Reporting civilian casualties again on the rise and separatist elections planned outside of the long-stalled Minsk agreements in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations top political-affairs official today called on all parties to recommit to swift implementation of those agreements to end the conflict.
“It is time for renewed and constructive action by all concerned to overcome the apparent impasse in diplomatic negotiations,” Rosemary DiCarlo, Under‑Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said this afternoon in a briefing to the Security Council in which she was joined by Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.
With little progress in talks to end the fighting, Ms. DiCarlo said the conflict, now in its fifth year, remained explosive, with ceasefire violations increasing following a recent lull, resulting in over 20 civilian casualties. She called on the parties to immediately and strictly observe their commitments, cease fighting, ensure the safety of civilians and humanitarian workers, withdraw heavy weapons and protect civilian infrastructure. Paying tribute to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission, she reiterated the call for all to ensure its safety and freedom of movement.
Urging all parties to avoid any unilateral steps that diverged from the Minsk agreements, which she affirmed remained the only framework to end the conflict, she reported that on 7 September, the de facto entities in Donetsk and Luhansk announced the holding of so-called “leadership” elections scheduled for 11 November despite Ukraine’s objections. She cautioned that the votes would be incompatible with the peace process.
Ms. Mueller said millions of men, women and children continue to face dire humanitarian consequences in Europe’s forgotten armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. More than 3,000 civilians have been killed and up to 9,000 injured since the conflict began in 2014, affecting the highest proportion of elderly people in the world, more than 30 per cent. She added that the “contact line” between the sides has dramatically altered the lives of millions of civilians, as people are separated from their families, services and livelihoods. Appealing for more to be done on both sides to improve crossing conditions, she said essential services require urgent improvement, especially water and sanitation facilities.
She also observed that more than 100 civilians have been killed or injured due to extensive mine and unexploded ordnance contamination in 2018. Emphasizing that over 3.5 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2019, she said funding for humanitarian action has steadily decreased. The 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan, which requires $187 million, is only 32 per cent funded. Without adequate funds, food, healthcare, water, sanitation and other life-saving assistance cannot be provided.
Ahead of those briefings, the Council rejected an additional briefing from Elena V. Kravchenko by a vote of 7 against to 1 in favour (Russian Federation) with 7 abstaining. Ahead of the vote, the representative of the Russian Federation decried the fact that the delegations who called today’s meeting did not want to hear from someone from the region that they were discussing. An open discussion should be held that includes briefers representing the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic, in line with the spirit of transparency, he said.
The representative of Sweden, noting his country had co-sponsored the meeting, argued that Ms. Kravchenko did not represent a Government but an “illegal separatist entity” and warned that her briefing the Council would set a dangerous precedent.
Speaking after the vote, Council members urged the parties to abide by the ceasefire and to urgently fulfil all the provisions of the Minsk agreements, which they said remain the only framework for progress in reaching a peace. Expressing concern about the humanitarian situation, they also urged the parties to act in accordance with international humanitarian law and to respect the OSCE Monitoring Mission.
Many speakers ascribed responsibility for the continued violence to the Russian Federation due to its support for separatists, reiterating their commitment to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, their rejection of the annexation of Crimea and their disapproval of the proposed elections. In that vein, the representative of the United Kingdom called it “a charade, and a grisly one at that”. She called on the Russian Federation to use its considerable influence to stop them, and to end its arms transfers into Ukraine and destabilizing activities in the Azov Sea area.
The representative of the Russian Federation, however, denied that the proposed elections have any bearing on the Minsk agreements, as they pertain instead to municipal elections. Meanwhile, he said that Kiev is refusing to abide by its commitments and is engaging in provocative rhetoric; that is why the situation in the east remains explosive. Statements by Council members attesting to Ukraine’s fulfilment of Minsk commitments only showed that the speakers were unfamiliar with the agreements themselves. Provisions on elections and decentralization, among many others, are not being fulfilled. Deception would not restore the oppressive situation in the east. “The genie has been let out of the bottle, you can’t put it back,” he said.
Speaking last, Ukraine’s representative, expressing deep disappointment at the Russian Federation’s stance on the war-torn Donbass region, said holding “so-called early elections” in Donetsk and Luhansk would amount to putting armed gang leaders in illegitimate representative bodies. He also decried continued Russian transfers of heavy weaponry, Russian interference with vessels in the Sea of Azov, the illegal building of the Kerch Strait Bridge and human rights violations in Crimea. Saying his Government is nonetheless ready for constructive engagement to end the conflict, he maintained that the Russian Federation has shown no such readiness.
Also speaking this afternoon after the briefing were the representatives of the United States, France, Poland, Netherlands, Equatorial Guinea, Peru, China, Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia and Bolivia.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 4:49 p.m.
At the outset, CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) took the floor to note that his delegation, along with several others, called for today’s meeting in light of the upcoming “so-called elections” scheduled to take place in eastern Ukraine in November. Welcoming the fact that Council members agreed to hear the briefing, he said no new agenda item has been formally created for its convening, and emphasized that the issue at hand is not the technicalities of the planned elections but “holding them in the first place”. Stressing that the planned elections would constitute a breach of the United Nations Charter as well as the letter and spirit of the Minsk agreements, he said the briefer proposed by the Russian Federation – Elena V. Kravchenko - does not represent a Government but an “illegal separatist entity” and warned that her briefing the Council would set a dangerous precedent.
VASSILY NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) decried the fact that none of the delegations who called today’s meeting have even considered inviting someone from the very region that they are discussing. Condemning such open double standards, he insisted that an open discussion ‑ including briefers representing the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic ‑ be held in the Council during a public meeting, in line with the spirit of transparency.
The Council, by a vote of 7 against (France, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States) to 1 in favour (Russian Federation) with 7 abstentions (Bolivia, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait), then rejected the proposal to invite Ms. Kravchenko to brief the Council under Rule 39 of its Rules of Procedure.
ROSEMARY A. DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, noting that the Council last met on Ukraine at the end of May, reaffirmed the United Nations strong support for the lead role of the Normandy Four, the Contact Group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other key actors in finding a peaceful settlement to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. With little progress in talks to end the fighting, she said the conflict, now in its fifth year, remains an active threat to international peace and security. Continued and unpredictable escalations of hostilities aggravate insecurity and breed uncertainty about the parties’ intentions. Negotiations continue to take place on different tracks without converging and implementation of any agreements is still lacking.
She noted, at the same time, that the incidence of violence in recent months was the lowest of any equivalent period since the conflict broke out. Two ceasefires negotiated by the Trilateral Contact Group were instrumental in reducing shelling and small arms fire, resulting in the low, though still tragic, figure of four civilian deaths between 1 June and 31 August, and showing that with political will it is possible to drastically reduce the impact of the conflict on the civilian population. Regrettably, however, ceasefire violations have again increased, resulting in more than 20 civilian casualties, with many from mines or unexploded ordinance.
The United Nations continues, she said, to call upon the parties to ensure the full and immediate implementation of the ceasefire agreements and exercise utmost restraint in order to protect civilians. The priority of the parties should be to withdraw heavy weapons from populated areas without delay, disengage forces and protect civilian infrastructure. Any risk of escalation, provocation or miscalculation must also be avoided in regard to increased tensions in the Sea of Azov, she added. As the Minsk agreements remain the only agreed framework for negotiated peace in eastern Ukraine, she called for swift progress in their implementation, welcoming continued extension by the Ukrainian Parliament of the law regarding the local governance of certain areas of the east, consistent with the agreements. She urged all parties to avoid any unilateral steps that diverged from the accords.
She reported that on 7 September, the de facto entities in Donetsk and Luhansk announced the holding of so-called “leadership” elections scheduled for 11 November. Despite Ukraine’s objections, it is reported that both are still going ahead and ballots are being planned for “Head of Republic” and “People’s Councils” for five-year terms. Noting that election-related matters are included as part of a comprehensive negotiation under the Minsk agreements, she cautioned that the votes, taken outside Ukraine’s legal framework, would be incompatible with the peace process.
Paying tribute to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, she reiterated the call for all to ensure its safety and freedom of movement. Affirming that the United Nations is sparing no effort to deliver humanitarian assistance and monitor human rights, she cautioned that this role must not be politicized or instrumentalized by any side. “It is time for renewed and constructive action by all concerned to overcome the apparent impasse in diplomatic negotiations,” she said. She underlined the need to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and urged all parties to display the necessary political will and recommit to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements to bring the conflict to an end.
URSULA MUELLER, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said millions of men, women and children continue to face dire humanitarian consequences in Europe’s forgotten armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. More than 3,000 civilians have been killed and up to 9,000 injured since the conflict began in 2014, affecting the highest proportion of elderly people in the world, more than 30 per cent. An over 400 kilometre “contact line” divides the area of hostilities, with households close to this line living in fear of shelling, sniper fire and pervasive mine contamination. Noting that more than 70 incidents have disrupted water supply to millions of people in 2018, she said risks from communicable diseases are rising due to water shortages, extensive damage to health facilities, lack of access to health care and low immunization rates.
The “contact line” has dramatically altered the lives of millions of civilians, as people are separated from their families, services and livelihoods, she said. Adding that half of the people who cross over the line are more than 60 years old, she said they are regularly exposed to harm waiting in long lines with limited facilities in the midst of hostilities. So far this year, 50 civilians have died or been injured while crossing. Appealing for more to be done on both sides to improve crossing conditions, she said essential services require urgent improvement, especially water and sanitation facilities.
She also observed that more than 100 civilians have been killed or injured due to extensive mine and unexploded ordnance contamination in 2018. An explosive device killed three children and seriously injured another child close to the “contact line” on 30 September. Earlier this month, two workers were injured by a landmine while trying to restore vital water supplies to 45,000 people, she said, adding that Ukraine has had the highest anti-vehicle mine casualties in the world for three years running. Emphasizing that over 3.5 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2019, she said funding for humanitarian action has steadily decreased. The 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan, which requires $187 million, is only 32 per cent funded. Without adequate funds, food, healthcare, water, sanitation and other life-saving assistance cannot be provided.
Mr. SKAU (Sweden) said that, nearly five years into the Russian Federation’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the start of its aggression in eastern Ukraine, the situation remains highly volatile and still poses a threat to international peace and security. The continued high levels of violence in Donbass - along with deep concern over the so-called “elections” planned for 11 November – prompted Sweden along with several other delegations to call for today’s meeting, he said. The attempt to redraw borders in Europe, backed by military power, constitutes a violation of the United Nations Charter and places the issue squarely under the Council’s mandate. “The challenge to the international legal order is not a regional problem, but one with global implications,” he stressed, voicing regret that the Russian Federation shows no sign of reversing its actions to comply with international law. Voicing concern about the continuing violence and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, he noted slight improvements in ensuring humanitarian access, but stressed that the humanitarian appeal remains underfunded and requires donors to increase their contributions. He also called for the full implementation of the Minks agreements, starting with an immediate and lasting ceasefire, and warned that the so-called “elections” planned for Donbass are a blatant violation of those accords. In that regard, he called on Moscow to assume its responsibility and use its influence to stop them from being held.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), joining others in condemning the announcements by the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic of their intentions to hold “sham elections”, said those plans run counter to the Minsk agreements and threaten to further obstruct efforts to achieve peace in the region. Among other things, those agreements state clearly that the OSCE must oversee all elections and that they must be held in conformity with Ukrainian law. Emphasizing that the proposed elections, controlled by Moscow, are therefore illegal, he called upon all parties to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance and ensure that all rights are respected. Meanwhile, he said, the Russian Federation’s recent activities in the Sea of Azov, among others, constitute additional violations of Ukrainian sovereignty. Voicing regret that the Russian Federation continues to stall in its participation in peace talks, he called upon Moscow to cease its aggressions and its obstructionist delays. The United States, for its part, will continue to impose sanctions against the Russian Federation until it returns all the annexed territory to Ukraine.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), underlining the importance of adhering to the Minsk agreements, also condemned the illegal annexation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. Urging all Council Members to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders, he cited three important recent developments - including the planned elections – which run counter to efforts to achieve peace. Encouraging all States to roundly and publicly condemn the planned elections, he said Moscow should instead lend its support to elections arranged within the framework of the Minsk agreements. Lamenting the absence of progress on security questions in Donbass, he said the ceasefire has not yet been made manifest and sustainable on the ground. Moreover, there has been a recent escalation in fighting, with heavy weapons moved into the annexed area and civilians targeted. Also expressing concern about the humanitarian situation, he called on all parties to facilitate humanitarian access, warning: “The bitter winter is approaching in Donbass.” In addition, he called on the Russian Federation to use its influence over the separatist entities to guarantee the full and immediate implementation of the Minsk agreements.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) underscored the need for full implementation of the Minsk agreements by all sides. “It is the only way to a lasting solution to the conflict and in and around Ukraine,” she emphasized. The conflict is not an ethnic, internal conflict, as the Russian Federation intends to portray it. It is a conflict initiated and systematically fuelled by the Russian Federation, with the sole purpose of destabilizing Ukraine. She asked the Council to condemn the announcement of the so-called “elections” to be held in the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic on 11 November. She urged the Russian Federation to make full use of its influence on the separatists to avoid any steps that would obstruct the advancement of the Minsk agreements. Russian aggression against Ukraine continues to threaten security in the whole region. For several months, Russia has delayed hundreds of commercial vessels attempting to reach Ukrainian ports at great economic cost for Ukraine. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine has further deteriorated, she said, urging the international community not to “turn a blind eye”. With winter approaching, hundreds of thousands of people will require additional aid.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) stated that, in line with the Minsk agreements, local elections in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk must take place in accordance with Ukrainian legislation. Only under those conditions can further talks on a peaceful settlement take place. “In this regard, these so-called elections are not only illegitimate, but also counter the letter and the spirit of the Minsk agreements, and are a clear setback for the peace process,” he said, calling on all parties to refrain from any actions that obstruct implementation of the agreements. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he noted efforts by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to have all parties cease fire and withdraw heavy weapons. However, the population continues to suffer, with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recording a 30 per cent increase in civilian casualties. Landmines and unexploded ordnance pose an everyday threat to civilians. Addressing the security situation in the wake of the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation, he said militarization of the Sea of Azov can only destabilize the wider Black Sea region. With the Russian Federation inspecting commercial vessels heading to and from Ukrainian ports, he welcomed Ukraine’s decision to seek arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) affirmed her country’s commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and its rejection of what she called the illegal annexation of Crimea. She said that the proposed elections were illegitimate, a breach of the Minsk agreements as well as “a charade, and a grisly one at that”. She called on the Russian Federation to use its considerable influence on those proposing them to stop their holding of the polls. Unfortunately, she maintained, Russian support for illegitimate elections are another attempt to destabilize Ukraine. She called on that country to end its arms transfers into Ukraine and destabilizing activities in the Azov Sea as well. She strongly urged the Russian-backed separatists to allow humanitarian access into all areas. She urged all sides to commit to complete implementation of the Minsk agreements to end a conflict that was brought about by Russian aggression.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) also called on all parties to fully implement the Minsk agreements, for which purpose it is necessary to also reduce tensions. Continued violence imperilled the agreements. He urged the parties to refrain from action that could destabilize the situation and will undermine a peaceful solution to the crisis. Frank and inclusive negotiations are needed to take into account the concerns of all. Expressing deep concern over the toll on civilians, he expressed gratitude for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and all humanitarian workers, and called on the Council to work alongside groups such as the Normandy Quartet to make progress.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), reiterating his country’s commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, expressed concern over the proposed elections, which he said contravened the Minsk agreements, the only framework for peace in eastern Ukraine. Expressing concern over the magnitude of the humanitarian problem, he paid tribute to the OSCE Monitoring Mission and the various facilitation groups that have formed to try to help move the peace process forward.
WU HAITAO (China), voicing opposition to interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs by any external forces, expressed hope that all parties will undertake the measures needed to decrease tensions and resolve the conflict peacefully. Such a process will require a balanced approach, respecting the legitimate rights and interests of all parties and ethnic groups in the region. Calling for the comprehensive implementation of resolution 2202 (2015) and the Minsk II agreement, he said the international community should continue to promote diplomatic efforts towards a resolution to the conflict and urged Council members to remain united.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), expressing support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders, expressed hope that the parties will reach a balanced, peaceful solution to the conflict through dialogue. Voicing concern about the announcement of so-called “early elections” in contravention to the Minsk agreements, which prohibit their convening except under certain conditions, he warned against any steps that could hinder the agreements’ full implementation. Expressing concern about the underfunding of the humanitarian plan for eastern Ukraine and the region’s deteriorating situation, he said reports of shelling, weapons use and landmines pose deadly threats to civilians. In that regard, he called on all parties to facilitate the delivery of assistance throughout the region and stressed that the Minsk agreements are the only way forward.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) expressed support for a balanced approach to resolving the Ukrainian crisis through peaceful negotiations and a mediation process based on key principles and norms of international law as well as the United Nations Charter. Kazakhstan continues to take part in multilateral consultations to those ends, he said, voicing support for a political resolution and endorsing the work of the Trilateral Contact Group. Noting that his delegation remains concerned that the negotiation process has been suspended in the past month – evidence that key international participants in the crisis are unable to work out a common plan of action – he underlined the importance of adhering to the Minsk agreements including their elements related to the withdrawal of heavy weapons and the settling of political challenges. Regarding the upcoming elections in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, he called on all participants in the negotiations to resolve the situation in south-eastern Ukraine and fully comply with resolution 2202 (2015) on the Minsk agreements, which are the only viable existing mechanism to resolve the conflict in a peaceful way. “It is vital to prevent further escalation of the conflict and toughening of the exchange of sanctions,” while searching for a peaceful way forward, he stressed.
DAWIT YIRGA WOLDEGERIMA (Ethiopia) called for full implementation of the ceasefire in order to stem the suffering of civilians. He also called on the parties to abide by all provisions of the Minsk agreements. Those agreements, he affirmed, are the only way to find a peaceful solution to the problem in Ukraine.
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), describing a murder that he said cast suspicion on Ukrainian activities in the east, said that the proposed elections had no bearing on the Minsk agreements, which pertained instead to municipal elections. Meanwhile, he said that Kiev is refusing to abide by its commitments and as a result the situation in the east remains explosive. Ukrainian rhetoric, which sabotaged the Minsk agreements, has not been mentioned in the Council today. Instead, he noted, speakers in the Council maintain that Ukraine is fulfilling its commitments under the agreements. Such statements showed unfamiliarity with the agreements. Provisions on elections and decentralization, among many others, are not being fulfilled.
The Council, he said, is allowing the authorities in Kiev to do whatever they want, including pursuing anti-Russian invective, he said, quoting Ukrainians to that effect. As a significant portion of the population in Ukraine is Russian, he said that language discrimination by Ukrainian authorities was a major cause of the uprising in the east. In Crimea, residents breathed a sigh of relief at the Russian annexation; if it had not happened the situation would be as bad there as it is in Donbass. In any case, deception will not help to recreate the former situation. “The genie has been let out of the bottle, you can’t put it back,” he said.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLIZ (Bolivia) called on all parties to abide by the Charter of the United Nations as well as by the ceasefire, and to allow humanitarian access. A lasting solution to the conflict must take into account the concerns of all parties, including concerns of an ethnic nature. Noting the toll on civilians, he called for respect for humanitarian law and the protection of civilian populations. Paying tribute to the OSCE Monitoring Mission, he underlined the need for it to be allowed to perform its work unhindered. He also stressed that there is no military solution to the crisis and a political one must be found.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said the Russian Federation is “preoccupied, first and foremost” with using the Council to wage a disinformation campaign and accuse Ukraine of everything that happens in the occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk. Expressing his deepest disappointment at the Russian Federation’s stance on the war-torn Donbass regions, he said holding “so-called early elections” in Donetsk and Luhansk would amount to putting armed gang leaders in illegitimate representative bodies. Any such elections will be null and void and not recognized by Ukraine or the international community, he said, and the Russian Federation is well aware they violate Ukrainian sovereignty and the letter and spirit of the Minsk agreements. Only legitimately, lawfully elected officials can represent communities in Donbass “and not the Kremlin’s puppets”.
He noted that OSCE monitors observed multiple convoys of cargo trucks illegally crossing the Ukrainian-Russian Federation border by night and transporting heavy weapons and ammunition, including spotting a surface-to-air missile system in non-Government-controlled territories on 27 October. Stating Donbass is “not the only flashpoint”, he called the Sea of Azov another theatre of belligerence, with 200 vessels on their way to Ukrainian ports stopped “in an abusive manner” by the Russian Federation. The Kerch Strait Bridge, built unlawfully, is a major hindrance to international navigation. The Russian Federation has not given up the idea of a land corridor to Crimea, has more than doubled the strength of its military on the peninsula and is preparing for deployment of nuclear weapons. Also, OHCHR findings confirm the Russian Federation is failing to protect human rights in Crimea. Between 2014 and 2017, 108,000 people moved there from the Russian Federation, a deliberate policy to change demographics, while 70 Ukrainian citizens have been detained. Saying his Government is nonetheless ready for constructive engagement to end the conflict, “alas, such readiness is not present yet” in the Russian Federation.