systems hit the city of Mariupol”. The Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) determined that the rockets, based on crater analysis, had originated from rebel-controlled territory. As Mariupol lay outside the immediate conflict zone, the conclusion could be drawn that civilians were knowingly targeted. “This would constitute a violation of international law,” he maintained.
It was more important now than ever to guarantee humanitarian workers unhindered access in the east in light of the declared state of emergency and the surging violence, he said, adding that bureaucratic hurdles must be eased and humanitarian operations must be free from Ukrainian taxation. All sides must commit to the protection of civilians.
Calling for full political re-commitment to a peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict at the highest levels, he pledged the United Nations readiness to support the consolidation of a sustainable and lasting peace as may be required. “Over 5,000 lives have already been lost in this conflict. We must find a way to stop it and we must do so now,” he said.
Following that briefing, Council members again expressed heightened alarm over the surging violence in eastern Ukraine, concurring with Mr. Feltman that the implementation of the Minsk agreements was the only way to achieve peace and calling upon the parties to implement them in full. Many stressed the need to hold accountable those responsible for targeting civilians.
As in earlier meetings on the situation, the representatives of Lithuania, United Kingdom, United States, New Zealand and others made strongly-worded statements stating a case for rebel responsibility for recent fatalities and the overall violence, and accusing the Russian Federation of supporting those armed groups with troops and heavy weaponry despite the latter’s denials.
The representative of the United Kingdom called on all Council members to clearly and directly appeal to the Russian Federation to cease support to the rebels and to influence them to negotiate. “We need to see Russian action to put an end to this widening and increasingly deadly conflict,” he said.
The representative of the Russian Federation, in an equally emphatic statement, expressed sympathy with all the civilians who were suffering in eastern Ukraine, but blamed most of it on shelling by the Ukraine armed forces in their efforts to retake populated areas, citing tragedies throughout this month. He called for objective investigations into the attacks, claiming that fact had fallen victim to propaganda.
Force alone could not solve a conflict, he said, emphasizing that Kyiv authorities should sit down around the table with the self-defence formations to start an inclusive, direct dialogue. It was, he stressed, the only way to end the tragedies. He called for those with influence on Ukraine to convince them to do so and to “stop egging on the Ukrainian hawks”.
Ukraine’s representative said that the civilized world was still waiting for the explanation of why Russian soldiers were massed on his country’s soil. In addition, evidence was building to prove that the Russian-backed separatists had launched the tragic shelling of Mariupol, for which his country was in mourning, he said, adding that all civilian deaths would be ended if the Russians stopped their support for the rebels.
He expressed hope that the Russian Federation, after the growing tragedies, would abide by its international responsibilities. “We stand for peace, but we will fight for our homeland as true patriots,” he said.
Also speaking today were the representatives of France, Spain, Jordan, China, Chad, Nigeria, Venezuela, Malaysia, Angola and Chile.
The representatives of the Russian Federation and Ukraine took the floor for further statements.
The meeting began at 1:40 p.m. and ended at 3:15 p.m.
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) stated that as long as the Russian Federation continued on its current course of arming illegal fighters, sending troops and spreading “hate-mongering” propaganda, peace in Ukraine had no chance. The international community must not give in to those obfuscations, she said, asking how illegal militants could, among other things, amass armoured combat vehicles, each costing at least $4 million, and claim to have an air fleet. The Minsk agreements must be implemented by all parties, including the Russian Federation. “The onus is on Russia to put an end to this senseless war,” she stressed, including by ending support to illegal armed groups, accepting international monitoring of the border and reaffirming its respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty.
VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said his delegation was seriously concerned about the current situation, including indiscriminate shelling resulting in hundreds of casualties and destruction in cities in Ukraine. Listing a number of incidents of intense shelling, he said that the media had only focused on two events, including the attack in Mariupol, which had taken place in areas controlled by Kyiv. He called for investigations of all incidents to ensure accurate accounts. Unfortunately, Council discussions had seen the United States and United Kingdom insisting on a statement against the leader of the self-defence formations, while no condemnation of the leaders of Ukraine had been made, he pointed out, citing several recent examples of statements by the Government of Ukraine that were provocative to his Government. Western colleagues, during the whole of the conflict, had accused the self-defence formations of crimes without addressing the Ukrainian Government, which, among other things, had stopped payments to Donbas and had blocked humanitarian aid to the area. The situation could have been different if the Minsk agreements had been followed, with heavy weaponry removed from the area and a return to dialogue. Force alone could not solve a conflict, he said, emphasizing that Kyiv authorities should sit down around the table with the self-defence formations to start an inclusive, direct dialogue.
MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) said the Security Council had recently met over concerns on an escalation of the conflict, with the most recent being an attack on Mariupol that appeared to violate international humanitarian law. Reports had shown that the rockets were fired from separatist-held areas. The Russian Federation had transferred tanks, armoured vehicles and special forces to the separatists, in clear violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and the arms flow had given the separatists the fire power to escalate the conflict. Since the September Minsk agreements, the separatists had taken an addition 550 km2. Last week, the self-proclaimed separatist leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, had announced the attack on Mariupol. Thus, the Security Council must now make very clear its stance in view of the position that the Russian Federation was taking. The Russian Federation must withdraw its troops, cease support for the separatists and ensure the immediate implementation of the Minsk Protocol. Noting the statement made by the representative of the Russian Federation that his country wanted an end to the conflict, he emphasized that actions, not words, were needed.
SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said the Council had already pressed the Russian Federation and the separatists to reaffirm their commitment to the Minsk agreements. Unfortunately, those commitments had been flouted and the Council was once again today discussing the matter in view of fresh attacks over the weekend. Commenting on the Russian Federation representative’s statement made earlier, she said that the capability of launching those attacks had been enabled by Russian deliveries of weapons to the separatists. When the Council had tried to issue a statement on the matter, the Russian Federation had blocked it one day after that country had circulated the separatists’ announcement of new attacks. Perhaps knowing the source of the weaponry used, the Russian Federation had then denounced the attacks while continuing to play the international community as fools and condemning Ukraine. The separatists were trained and equipped by the Russian Federation, she said, adding that “this offensive was made in Moscow.” Since December, hundreds of pieces of military equipment had been transferred to the separatists. In addition, anti-aircraft equipment had been deployed into the area. Shortly thereafter the separatists’ actions surged. If the Russian Federation was serious about peace, it should withdraw its forces and artillery, not send more, she said.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said amid the current spiral of chaos, the Russian Federation had a role in the ongoing violence and dialogue was needed on the restoration of peace. The Russian Federation must use its influence to convince the separatists to respect the ceasefire agreement. Today’s announcement by the Russian Federation’s Foreign Minister regarding efforts to facilitate contact between parties was “encouraging” but insufficient. There was no military solution to the conflict, he said, noting that the Minsk agreements should be implemented by all parties and diplomatic discussions should be restarted. Accordingly, the ceasefire should be respected, all weaponry should be removed from the line of contact and an exchange of prisoners should be organized.
ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain), condemning the attack in Mariupol as well as provocative statements by rebel leaders, praised Ukraine’s regional and international profile and said that the country deserved respect for its sovereignty. He called on all parties to abide by international law in matters of civilian protection. He said that the Security Council could not turn a blind eye to the violations in the east, particularly in the areas under rebel control, and he called on the Russian Federation to use its influence to bring the rebels to negotiation for a peaceful solution.
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan), regretting the breakdown of the ceasefire in Ukraine and the escalation of fighting, condemned the targeting of civilians, whatever its source, and called for impartial investigations. It was incumbent on all parties to resume negotiations with urgency towards a peaceful solution. He called on all States with influence on the separatists to encourage their cooperation in that regard. The unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine must be preserved, he stressed, and foreign fighters must leave its territory.
LIU JIEYI (China), condemning violent attacks aimed at civilians in Ukraine, supported objective investigations that could bring the perpetrators to justice. The deteriorating situation was of deep concern and he called for a ceasefire and the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. In that context, the demands of all ethnic groups must be taken into account and the legitimate concerns of all groups must be addressed. Council discussions must play a constructive role in helping reach a comprehensive, balanced and lasting settlement.
Mr. GOMBO (Chad), also expressing deep concern over the deteriorating situation in eastern Ukraine, said that the international community could not remain impassive on the sidelines in the face of violations of human rights there. He called on all parties to exercise restraint and find a way to engage in effective dialogue and real negotiations towards a political solution. He urged all those with influence on the parties to urge them to reach such a solution, with respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
KAYODE LARO (Nigeria) said the situation had deteriorated, including recent indiscriminate attacks on residential areas. He called on both sides to de-escalate the fighting and to respect the ceasefire and the Minsk agreements, as there could be no military solution to the conflict. It was important that the separatists’ concerns were addressed in negotiations without jeopardizing the territorial integrity of Ukraine, he concluded.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said he was deeply concerned about the recent violence and reiterated his call to all parties to find a negotiated settlement for peace. Those responsible for the acts of violence and terrorism must be brought to justice. All parties must abide by the ceasefire agreement and a solution must include efforts towards a solid and lasting peace. He supported efforts being made by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and other actors to foster a dialogue with all stakeholders. The parties must act with restraint to avoid undermining the dialogue and peace process. The roots of the conflict must also be addressed and all parties should redouble their efforts towards a peaceful solution.
JIM MCLAY (New Zealand), underscoring that violence was escalating at an alarming rate, said that the Mariupol incident confirmed that the situation was on a disastrous downward spiral. He called on all sides to respect international humanitarian law and to refrain from any indiscriminate attacks. In the latest incident, rockets appeared to have been launched indiscriminately into civilian areas. There could be no impunity for such reckless acts and those responsible should be held accountable for their actions. The Russian Federation’s provision of troops and materiel to the separatists was irresponsible, he said, voicing support for a fully inclusive political dialogue. He also called on the Russian Federation to use diplomatic tools to ensure that the separatists respected a ceasefire. The Security Council must also live up to its responsibilities, putting politics aside and using its collective influence to stop the killing of civilians.
HUSSEIN HANIFF (Malaysia) said his country was alarmed at the escalating violence against civilians and lamented that the Security Council could not produce a statement on those incidents. He advised parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law. Recent events had undermined the ceasefire agreement and the relevant parties must uphold the Minsk agreements. Such circumstances demonstrated that a diplomatic solution was needed now more than ever before. A military solution would not be in anyone’s interests. There was still a blatant disregard for countries’ territorial integrity, he said, calling on all parties to find a peaceful solution. He said his country would contribute to efforts to restart talks and help Ukraine to move towards peace.
JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) reiterated his condemnation of attacks on civilians and violations of the ceasefire. He called for all parties to return to talks based on the Minsk agreements and affirmed respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile), Council President, spoke in his national capacity and condemned the shelling in Mariupol, stating that those responsible must be held accountable following a credible investigation. He urged the parties to fully implement the Minsk agreements, and to allow monitoring by the OSCE, as well as the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
YURIY SERGEYEV (Ukraine) said in the shadow of the weekend’s significant deterioration of peace amid attacks by Russian-backed terrorists, it was regrettable that one permanent Council member had blocked the body’s condemnation of the heinous crimes against humanity committed in Mariupol. Reports had shown that the attacks were launched from areas held by the Donetsk People’s Republic, known as the “DNR”, he said, adding that had militants and the Russian Federation complied with the Minsk agreements, the deadly attacks would not have happened. He sought international support, which would finally compel the Russian Federation to keep its promises, rein in its proxies and stop sending troops and weaponry into Ukraine.
Calling on the international community to respond to the crimes of terrorists and increase all forms of pressure on those who sponsored and supported them, he said the so-called “DNR”, as well as other armed groups, must be recognized as a terrorist organization. He reiterated his country’s call for the Security Council to exercise its Charter responsibilities to prevent those terrorists from committing their crimes. “The only way of doing so is to put an end to the Russian aggression against Ukraine,” he said. “Today, as never before, we need joint decisive actions of the international community against terrorist organizations and those who control them.”
Taking the floor a second time, Mr. CHUKRIN said the Security Council had not been in a position to make a statement on the events in Mariupol. He said his country routinely condemned all attacks on all civilians and had stood ready to condemn the deaths in Mariupol, but had been stopped by Council members that had mentioned specific names of members of the self-defence formations. The Russian Federation had always been in favour of investigations of incidents. Today’s meeting was a reminder of other previous meetings. The roots of the problem must be addressed and a military solution was not the answer. And yet, Ukrainian tanks had been moved into the Donbas. Right now serious political efforts were needed between Kyiv and the West. The Russian Federation was flexible, ready to work in any format needed to move that process forward.
Also taking floor a second time, Mr. SERGEYEV said his country had taken into consideration reports based on investigations. He said today about 12,000 Russian troops, 263 artillery systems and other materiel were on Ukrainian territory. It would be extremely helpful to have an explanation of why Russian Federation troops and equipment were in Ukraine. Instead, the Russian Federation had refuted those reports, he said, urging that country not to “play with words” or “create a theatre” in the Security Council. Ukraine had a lot of proof of a Russian presence. The Russian Federation was sponsoring terrorism in Ukraine, he said.
Mr. CHURKIN said it was regrettable to hear the same propaganda.