Situation in Eastern Ukraine Remains ‘Tense and Volatile’ Despite Post-Ceasefire Reduction in Fighting, Security Council Told during Briefing

SC/12154
11 December 2015
7576th Meeting (AM)

Situation in Eastern Ukraine Remains ‘Tense and Volatile’ Despite Post-Ceasefire Reduction in Fighting, Security Council Told during Briefing

Delegations Stress Need to Implement Minsk Agreements in Full, End Widespread Human Rights Violations, Stabilize Humanitarian Situation

Despite a reduction in clashes following the recent ceasefire agreement, the situation in eastern Ukraine remained “tense and volatile”, characterized by widespread human rights violations and a deteriorating humanitarian situation, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today, in the first meeting to be held on the matter in six months.

In addition, they said, most provisions of the agreements signed in Minsk — with a view to ending the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and separatists in the east — remained unimplemented, and lasting peace was still out of reach.  “The Minsk agreements remain the best available viable and accepted path to resolving the conflict,” said Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson as he briefed the Council.  Fighting had generally subsided since the ceasefire on 1 September and the parties to the conflict had begun to implement the agreement to withdraw so-called “lighter” weapons from the contact line, he said.  However, sporadic clashes continued and the use of weapons had been reported throughout the conflict zone.

On the diplomatic front, he said, “modest yet tangible” progress had been made following the 2 October meeting among the leaders of France, Germany, Russian Federation and Ukraine.  Rebels in eastern Ukraine had announced a postponement of the self-declared local elections, and the parties had committed to finding a compromise on the modalities for voting in rebel-held territory, with respect for Ukrainian law and in line with international best practices.  However, failure to reach a compromise on remaining issues threatened the whole political process, and the danger of “serious escalation” remained.

Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, provided the Council with an assessment of the human rights situation based on the work of the Monitoring Mission of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  Noting a recent decrease in the overall number of civilian casualties, he nevertheless said that the absence of the rule of law made the human rights situation in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” very difficult.  In Crimea, meanwhile, the human rights situation had shown no signs of improvement in 2015.

John Ging, Director of Operations in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), decried the July expulsion of many humanitarian aid agencies by the de facto authorities in non-Government-controlled areas, saying it was preventing aid from reaching those in need.  Some 2.7 million people were living in such areas, enduring limited freedom of movement, while 800,000 others lived in difficult and dangerous conditions along the line between separatist- and Government-controlled areas.  Around one million people were displaced, he added.

Speaking via video conference from Kyiv, Ertuğrul Apakan, Chief Monitor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, described violations of the ceasefire agreement in several “hotspots” within the Donetsk region.  While those violations did not reflect a military expansion, they had resulted in a further erosion of trust, he said, adding that violations could be attributed to both sides, using mostly small arms and light weapons.  The widespread presence of mines and other unexploded ordnance in the conflict zone was also a matter of concern.

As the floor was opened to Council members, a number of speakers expressed concern over the slow pace in implementing the Minsk agreements and recent flare-ups of fighting.  Others reiterated their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, voicing frustration at the ongoing “illegal annexation” of Crimea and calling for the Russian Federation to end its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In that vein, Lithuania’s representative said Ukraine was suffering from a conflict initiated under false pretexts and supported by an aggressive campaign of propaganda and hate.  The forcible redrawing of its borders and continued violations of its sovereignty remained a major challenge for the international community to address.  The Russian Federation’s aggression had left more than 9,000 dead people and over 20,000 injured, he said, adding that grave human rights violations were being committed in areas controlled by that country’s proxies.

Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, declared:  “Let’s use the chance of Minsk before it slips away,” as he called for an end to the “madness” in the east of his country.  Almost 300 days had passed since the adoption of Council resolution 2202 (2015), which unanimously endorsed the Minsk agreements, and a final political solution was not yet in sight.  “Coherent international action” was needed to secure sustainable de-escalation, he said, reminding the Council that Ukraine had requested the deployment of a peacekeeping mission to support implementation of the Minsk agreements.

Emphasizing that only full implementation of the accords would resolve the current conflict, the Russian Federation’s representative said tensions had resurfaced in recent months with the Ukrainian side’s seizure of several villages in the buffer zone and continued shelling.  In addition, Ukraine refused to engage in dialogue with representatives of Donbas, and “war-mongering rhetoric” still emerged from Kyiv as an ideology of extremism — including neo-Nazism — continued to prevail there.

Venezuela’s representative reiterated that full application of Council resolution 2202 (2015) was essential for efforts by the parties to find a resolution to the conflict.  Furthermore, the application of unilateral, coercive sanctions would “sour the atmosphere” necessary for dialogue, he said, adding that such measures were incompatible with peace.  All possible efforts must be made to address the deep historical roots of the conflict, he stressed.

Also speaking today were representatives of France, United Kingdom, Nigeria, Angola, Jordan, China, New Zealand, Spain, Chile, Chad, Malaysia and the United States.

The meeting began at 11:19 a.m. and ended at 1:50 p.m.

Briefings

JAN ELIASSON, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the situation in eastern Ukraine remained tense and volatile.  Since the beginning of the ceasefire on 1 September, fighting had generally subsided throughout the conflict zone, but in recent weeks, sporadic clashes had resumed with varying degrees of intensity around parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.  The parties had begun to implement the agreement to withdraw so-called “lighter” weapons from the contact line, yet the process remained incomplete.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission had observed the use of weapons, including mortars, throughout the conflict zone, he noted, emphasizing the critical need to grant that mission full and unfettered access to all areas covered by its mandate.  He expressed deep concern over continued incidents of harassment and intimidation towards the mission.

On the diplomatic front, he said, “modest yet tangible” progress had been made following the 2 October meeting among the leaders of France, Germany, Russian Federation and Ukraine.  Rebels in eastern Ukraine had announced a postponement of the self-declared local elections, and the parties had committed to finding a compromise on the modalities for voting in rebel-held territory, with respect for Ukrainian law and in line with international best practices.  However, a failure to find a compromise on the remaining critical issues had prevented the parties from reaching a viable solution, and the majority of the provisions of the Minsk agreements remained unimplemented, with divergent interpretations as to the sequence of implementation and the conditions for holding local elections in rebel-held areas.  Such problems threatened the whole political process, he warned, noting that the conflict zone remained highly militarized, with a danger of serious escalation.

He went on to address the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, appealing strongly to all sides to provide unrestricted access for critical humanitarian assistance and guarantee freedom of movement for civilians throughout the country.  He further appealed to all those with influence over the actors to ensure the removal of all bureaucratic and political impediments to humanitarian assistance.  Expressing concern about the cutting off of electricity to the people of Crimea, he said the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine continued to perform critical monitoring, reporting and prevention work.  The Council would hear more about the human rights situation in Ukraine from the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights.  “The Minsk agreements remain the best available viable and accepted path to resolving the conflict,” he said, stressing that they must be implemented in full, and that all parties must work without delay towards a durable political solution.

IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, gave an assessment of the human rights situation based on the work of the Monitoring Mission of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  The last several months had been marked by a considerable decrease in hostilities and reduced shelling of populated areas, he said, noting that there had been 47 civilian deaths between 16 August and 15 November compared to 105 killed in the previous reporting period of 16 May - 15 August.  While a growing number of people were being killed by explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices, the relative calm could be a manifestation of a pattern in which a surge in hostilities and casualties was followed by a ceasefire, a decrease in hostilities and casualties, and then renewed escalation.  In the east, the absence of the rule of law made the human rights situation in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” very difficult.  Residents of territories controlled by armed groups also faced difficulties in exercising their economic and social rights, and the onset of winter could worsen the situation, he warned.

For people in the conflict area, he said, restrictions on movement across the contact line imposed by the Government of Ukraine in January 2015 were still a major challenge.  People often spent hours waiting in queues with limited access to water and sanitation facilities, and the presence of mines along transport corridors was an additional risk.  Efforts by the Government to restore law and order in the conflict zone were accompanied by allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary and incommunicado detention as well as torture and other forms of ill-treatment, he said, pointing out that elements of Ukraine’s security service appeared to enjoy a high degree of impunity.  In Crimea, the human rights situation had shown no signs of improvement in 2015.  It was still not possible to express one’s views in Crimea if they were different from those promoted by the de facto authorities and the Russian Federation, he said, adding that law-enforcement and justice systems were used as instruments of repression.

The Government of Ukraine’s adoption of a National Human Rights Strategy and Action Plan was a welcome development, he said.  Going forward, the priority in territories controlled by armed groups would be the release of all illegally detained people and the provision of independent monitors, including international organizations, with access to detention locations.  Regarding the Government of Ukraine, he said priority should be given to justice and accountability for violations committed during the Maidan events, the 2 May 2014 violence in Odessa and human rights violations reported in the areas of armed conflict.  OHCHR also called upon the Government to reconsider restrictions on freedom of movement across the contact line, and encouraged it to recognize civil registration documents issued in territories controlled by armed groups.  With regards to Crimea, he emphasized the importance of granting OHCHR monitors access to the peninsula.  In the coming year, OHCHR planned to look into those human rights most at risk, expand its presence in the east and support implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan.

JOHN GING, Director of Operations, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), spoke on behalf of Under-Secretary-General and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien, reporting that he had just returned from eastern Ukraine, where he had witnessed “the devastating impact of the conflict, particularly on the most vulnerable — the elderly and the sick”.  Some 2.7 million people were living in non-Government-controlled areas with limited freedom of movement, and 800,000 others lived in difficult and dangerous conditions along the line between those and Government-controlled area.  There were now up to one million internally displaced persons, and more than one million who had fled the country.

He recalled that almost a year ago, the Minsk agreements to “ensure safe access, delivery, storage and distribution of humanitarian assistance to those in need” had been welcomed.  However, those commitments had not been met.  In July, the United Nations and international non-governmental organizations had been instructed by the de facto authorities in non-Government-controlled areas to register for formal accreditation.  Their inability to do so under international conventions had meant a four-month suspension of their work, as well as the expulsion of the majority of humanitarian actors.  “I protest in the strongest possible terms the suspension of humanitarian programmes and the expulsion of humanitarian actors, which stands in contravention of international norms and principles,” he stressed.

However, he welcomed recent progress made in the non-Government-controlled area of Luhansk, where all United Nations agencies, one international NGO and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had been able to resume their work.  Appealing to the de facto authorities there to allow the immediate return of all international humanitarian organizations, he pointed out, however, that United Nations humanitarian programmes remained suspended in non-Government-controlled areas of Donetsk, with only two organizations having been allowed to resume operations.  “This is not sustainable or acceptable and we urgently need a breakthrough,” he said, appealing also for the support of Council members on that issue.

He also appealed for urgent solutions to overcome administrative blockages in the delivery of essential humanitarian supplies and services.  It was unacceptable that existing laws prohibited the transportation of much-needed commercial supplies into non-Government-controlled areas, he said, expressing deep concern over a proposed law that would prohibit the transfer of water and electricity across contact lines.  The United Nations and humanitarian organizations continued to assist where they could, and in 2015, they had provided 2.1 million people with access to safe water and nearly 320,000 with food assistance, he said, adding that 75,000 people had benefited from mobile medical consultations, among other things.  Recalling the inhumanity, indignity and needless suffering faced by people in eastern Ukraine, he said the conflict was having an unacceptable impact on those least able to bear it.  The inhumanity suffered by children and the elderly was particularly distressing.  Since hopes were pinned on the fragile ceasefire becoming permanent, everyone with power and influence must place the humanitarian plight of civilians at the centre of their attention for positive action, he emphasized, declaring:  “They desperately and urgently need help.”

ERTUĞRUL APAKAN, Chief Monitor, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, spoke via video conference from Kyiv, saying that a period of “relative silence” had started on 1 September and lasted six weeks, proving that tranquillity was possible.  The ceasefire was largely being held, but several hotspots in the Donetsk region were enduring intense localized fighting.  While those violations did not reflect a military expansion, however, they did result in a further erosion of trust, he said, adding that violations could be attributed to both sides, using mostly small arms and light weapons.  The unpredictable situation represented an obstacle to stabilizing and normalizing the situation.  The widespread presence of mines and other unexploded ordnance in the conflict zone was also a matter of concern.

The humanitarian situation, including access to water, heat and medical care, was an urgent problem, especially for people in the vicinity of the contact line, he said, noting that the situation was being monitored in cooperation with United Nations specialized agencies and Ukrainian institutions.  According to the Minsk agreements, the Special Monitoring Mission’s role was to monitor the withdrawal of weapons, he said, pointing out that it had cooperated with the trilateral contact group and others on military issues.  The accords contained an addendum on the withdrawal of certain weapons by 29 September, a process that had been observed.  However, there were still a number of challenges and shortcomings, and the sides were therefore urged to adhere to the agreements in both letter and spirit.

Agreement on a set of mine action principles had been reached, focusing on areas containing water, power and railway infrastructure.  Since the Special Monitoring Mission was in a conflict zone, its main aim was to normalize the situation in Ukraine, he said, pointing out that it had 650 personal on the ground and that the number would rise.  The mission would also open new hubs in conflict zones, he said, noting that it had facilitated many local ceasefires.  Its freedom of movement was important for verification purposes and must be improved.  Looking ahead, he said the main priorities included the need to consolidate the ceasefire, the need to work on mine-action agreements, and the need to withdraw heavy weapons.  The mission would continue to facilitate the repair of critical infrastructure.  Reiterating that all its activities were guided by the aim of stabilizing and normalizing Ukraine, he emphasized that the necessary political will for peace must come from all sides.

Statements

LINAS ANTANAS LINKEVIČIUS (Lithuania) said Ukraine was suffering from a conflict initiated under false pretexts and supported by an aggressive campaign of propaganda and hate.  The forcible redrawing of its borders and continued violations of its sovereignty remained a major challenge for the international community to address.  The Russian Federation’s aggression had left more than 9,000 dead, more than 20,000 injured and over 1.5 million uprooted from their homes.  While approaching winter was making the lives of thousands of people even more difficult, the conflict had barely made headlines, he noted.  Although the General Assembly resolution on Ukraine’s territorial integrity was very clear on the illegality of the annexation of Crimea, the peninsula remained occupied.

As for the Minsk agreements, Lithuania remained critical of the recent trend of reshaping the sequence of commitments and exerting greater pressure on the Ukraine’s political commitments, he said.  Tangible peace could only be achieved by full implementation of the accords.  He stressed that the Russian Federation must withdraw its arms, soldiers and mercenaries from Ukraine’s territory, cease its support for illegal armed groups and allow the country to restore full control over its border.  Further, all hostages and illegally detained persons must be released.  Expressing concern about serious human rights violations against the Ukrainian people in areas controlled by the Russian Federation’s proxies, including killings, torture, degrading treatment, illegal detention and forced labour, he underscored the need for OHCHR and the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine to continue their work.

ALEXIS LAMEK (France) said that a resolution of the crisis in eastern Ukraine was a priority for his country, pointing out that, under the Normandy Process, France and Germany had committed fully to the prompt and complete implementation of the Minsk agreements.  The situation on the ground remained extremely volatile, with a growing number of ceasefire violations since early November, no agreement between political groups, a difficult economic and humanitarian situation in Donbass and grave violations of human rights.  The Minsk agreements laid out the terms of reference for a political and peaceful settlement, endorsed by the Security Council through resolution 2202 (2015), he said, adding that resolving the crisis would involve the thorough application of measures for their implementation as quickly as possible.  All sides, as well as all Security Council members, had a responsibility to support that process, he added.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said that, given the interconnected nature of all the issues dealt with by the United Nations, it was imperative that the Council “hears the full picture” of the situation in Ukraine.  The situation was worrying because the Minsk agreements remained unfulfilled, the humanitarian situation was worsening and would continue to do so, and Crimea remained illegally annexed and its people’s human rights subjected to violations.  More than 9,000 people had been killed and over 20,000 injured since the conflict had begun, he said, calling in particular for “meaningful demining” in eastern Ukraine.  One Council member present today had influence that could persuade the separatists to act, as well as to withdraw its weapons, but at the moment, the Russian Federation’s influence only seemed to increase tensions, including by continuing to send convoys into Ukraine.  The situation would only get worse, and all humanitarian agencies must be allowed to prepare for winter.  It was now 21 months since the illegal annexation of Crimea, he recalled, noting that human rights continued to be suppressed there.

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said the protests and coup d’état supported from outside had led to the social and economic crisis in Ukraine, and helping to find a solution was the challenge before the Council.  The work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which did not enjoy a Security Council mandate, went beyond the remit of the Council’s resolutions, he emphasized.  Indeed, it was only full implementation of the Minsk agreements that would resolve the situation.  The Council had met often on Ukraine, but its meetings had been mostly polemic in nature, an exception being the adoption of resolution 2202 (2015) approving the package of measures under the Minsk agreements.  In line with those accords, heavy weapons had been withdrawn and hostilities against civilians reduced, he said.

In recent months, however, tensions had resurfaced, he said.  The Ukrainian side had engaged in shelling and its armed forces continued to act throughout the region.  Furthermore, on 4 December, the Ukrainian side had seized seven villages in the buffer zone, actions that were provocative by nature.  The Ukrainians were trying to argue that black was white, and that the rebels were shelling themselves, he said.  It was clear that the military situation could not be viewed apart from the package of political measures.  Nothing positive could be seen in the implementation of the main parts of the Minsk agreements, including real reform and the planning of elections in eastern Ukraine.  In addition, the Ukrainian side refused to engage in dialogue with representatives of Donbas and had ignored the agreements by the leaders of the Normandy Format.  While the Minsk package contained a number of measures to improve the social and economic situation in Donbas, Kyiv continued its economic blockade, cutting off basic services and food.

He went on to say that the Ukrainian leadership had done nothing to improve the situation of people in Lugansk and Donbas while, in contrast, the Russian Federation had provided food, warm clothing, medicines and other benefits to the people there.  Political will was needed from all parties, but it was sorely lacking in Ukraine.  Indeed, “war-mongering rhetoric” still emerged from Kyiv, as did gross corruption.  Cases of human rights violations by Ukrainian armed forces had also been reported, he said, adding that the Ukrainian authorities were still prosecuting civilian opposition activists while Kyiv was selling weapons in the Middle East.  The Ukrainian authorities also continued to undermine the peace process in Donbas, and throughout the country, as an ideology of extremism, including neo-Nazism, continued to prevail.  The position of a number of other States did not help, with the President of the United States having stated that the Russian Federation was hampering implementation of the Minsk agreements.  Moscow considered Washington’s actions as “a provocation”.

MARTIN SENKOM ADAMU (Nigeria), expressing concern about the tenuous peace, said the package of measures contained in the Minsk agreements provided a clear road map for settling the situation, and urged the parties to implement them.  Shelling was endangering civilians and the parties must be careful not to expose them.  The humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine was also of concern, he said, urging the relevant authorities to remove impediments to access for humanitarian actors.  Nigeria further called upon authorities to take steps to coordinate relief efforts in the region.

JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) expressed support for a resolution of the conflict through dialogue and respect for international law, while underlining Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Expressing support also for implementation of the package contained in the Minsk agreements and the ceasefire, and taking note of the relative optimism expressed by the briefers, he said that he hoped the separatists would soon give up the territories they controlled and restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity.  Angola regretted the lack of freedom of movement for United Nations agencies and strongly condemned violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, he said, emphasizing that there should be safe and rapid access to all areas for people in need.  The Minsk agreements constituted the only viable strategy for attaining peace, he said, calling upon all parties to respect the ceasefire, implement the accords and let the Special Monitoring Mission verify the withdrawal of heavy weapons.

MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan) reiterated the need for a permanent political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine, and for the restoration of the country’s territorial integrity.  Since military confrontations would only lead to a worsening of the current situation and the deterioration of humanitarian conditions, Jordan called upon all parties to focus on positive and constructive dialogue in the context of the Normandy Formula and the trilateral contact group.  The Minsk agreements constituted a solid foundation for settling the conflict, he said, underlining the need for comprehensive implementation of all its articles.  Political de-escalation of the crisis would contribute to a resolution of the humanitarian crisis, he said, emphasizing that it was imperative to provide protection for civilians and to investigate all crimes in order to put an end to impunity.  OSCE must have access to all areas so that it could verify the withdrawal of heavy weapons.

HENRY ALFREDO SUÁREZ MORENO (Venezuela) reiterated that full application of Council resolution 2202 (2015) was essential as part of the consolidation of efforts by the parties to find a resolution to the conflict in Ukraine.  Only through dialogue, political will and compromise by the parties would a resolution to the conflict be reached.  Furthermore, the application of unilateral, coercive sanctions “sour the atmosphere” necessary for dialogue and were incompatible with peace, he said, adding that all possible efforts must be made to address the deep historical roots of the crisis.  Finally, he appealed to all parties to guarantee humanitarian access to those living in conflict areas and those displaced, adding that Venezuela rejected violence against any specific ethnic groups in the conflict area.

WANG MIN (China) said the situation in Ukraine was relatively stable and the ceasefire had been maintained.  All parties should implement the Minsk agreements.  The situation involved a complicated history, he said, emphasizing in that regard, that the concerns of all ethnicities and parties involved must be taken into account.  China was open to discussion of the situation in the Council, which should play a constructive role in finding a resolution to the conflict.  However, as always, he said that his country opposed discussions of country-specific human rights issues in the Council, as well as the use of sanctions, and fully respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all the parties.

GERARD VON BOHEMEN (New Zealand) expressed concern at the slow progress towards implementation of the Minsk agreements, which offered the best chance for a durable peace.  The continuing presence of foreign fighters and the flow of weapons and ammunition into separatist-controlled regions made the renewal of hostilities a constant possibility.  New Zealand called upon all parties to deliver on their commitments to a genuine and sustained ceasefire and to the verified withdrawal of proscribed weapons.  Noting that the restoration of lasting peace to the region required restoring Ukraine’s control over its border with the Russian Federation, he said that in order for that to occur, the parties would need to reach agreement on, and implement, all political elements of the Minsk accords.  The separatists must comply with all obligations undertaken in those agreements, including by ensuring that OSCE monitors could carry out their work effectively and safely, he said, calling upon the Russian Federation to use its considerable influence over the separatists to ensure such compliance.  As for the human rights and humanitarian situation, New Zealand called upon all parties to do everything within their power to ensure that humanitarian assistance was able to freely reach those who needed it.

JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain), saying his delegation was in favour of the Council keeping a watchful eye on the situation and on implementation of the Minsk agreements, expressed regret over the increase in hostile action and the delays in compliance with the Minsk accords, which should be rekindled under the Normandy Format.  They were the only solution to the political conflict.  The ceasefire must be consolidated and heavy weapons withdrawn, he said, underlining the need to grant OSCE access to all areas.  Deeply troubled by the persistence of human rights violations, particularly in Donetsk and Luhansk, and by reports of human rights violations in Crimea, he said the protection of human rights in the whole region must be a priority, welcoming in that regard the Human Rights Strategy announced by the Government of Ukraine.  Spain also welcomed Ukraine’s acceptance of the competence of the International Criminal Court, he said, adding that any lasting resolution must include respect for the country’s political independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

BELÉN SAPAG (Chile) expressed misgivings about the situation in Donetsk and the fact that the ban on heavy weapons was not being implemented.  Compliance with the ceasefire, monitored by the Special Monitoring Mission, was the only way to achieve lasting peace, he said, calling upon parties to refrain from actions that were incompatible with the United Nations Charter, international law as well as international humanitarian and human rights law.  Access for humanitarian aid must be guaranteed, especially at the onset of winter, he said, emphasizing that the international community must be poised to respond to humanitarian appeals.  It was imperative that the Council convey a clear message to the parties on the need to implement the Minsk agreements because only political dialogue within the Minsk framework would contribute to lasting peace.

GOMBO TCHOULI (Chad), expressing concern over the security and humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine despite the signing of the Minsk agreements, noted the heavy human cost of the crisis and the massive destruction of public and private facilities.  There was a need for unhindered access for humanitarian actors to conflict areas.  A political solution was up to the parties, who should engage in real negotiations, he said, urging implementation of the Minsk agreements.  Chad deplored violations of the ceasefire, he said, stressing that the Special Monitoring Mission must not be hampered.

SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia), taking note of the progress made so far in implementing the Minsk agreements, said, however, that it was far from being irreversible.  Malaysia urged the parties to cooperate fully with the OSCE Monitoring Mission, including by granting access to rebel-held areas.  Noting the extension of the deadline for implementing the Minsk agreements from the end of 2015 to the end of 2016, she expressed deep concern over reports of human rights violations, and called upon all parties to respect international law, including by protecting civilians.  She welcomed the progress made by the Government of Ukraine in putting its National Human Rights Strategy in place, but said she remained concerned about “creeping” violations of human rights in Crimea, including the right to life, to basic freedoms and to the use of native languages.  Invoking General Assembly resolution 68/262 — which underscored the invalidity of the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea — she concluded by stressing that “any military solution will not be sustainable in the long run” and would only lead to more suffering on the ground.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States), Council President for December, spoke in her national capacity, emphasizing the importance of independent reporting of facts relating to implementation of the Minsk agreements and Security Council resolutions.  In arguing that the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights should not brief the Council, one wondered what “inconvenient facts” the Russian Federation wished to hide, she said.  The horrific situation prevailing in Ukraine in June could not become a baseline for the international community’s assessments or actions.  While hostilities were down, the conflict was no less real and no less troubling.  The Council had gathered again on the Ukraine question because the Russian Federation continued to occupy Crimea in violation of a number of international resolutions, she said, adding that Moscow continued to arm, train and fight alongside separatists in Ukraine.  Indeed, a robust combined Russian-separatist force continued to operate, undermining the ceasefire and prospects for peace.

She went on to say that OSCE monitors continued to be threatened and faced obstacles in carrying out their work, adding that ceasefire violations by separatists continued to occur along the border.  Almost 1.5 million people were unable to return home, and those living along the contact line were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.  However, separatists had suspended and expelled humanitarian agencies in July.  There had been deeply disturbing allegations of killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and other abuses and ill-treatment in Donbas.  It was important to note that even incomplete steps such as the 1 September ceasefire could reduce casualties and make strides towards peace, she said, stressing that what was needed now was full implementation of the Minsk agreements.  Most immediately, the daily violations of the ceasefire line must come to an end, heavy weapons must be withdrawn and elections must be held in Donbas under OSCE observation.  The Council would continue to consider the conflict and to hear the facts, until it was resolved, she declared.

PAVLO KLIMKIN, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said that while some time had elapsed since the Council’s last meeting on his country, the situation there had changed “in details” but not in its basic elements.  Aggression by the Russian Federation had reached a new point but had not ended.  Crimea was under occupation and Donbas under attack.  Minsk-2 “looks like a jigsaw puzzle that hasn’t been put together yet”, he said, adding that almost 300 days had passed since the adoption of Council resolution 2202 (2015), which had unanimously endorsed the Minsk agreements.  Months had passed and thousands of people had died, he noted, adding that, following the Minsk-2 Accord, Ukraine had expected implementation of the ceasefire, with a final political solution by the end of 2015.  However, the ink of the Russian signature had not yet dried before the Russian regular army, alongside “terrorists”, had launched a full-scale military attack on Debaltseve.

He went on to state that while the Russian Federation was “messing with our minds and souls”, Ukrainian forces had ceased fire and withdrawn their weapons.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission had been granted full access to all areas under the Government of Ukraine’s control, he said, emphasizing that his country had made every effort to implement its commitment to averting a humanitarian crisis.  Its efforts included the provision of social benefits to residents of occupied Donbas and the adoption by Parliament of constitutional amendments on decentralization.  In contrast, he pointed out, the Russian Federation had not abandoned its provocations, massive assaults and blocking of access to the Special Monitoring Mission in areas under its control.  It had also blocked the release of captives and hindered the activities of international organizations in the region, he said, adding that the Russian Federation had further rejected the holding of elections in Donbas, in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and international standards.  It had also impeded the involvement of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

“It’s not the Ukrainians fighting against Russia, but the other way around,” he continued, emphasizing that it was the Russian Federation that was sending weapons and annexing Ukrainian land.  Since the signing of Minsk-2, Ukrainian forces as well as civilian locations had been shelled or attacked more than 13,500 times.  There had been a time recently when the death toll had stopped rising, but that trend had ended, he noted, warning that Minsk-2 was the only chance to prevent the situation from “backsliding” into full-blown war.  However, “things won’t change unless Russia changes its attitude”, he cautioned.  It must adhere to the Council’s resolution, cease armed provocations against Ukraine in Donbas, provide full access to the OSCE missions, withdraw its troops and weaponry from Ukrainian territory and begin practical discussions on the modalities for the reinstatement of Ukraine’s full control of the border.

He went on to stress the need for “coherent international action” to secure sustainable de-escalation.  In March, Ukraine had formally requested the United Nations to deploy a peacekeeping mission to support implementation of the Minsk agreements, he recalled, urging the Council once again to assume leadership in establishing it.  Recalling that the Russian Federation had blocked the adoption of a resolution seeking justice for the victims of downed flight MH-17, he said the Council must remain actively seized of that matter, and send a clear message that it would not tolerate any infringements on the safety of civil aviation.  “Let’s stop this madness,” he said.  “Let’s use the chance of Minsk before it slips away.”

Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) took the floor a second time, saying that, unfortunately, today’s discussion had not reached the level of objective analysis for implementation of the Minsk agreements and Council resolution 2022 (2015).  Throughout the crisis in the Ukraine, Washington had been playing a destructive role by moving away from the context of the Normandy Format.  Additionally, there was no objectivity in Ukraine’s statement, he said, adding that the Ukrainian leadership had moved away from Minsk and undermined the opportunity for a settlement.  The Russian Federation, within the framework of the Normandy Format, was carrying out its responsibilities, he asserted, expressing hope that the necessary political will would prevail in Ukraine as well, and noting that it might be time for a new approach.

For information media. Not an official record.