Briefing Security Council, Senior United Nations Officials Say Situation in Ukraine Fragile, Reversible

6 March 2015
7400th Meeting (AM)

Briefing Security Council, Senior United Nations Officials Say Situation in Ukraine Fragile, Reversible

Speakers Call for Commitment to Minsk Agreements, Unfettered Access

Despite progress on the ground following the February ceasefire, the situation in Ukraine remained fragile and far from irreversible, the Security Council heard today from three senior United Nations officials, as members called for full implementation of the Minsk agreements.

Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the ceasefire had not taken hold firmly across the region and violations had been reported frequently.  The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) special mission had monitored some withdrawal of heavy military equipment from the line of contact.  However, due to a lack of access and freedom of movement of its personnel, the mission remained unable to verify the true extent of the process.

As per the commitment undertaken by the parties of Minsk, full and unfettered access must be given to the OSCE and withdrawal of heavy weaponry must commence urgently, transparently and comprehensively, he said.  There would be no traction on the political track unless the prerequisite ceasefire and withdrawal of weapons were fully implemented.  Eastern Ukraine still appeared to be in limbo as full implementation of the Minsk package of measures was awaited.

With reference to President Petro Poroshenko’s 17 February statement noting that Ukraine would be requesting a possible deployment of a United Nations-mandated peace mission to that country, he said Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin had held discussions with the Secretary-General and other senior United Nations officials.  The Foreign Minister was informed that was a decision for the Council and that the Secretariat would be guided by decision.  No formal request had been received from Ukraine.

John Ging, Director of the Operational Division at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that Ukraine, which a year ago had no displaced people, today had almost 1.1 million registered as such, with more than 100,000 displaced in the last month.  Displacement continued as pauses in the fighting in some locations had allowed those trapped to flee.  Over 2 million people were living in conflict-affected areas, the majority with limited access to basic services.

Five million people across the country were in need of humanitarian assistance and 1.4 million had no access to health care, he said.  Those remaining in conflict-affected areas faced ongoing security threats due to military activities.  Lives had been lost, basic services had been disrupted, access to banking was limited, food and non-food items were scarce and expensive and an upsurge of lawlessness had been observed.

The ability of humanitarian actors to reach those in need with lifesaving assistance was imperative, he said, calling on all parties to facilitate the safe and unimpeded passage of aid.  Additional funding to address the immediate humanitarian needs was urgently needed, as only 13 per cent of the $316 million appeal had been received or pledged.

In his briefing, Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said that from mid-April 2014 to 15 February 2015, at least 5,665 people had been documented as killed — a figure that had risen to at least 5,820 by 5 March.  As full casualty reports were pending, he estimated that the total number of people killed in eastern Ukraine had surpassed 6,000.

Highlighting “disturbing” trends, he cited an increased use of sophisticated and heavy weaponry, which had been used during the 24 January attack on Mariupol, killing 31 people.  In the east, up until the 15 February ceasefire, and in the Debaltseve area beyond the ceasefire, there was indiscriminate shelling of highly populated civilian areas, in both areas controlled by the Government and those by armed groups.

The situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea was deteriorating, he said, with systematic human rights violations affecting mostly Crimean Tatars and those who had opposed the March referendum.  It was “highly important” that Nadiya Savchenko — who had been in solitary confinement and on a hunger strike for more than 80 days — be released, either under the “all for all” formula or on humanitarian grounds.

Making statements after the briefing today were the representatives of Lithuania, United States, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, China, Jordan, Chile, Spain, Angola, Venezuela, New Zealand, Chad, Malaysia, Nigeria, France and Ukraine.

The representatives of the Russian Federation, United States, United Kingdom and Ukraine made further statements.

The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 12:30 p.m.


RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) said that since the adoption of resolution 2202 (2015) a few weeks ago, some positive developments had taken place in eastern Ukraine.  However, serious concerns remained regarding the verification of the withdrawal of heavy weaponry and continuing instances of ceasefire violations, including near Mariupol and Donetsk airport.  “Any attempts by the Russia-backed militants to seek control of additional territory will be a clear breach of the Minsk agreements,” she said.  Monitors of the OSCE continued to face harassment and were denied access by the Russian-backed groups, she added, noting that the Russian Federation had repeatedly blocked efforts to expand border monitoring.  “It is paramount that Russia should stop destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine and stop supporting illegal armed groups operating there,” she stressed.

“While fighting imagined human rights violations, Russia and the illegal militants it supports have caused dramatic real human rights violations in the regions affected by their illegal actions,” she continued.  More than 6,000 people had been killed and over 14,000 injured; a million and a half people had been displaced.  There were disturbing reports of violations against the Tatar community, which had largely opposed the “sham” referendum a year ago, and fundamental freedoms had been severely curtailed in Russian-annexed Crimea.  In spite of the Russian Federation’s allegations to the contrary, Ukraine’s authorities were continuing the necessary reform process; those efforts should be wholeheartedly encouraged and supported.  “The Ukrainian people […] deserve a clear break with the past of abuses, corruption, cronyism and graft,” she stressed, urging the international community to “walk the talk” in supporting Ukraine’s independence, unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said that although there had been a reduction in violence after 18 February, Russian-backed separatists started violating the package of measures with deadly attacks since day one.  There had been widespread obstruction by the separatists to OSCE monitors, and Russia had pretended that it had no heavy weaponry in Ukraine in hopes of deflecting international attention.  Russian convoys that were supposed to go out of Ukraine were going in.  If they were indeed humanitarian convoys, why were inspections not permitted, she questioned.  The separatists had established a track record of using the lull to regroup and resupply, but the international community was carefully watching what happened this time.  Crimea constituted not only the violation of sovereignty by a permanent member of the Security Council, but also provided a preview of the rule facing eastern Ukraine under the separatists.  To avoid an Orwellian world where peace was professed but not practiced, implementation of the Minsk agreements was urgent.

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said speakers in the Council had used “fifty shades of black” in describing the situation in Ukraine, while he would have expected them to be more constructive.  The Council did not take a decision to set up a United Nations human rights mission in Ukraine or a line of reporting.  Moreover, Mr. Šimonović had already briefed the Human Rights Council in Geneva, which thus made his effort duplicative.  Further, Mr. Šimonović had talked about military issues that went beyond the remit of human rights.  The Minsk documents contained important elements that served as a critical tool for long-term peace and stability and had no ambiguity regarding the sequence of the steps.  It was important to work to fully implement those steps and not attempt to rewrite them.  If the monitoring required more strengthening, the Russian Federation was ready to consider that.  The positive development on the ground was satisfactory, with the ceasefire holding and the withdrawal of heavy weapons continuing.  Those moves should lend trust in the process and not allow isolated violations to divert attention.  His country had sent humanitarian convoys to Ukraine in response to hardships inflicted by Kyiv upon certain communities.  Continuing sabre-rattling by Kyiv and external provocations and interference were deeply concerning.

MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) said the fact that more than 6,000 people had died, 15,000 had been injured and 1.5 million had fled their homes should trouble everyone, as such milestones had been seen within one year, despite successive ceasefires.  The report outlined indiscriminate shelling of populated areas, as well as overburdened internally displaced persons centres and a growing scarcity of food, water and heating.  Both sides must respect international law, secure the safety of people in the region and account for human rights abuses.  Citing separatists’ refusal to grant access to their territories, he urged the Russian Federation to use its influence to overcome that situation.  The Russian Federation had committed to releasing all prisoners, yet Nadiya Savchenko remained in captivity — violating the Minsk agreements.  He asked for an explanation as to why she was still being held.  “We must send a united message on the issue of access,” he said, citing Minsk requirements for humanitarian aid delivery and OSCE observance of the withdrawal of heavy weapons — none of which would happen unless the Russian-backed separatists granted access to those areas.  Also, the Russian so-called humanitarian convoys were being used as cover for the delivery of military supplies.  He urged the Russian Federation instead to donate money to the United Nations aid programme, saying that unless that country changed its course, there would be no choice other than to maintain sanctions.

WANG MIN (China) said the situation in eastern Ukraine had been stable, as the ceasefire had largely been maintained.  Resolution 2202 (2015) reflected the Council’s firm support for diplomatic efforts by the leaders of the Russian Federation, France, Germany and Ukraine for a political solution.  Parties must continue to implement the 12 February Minsk agreements and advance the political settlement process.  China was against any gross human rights violation in Ukraine, and a long-term solution required the full accommodation of the legitimate claims of various ethnic groups and achieving a balance of interests among parties.  The use or threat of unilateral sanctions were not conducive to finding a solution.  China had consistently advocated for respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, he said, expressing support for the Minsk agreements and calling on parties to continue their efforts to ease the situation in east Ukraine.

MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan) said the crisis in Ukraine had created a difficult humanitarian situation that underscored the urgency of reaching a solution with the participation of all parties concerned.  The first priority must be the protection of civilians and lessening their hardships by providing basic services.  Further, pressure must be brought to bear on the parties, particularly the separatists, to respect international law.  Violations may lead to the point of no return which would not serve the purpose of any party and threaten peace and stability beyond the region.  All parties should lift restrictions to international organizations to continue their monitoring and verification activities as well as those undertaking humanitarian work.  The current positive environment must be used to open space for a comprehensive political solution that maintained Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) said that, despite recent positive developments, it was difficult to talk of peace amid the continuing deaths and destruction in parts of Ukraine.  All parties must implement the ceasefire and lay the basis for further progress in all areas under the package of measures under full and unimpeded international monitoring and verification.  The international community should focus its attention and resources towards building lasting peace and stability in Ukraine.

ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain) supported the Council’s role to observe the Minsk agreements, noting that today in Berlin, under the “Normandy format”, a high-level meeting was being held to advance the situation, a process the Council also should support.  Progress since the ceasefire’s entry into force had been inadequate.  The ceasefire should be respected and the Russian Federation should use its influence and demand that rebels implement what had been agreed as a signatory of the Minsk accord.  As well, Ukraine should move to implement the non-military aspects of that agreement.  Urging parties to provide the special monitoring mission with full information, he said Spain had proposed extending that mission’s mandate.  Effective aid distribution should be a common goal.  As such, he urged the Russian Federation to observe international law and to coordinate with Ukraine and international authorities in that regard.  He also urged for the immediate release of Ms. Savchenko, stressing that a lasting solution to the situation must be based on respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola), noting the dire humanitarian and human rights situation, supported peaceful conflict resolution through dialogue and strict adherence to the principles of international law.  Supporting the package of measures agreed in Minsk on 12 February, he expressed concern at the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine since the start of the conflict.  He called for respecting the ceasefire and implementing the Minsk agreements, an instrument which carried “special weight” resulting from the Council’s support for it, as well as extra responsibilities for the signatories.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) said the political situation in Ukraine had been developing favourably and stressed that the agreements underpinning the process must be fully implemented by all parties.  Expressing concern at the death toll and scale of destruction resulting from the conflict, he reiterated his country’s rejection of violence and terrorism regardless of motives and origin.  Lauding the work of the OSCE in monitoring and verifying the Minsk agreements, he said the human rights situation must be addressed.  However, it was imperative to reach a political solution to achieve lasting peace and the Council must work diligently and transparently towards that goal.

JIM MCLAY (New Zealand) said that while there were indications that the situation in eastern Ukraine had begun to improve since the ceasefire, “we must do everything possible to maintain that momentum.”  He hoped that the events of late 2014 and early 2015 represented the low point of humanitarian and human rights abuses in Ukraine.  In the most recent open debate, New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs had raised concerns about the veto.  In that regard, he emphasized that where parties knew that the Council was unable to act, there was a much-reduced incentive for compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law.  Under those laws, all parties had an obligation to ensure that civilians were protected.  Accordingly, the escape of civilians to safety must be allowed with undue restriction, and humanitarian aid must be permitted to reach affected populations.  He called on the Russian Federation, as a party to the Minsk agreements, to ensure that the separatists honoured that which had been agreed.

GOMBO TCHOULI (Chad) expressed grave concern at the dire security and humanitarian situation in Ukraine, particularly its impact on civilians.  The scale of death, destruction and displacement resulting from the conflict underscored the need for more vigorous action in addressing challenges on multiple fronts.  Unimpeded access for monitors, prisoner exchanges, and re-establishment of basic health and educational services, among other tasks, were important and must be taken in accordance with international standards.

HUSSEIN HANIFF (Malaysia), noting that civilians had paid the highest price in Ukraine, condemned the continuing indiscriminate attacks against that population.  There needed to be an independent international investigation to bring to justice those responsible for gross violations of international law.  Despite progress on the ground, peace was still fragile and was not irreversible.  All sides should cooperate with international monitors and organizations to lay the basis for effective and immediate humanitarian assistance in keeping with international law and respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

USMAN SARKI (Nigeria) said the ceasefire in Ukraine was holding but the situation remained tenuous.  The Minsk accord provided the basis for a long-term resolution to the situation and should not be undermined.  The rights of all people must be respected, and all sides should refrain from acts that could threaten the ceasefire and erode gains.  The Council’s confidence-building measures marked an important first step, and the Minsk agreements offered a comprehensive framework for a political solution that would hopefully return Ukraine to a state of peace and ensure respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that through resolution 2202 (2015), the Council had thrown its full weight behind pursuit of a solution to the crisis in Ukraine.  Signatories to the Minsk accord had committed to secure access for the delivery and stockpiling of aid for those in need.  The human rights situation had deteriorated, with the arrival of foreigners as combatants fuelling a new wave of violence.  Underscoring the need to prosecute perpetrators of human rights abuses, he said the response to the humanitarian situation must be coordinated.  Further, Crimeans were living under the de facto yolk of Russian law, especially the Tatars, who were being prosecuted by the Russian legal system for charges that predated the current situation.  The new ceasefire had been respected, but it remained fragile.  De-escalation had been observed and the withdrawal of heavy weapons had preceded that process.  To strengthen trust, he said the Minsk agreements envisioned prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all”, requesting that the Russian Federation no longer detain Ms. Savchenko.  Progress must be made to coordinate humanitarian aid and all parties must guarantee such access.  Welcoming the proposal by Heidi Tagliavini to create a working group that addressed humanitarian, economic and reconstruction issues, he said that group would take over issues such as displaced persons return, the reconstruction of houses, and supply of food to civilians.  He urged the Russian Federation to implement its Minsk obligations.

YURIY SERGEYEV (Ukraine) said the facts mentioned at the Council today proved that the Minsk agreements had not been fully complied with.  Illegal pro-Russian armed groups continued to attack Ukrainian military and civilians, taking a heavy toll.  He expressed his Government’s full commitment to implementing the agreements and considered it the road map to durable peace and stability.  The Russian Federation should use its influence on the separatists to help the OSCE complete its work on the ground.  On the contrary, the latest report presented by Mr. Šimonović clearly indicated a continuing flow of heavy weaponry and foreign fighters from the Russian Federation into the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions controlled by illegal armed groups.

An immediate end to the Russian aggression in Donbas and an end to the occupation of Crimea was an indispensable precondition to ensuring respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Crimea and Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, he said.  Russia’s detention and treatment of Ms. Savchenko constituted grave violations of human rights and the Minsk agreements.  The human rights situation in Crimea was deteriorating, and the Council should act immediately to deal with those and other outrages.  Under no circumstances could the United Nations accept that Russia had turned Crimea into an isolated military camp and its residents into recluses.  Russia continued to send “humanitarian convoys” without involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross and fully isolating the Ukrainian side.  The Russian delegate thus sought to deflect attention from what was a serious violation of international law.

Making a further statement, Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said that 93 per cent of the residents of Crimea had supported the developments there.  The Ukrainian delegate painted a one-sided version of events, and the international community should work towards continuing positive developments on the ground.

He said that Ms. Savchenko was accused of involvement in the killing of two journalists and her detention was not illegal, as it resulted after a full and transparent legal process.  It was ironic that the United States, with its record in Guantanamo Bay, pointed fingers at the Russian Federation.  Further, Mr. Šimonović’s comments at certain places violated principles established in the United Nations Charter for conduct of senior officials.

Ms. POWER (United States), also making a further statement, said the Russian delegate had engaged in practices where the pretence ended and facts changed.  Thus, the back-and-forth was meaningless.  The information provided by the United States to the Council had proven true.  By contrast, the claims Russia made gave way to new claims, which the facts on the grounds disproved.  The only way for peace was for Russia to leave Ukraine and take its weapons with it.

Taking the floor a second time, Mr. LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) shared facts around Ms. Savchenko’s arrest.  He said that Ms. Savchenko had been captured on 17 June in 2014 by the Donbas People’s Militia inside eastern Ukraine, taken to the Russian Federation and charged with a mortar attack in Ukraine that had occurred after her detention.  Russian investigators then said they had opened a new charge:  her illegal border crossing.  He asked again why she was still being held when there was an agreement on 12 February that all prisoners would be released.

Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation), speaking a third time, said there was an investigation.  Charges had been made and a legal procedure was under way.  By contrast, in Ukraine, prisoners were not subject to any legal procedure.  That provision of the Minsk agreements also applied to Ukraine.  In this case, a legal procedure could not be disregarded.  To comments by the United States representative, he said she had exaggerated discussions in the Council since the crisis had begun.  Before a ceasefire could hold in Debaltseve, the issue of Ukrainian soldiers’ withdrawal from that region must be resolved.  His Government had proposed that they withdraw.

However, he said, soldiers had been given orders to break their encirclement.  The situation in Debaltseve could not have been a surprise.  On the issue of weapons, that related to the work of the special monitoring mission, which must conduct activities outlined in the package of measures, including monitoring of the region.  “Our goal is to focus on the tasks that must be carried out in the package,” he said, rather than add on other measures.  Where weapons were stockpiled was a secondary issue and there were no grounds to ask such questions.

Taking the floor a second time, Mr. SERGEYEV (Ukraine) called the Russian Federation an arsonist trying to play the role of fire safety inspector.

Responding, Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said his Government was trying to find a solution to the crisis in Ukraine, a neighbour.  To other comments, he asked who had set fire in the Maidan, a question the United States might answer.  Tens of thousands of people were trying to defend their rights in eastern Ukraine.  The Russian Federation could not force them to do that.  Washington had drawn a picture of who should be toppled, citing events in Georgia in 2008.  “If that is that path you choose, this will end sadly for Ukraine,” he said.  “We would like to avoid that.”  There were signs the situation could be resolved.  Military and political measures should be addressed in parallel, rather than in sequence.

Making a further statement, the Ms. POWER (United States) described as absurd the repeated use of the term “good faith” by the representative of the Russian Federation in the context of Ukraine.

For information media. Not an official record.