In an emergency Security Council meeting today requested by Ukraine following the seizure of three its naval vessels by Russian Federation warships in a waterway near Crimea, the United Nations top political official urged restraint from both sides to prevent dangerous escalation.
“The United Nations is deeply concerned about this escalation of tensions, which is taking place in the broader context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea,” Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said in a briefing that followed the first meeting on the issue which had been called by the Russian Federation under the provisional agenda item titled “Violation of the borders of the Russian Federation”.
That first agenda item was rejected by a procedural vote of 7 against (France, Kuwait, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States) to 4 in favour (Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation), with 4 abstentions (Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Peru).
The Under-Secretary-General said that although the United Nations could not independently verify the circumstances, reports indicated that a number of Ukrainian sailors were injured when at least one Russian Federation vessel seized control of three Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait off of Crimea.
Recalling the rise in tensions around the Sea of Azov since the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, she noted the proceedings instituted by Ukraine under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea concerning rights in the waters of the area as well as rejections by the Russian Federation on the competency of the tribunal in the case.
She highlighted the United Nations calls for restraint from any unilateral steps that could hinder implementation of the Minsk agreements that aim to find a peaceful settlement to the situation in eastern Ukraine. In that context, she urged renewed and constructive action by all concerned to overcome the apparent impasse in diplomatic negotiations. As well, she underlined the need to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The Russian representative, speaking before and after the procedural vote, said responsibility for the incident is borne by those who gave an illegal command to the Ukrainian crew. It was a provocation, pre-planned with western States in order to generate hatred for his country ahead of Ukrainian elections in which the current President is facing low ratings. The regime in Kyiv does not want peace or dialogue, nor does it embrace European values as it claims; it only wants to hold onto power and justify its failings, he stressed.
The representative of Ukraine, calling Moscow’s actions an open military aggression meant to establish Russian Federation maritime control in the area, said that his countrymen had acted strictly in line with international law and the bilateral agreement on the Kerch Strait, which was, in any case, part of Ukrainian territorial waters. Requests by the Ukrainian vessels for passage were made to the Russian Federation maritime authorities. However, those requests were not answered until one of the Ukrainian vessels was rammed. In addition, Ukrainian navy ships that came to offer assistance were pursued by Russian vessels that were given clear orders to shoot to kill. He urged everyone to consult the video and audio recordings of the incident that have been posted online.
Underlining what he called Ukraine’s restraint and its full adherence to the Minsk agreements, he warned that further escalation by Moscow cannot be ruled out. In that context, he described his Government’s proposal to declare martial law for a period of 60 days — to be lifted at any time — and for the situation to be resolved diplomatically. He also demanded the immediate release of the 23 detained soldiers and three seized ships, and called for pressure and a new set of sanctions against the Russian Federation to de-escalate tensions and allow free crossing in the Kerch-Yenikale canal.
During the meeting, most Council members seconded the Under-Secretary-General’s call for restraint and her warning of the dangers posed by escalation of the conflict. Many called for a return to dialogue and negotiations under the Minsk agreements, while some stressed the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Delegations, such as those of Bolivia and China, also emphasized that the international community act in a neutral and non-partisan manner in encouraging dialogue between the parties.
However, others, beginning with the United States and the United Kingdom, condemned what they called Russian Federation aggression — as exemplified by the incident - and called on Moscow to de-escalate the tensions it created, with the United States emphasizing that Washington, D.C., will maintain the sanctions currently imposed against that country.
Similarly, France’s representative said that the Russian Federation must respect the right to free passage in the Kerch Strait and pledged further work by the European Union to de-escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine, stressing that adherence to the Minsk agreements are the only way forward towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Poland’s representative urged the United Nations to give proper attention to this active, armed conflict. A blind eye cannot be turned to the situation because one of the permanent members of the Council is part of the conflict, he stressed.
Responding, the representative of the Russian Federation said that no one in the meeting addressed the reason why Ukraine authorities decided to risk the lives of those sailors by this provocative act. He also asked whether all concerned had read the Minsk agreements which did not mention Crimea. Support for Ukraine’s provocation has already resulted in encouraging violence in eastern Ukraine, he added.
The status of Crimea has been settled through a referendum among its inhabitants, he pointed out and he called for protection for Russian Federation diplomatic premises and personnel, given protests in Kyiv. What Ukraine has been doing is fraught with dangerous consequences, as his country will repel any incursions on Russian Federation territory, he warned.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Sweden, Cote d’Ivoire, Kazakhstan, Peru, Kuwait, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and the Netherlands.
The meetings, including the first on the procedural vote, began at 11:12 a.m. and ended at 12:52 p.m.
In a procedural vote requested by several members, the Council rejected — by 7 votes against (France, Kuwait, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States) to 4 in favour (Bolivia, China, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation), with 4 abstentions (Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Peru) - a provisional agenda item titled “Maintenance of international peace and security: Violation of the borders of the Russian Federation”.
NIKKI HALEY (United States), speaking before the vote and on behalf of the United Kingdom, Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands, voiced her strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including its territorial waters. Calling yesterday’s actions in such waters by the Russian Federation an escalation and violation of international law, she stated her objection to meeting under the proposed agenda item entitled, “Violation of the borders of the Russian Federation”. However, she noted that she looked forward to discussing the issue under the appropriate agenda item.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), also speaking before the vote, said Ukraine’s request for a Council meeting on a different agenda item was an attempt to put off an issue of concern for international peace and security. That agenda item has nothing to do with the events of 25 November when key provisions of international law were violated and navigation in the narrow Kerch Strait was put at risk. He urged Council members not to shoulder responsibility for the dangerous conduct of the Ukrainian authorities. Otherwise, the Council’s prestige and authority were going to be undermined.
Speaking after the vote, he described the events of 25 November, saying responsibility is borne by those who gave an illegal command to the Ukrainian crew. It was obviously a provocation, pre-planned with the full connivance of western States who have been pushing a geopolitical process aimed at pitting the Russian Federation and Ukraine against each other. Noting that the President of Ukraine is facing both low ratings and upcoming elections, he said brainwashing and anti-Russian propaganda have fostered hatred and enmity. The Russian people do not hate Ukrainians, he emphasized, stressing that, in fact, they love the Ukrainian people, believe in their wisdom and listen to what they have to say about their suffering, their poverty and the lack of the rule of law. “What we are talking about here is war”, with the aim of stoking the flames of conflict in Donbas through a plan worked out a long time ago, he declared. The next Council meeting will reveal that the regime in Kyiv does not want peace or dialogue, nor does it embrace European values as it claims. It only wants to hold onto power and justify its failings, he said.
ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs, recalling her previous warnings about the dangers of increased tensions in the Sea of Azov, said it was clear that a serious security incident took place near Crimea, close to the Sea yesterday. Although the United Nations could not independently verify the circumstances, reports indicate that an incident involving three Ukrainian vessels and at least one Russian Federation vessel took place near the Kerch Strait when the former attempted to enter the Sea of Azov. A number of Ukrainian sailors were injured and the ships and their crews were held by Russian Federation authorities.
Ukraine claims it had notified the Russian Federation of intent to sail the vessels to the port of Mariupol, which requires entry through the strait, she continued. The Russian Federation, meanwhile, claims that Ukraine has provoked the incident and that it acted in accordance with international law. Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council has since recommended the declaration of martial law, subject to ratification at a meeting today.
There have been rising tensions around the Sea of Azov since the Russian Federation’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, she said. She also noted the proceedings instituted by Ukraine under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea concerning rights in the waters of the area, although the Russian Federation argues that the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait are not subject to the Law of the Sea tribunal.
“The United Nations is deeply concerned about this escalation of tensions, which is taking place in the broader context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea,” she said, recalling previous calls to all parties to avoid any unilateral steps that could deepen the divide or depart from the Minsk agreements that aim to find a peaceful settlement to the situation in eastern Ukraine. In that context, she reiterated the call for renewed and constructive action by all concerned to overcome the apparent impasse in diplomatic negotiations. She also underlined the need to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders.
“Yesterday’s incident threatens to cause the situation in and around Ukraine to deteriorate further,” she said, strongly urging both parties to refrain from ratcheting up tensions through actions or rhetoric. She also reminded both parties of the need to contain this incident so as to prevent a serious escalation.
NIKKI HALEY (United States) recalled that her country along with European Union member States and many others have for years imposed sanctions against the Russian Federation for its unacceptable conduct in Ukraine. The events on 25 November are part of a pattern of abuses by Moscow, further stoking a conflict which has already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and which “shows no sign of decreasing”. Emphasising that Ukrainian ships set sail on 25 November from one Ukrainian port to another via the Kerch Strait, she said the Russian Federation decided to prevent their passage, rammed them and opened fire. “This is no way for a law-abiding, civilized country to act,” she stressed, describing such behaviour as “an arrogant act that the international community must condemn”. The United States will continue to stand with Ukraine and expects the European Union to lead efforts to resolve the situation through the Normandy format. Meanwhile, Moscow must de-escalate the tensions it has created. “The United States would welcome a normalized relationship with [the Russian Federation],” she said, but such outlaw actions make that impossible. Noting that Washington, D.C. will maintain the sanctions currently imposed against Moscow, she said such actions as the ones on 25 November will only serve to sour that relationship.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom), expressing regret that the Russian Federation’s delegate used his “explanation of vote” on the procedural matter to deliver a substantive statement, said Moscow chose a “provocative title” which it knew would be voted down in an effort to “play victim”. Condemning the Russian Federation’s deplorable use of military force against Ukrainian ships — which further demonstrates its contempt for the global rules-based system — he said the building of the Kerch bridge and the events on 25 November continue to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and try to destabilize the Ukrainian economy. Noting that they also violate the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2003 bilateral agreement allowing for free naval passage, he said the international community will not simply acquiesce or accept such actions as a “new reality”. Voicing full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders and its territorial waters, he also spotlighted continuing human rights abuses committed against ethnic Tatars in the illegally annexed Ukrainian territory of Crimea. “Russia must not be allowed to re-write history” by changing reality on the ground, he stressed, also recalling that Moscow was caught red-handed in having committed a chemicals weapons attack in the United Kingdom. “These are not the actions of a responsible country dedicated to the maintenance of international peace and security,” he said.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), also speaking on behalf of Germany, said the recent events once again underscored the instability of eastern Ukraine. Emphasizing that nothing can justify the use of force on 25 November to which the Russian Federation has openly admitted, she expressed serious concern about them and urged the parties to exercise restraint. Moscow, in particular, must respect the right to free passage in the Kerch Strait and should take immediate action to reduce tensions, including by releasing all those detained in the incident. Expressing support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders, she also condemned the Russian Federation’s recent construction of the Kerch bridge. The European Union will work to de-escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine through its role in the Normandy format, she said, stressing that adherence to the Minsk Agreements are the only way forward towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) said that during the last Security Council briefing his delegation expressed concern about the development of military capabilities in the Crimea and the Sea of Azov. For several months, the Russian Federation has delayed hundreds of commercial vessels attempting to reach Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov via the Kerch Strait for extended periods and at great economic cost for Ukraine. Now the Russian Federation attacks Ukrainian vessels, stating the need for the protection of its territory. The State-to-State conflict initiated and fuelled by the Russian Federation aims to destabilize Ukraine. He urged the United Nations to give proper attention to this active, armed conflict. A blind eye cannot be turned to the situation because one of the permanent members of the Council is part of the conflict. Its military actions in the Crimea and the Sea of Azov should serve as a lesson learned on what the Russian Federation is willing to do to safeguard its critical infrastructure in Europe, he said.
IRINA SCHOULGIN NYONI (Sweden), expressing concern about the escalation in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, said that the Russian Federation’s blocking maritime traffic to and from Ukraine ports, using military force, is a serious violation of international law. This violation comes against the backdrop of that country’s illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol in 2014 and its finalization of the bridge across the strait earlier this year, both blatant violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. His delegation fully supports Ukraine’s request for a Council meeting, he said, urging Moscow to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its navigational rights.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Cote d’Ivoire), affirming the serious nature of the incident that took place on 25 November in the Kerch Strait, warned that it could result in escalation with devastating consequences. He urged both parties to exercise restraint, deploring the lack of progress on the diplomatic front. Expressing support for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, he called on Moscow and Kyiv to fully implement the Minsk Agreements and all relevant Security Council resolutions.
KANAT TUMYSH (Kazakhstan) expressed regret over the incident between Russian Federation and Ukrainian navy vessels in the Kerch Strait on 25 November. He urged both sides to act with utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation, as such an incident can drastically increase the chances for “an unintended spark to set the region on fire”. Calling on both Governments to urgently step in and negotiate a deal with possible assistance from the international community, he noted that sustainable peace and full-fledged normalization of relations can also be achieved through confidence-building measures in the security and economic spheres. Further escalation of tensions could lead to active warfare in the area, he warned.
VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia), expressing concern over the 25 November incident, underlined the need for a non‑military, peaceful solution to the situation. She called on the parties to find a peaceful solution through dialogue on implementing the Minsk Agreements, with the support of the international community, in a neutral and objective approach that takes into account the interest of all parties.
FRANCISCO TENYA (Peru), expressing deep concern over the 25 November incident and underlining respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, stressed the need to apply international law for a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
BADER ABDULLAH N. M. ALMUNAYEKH (Kuwait), calling on both sides to exercise necessary restraint, underlined the importance of respecting the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the part of all concerned parties. He renewed commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders. He called for a comprehensive and balanced solution to the issue through dialogue within the framework set up for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), recalling that his delegation has previously called on the parties to respect the stipulations of the Minsk agreements, expressed concern about the escalation of the situation over recent days. Easing tensions is high priority and requires both parties to keep calm and refrain from taking any further destabilizing measures, he said, also calling on them to fully adhere to their commitments to resolve the situation peacefully and diplomatically. Indeed, he stressed, only harmonized efforts by the parties will guarantee a fair and definitive solution in line with international law, the United Nations Charter and existing multilateral and bilateral agreements. “The only solution to the issue can be achieved through frank, inclusive and peaceful negotiations,” he said.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) joined other speakers in voicing concern about the rapid escalation of tensions over events on 25 November in the Sea of Azov. In that regard, she called on the parties to act with restraint and engage in diplomatic, peaceful negotiations in line with the Minsk agreements as well as Council resolution 2202 (2015) in which Council members endorsed them.
LISE GREGOIRE‑VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) expressed deep concern about the blocking of the Kerch Strait and Ukrainian ports by the Russian Federation. The root cause of this situation is the Russian Federation’s illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, which remains a violation of international law. Noting that the security situation in the region has been worsening since 2014 due to Russian Federation actions, she said it has militarized the Crimean Peninsula, illegally built a bridge over the Kerch Strait and imposed unilateral and unwarranted limitations on maritime shipping in the Sea of Azov. Further escalation of tensions must be prevented, she emphasized, calling on the Russian Federation to halt all navigation restrictions it has imposed and refrain from further military confrontations with Ukrainian vessels in the region. Such actions are illegal and violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
WU HAITAO (China), Council president for the month, speaking in his national capacity, expressed concern over tensions arising from the 25 November incident in the Kerch Strait and called for restraint by both sides and dialogue between them. He called for the international community to support necessary dialogue with impartiality, respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a commitment to non-interference in its internal affairs. Security Council discussions on the issue should aim to ease tensions and otherwise play a constructive role. All the parties should follow through in implementation of the Minsk Agreements in a way that addresses the concerns of all ethnic communities and leads to peace and development in Ukraine.
VOLODYMR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) recalled that, on this day in 1939, the Soviet army shelled a village near the Finnish border, then blamed it on Finland and used the event to start what later became the Winter War. That even ultimately led to its ejection from the League of Nations. Rejecting today’s attempt by Moscow to manipulate the Security Council’s agenda, he stressed that Crimea and its related territorial waters belong to Ukraine. He also pointed out that there are no Russian Federation borders near the Crimean peninsula, calling the statement delivered today by the Russian Federation’s delegate a mix of confusion, stories and outright lies aimed to distort the 25 November events and shift blame to the Ukrainian side. Ukraine enjoys full freedom of movement in the Kerch Strait, he emphasized, outlining the route and navigational procedures undertaken by three Ukrainian vessels in those waters in recent days.
During their voyage, the commander of the Ukrainian naval group received a notice from the Russian Federation authorities concerning the closure of the Kerch Strait, he continued. However, the International Centre for Navigational Control, located in Spain, did not confirm that notification. The Ukrainian commander then twice requested the Russian Federation maritime control services to allow the ships’ passage through the strait, but no answer was received. “Then all hell broke loose”, he said, describing how a Russian Federation coastguard ship began ramming one of the Ukrainian vessels at approximately 9 a.m. on 25 November, trying to provoke the Ukrainian seamen to open fire. At around 7 p.m. that day — when the Ukrainian navy ships that had arrived to offer assistance were heading back to exit the Kerch Strait — Russian Federation coast guard and Black Sea fleet vessels pursued them and were given clear orders to open fire and shoot to kill. Noting that the Ukrainian ships were forced to stop and then seized by Russian Federation Special Forces, he said six Ukrainian seamen were wounded in the incident. Video footage and audio recordings of the ramming and shooting have been posted online, he noted, urging everyone to consult them in order to see what occurred.
“Throughout all these events, the Ukrainian side acted strictly in line with international law and the existing bilateral agreement” with the Russian Federation regarding passage through the Kerch Strait, he continued. However, Moscow’s actions, in contrast, were an open military aggression against Ukraine, aimed at further aggravating the situation in the region in order to establish Russian Federation control over the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. Underlining Ukraine’s restraint and its full adherence to the Minsk agreements, he nevertheless warned that a further escalation by Moscow cannot be ruled out. Therefore, he expressed support for the proposal to declare martial law for a period of 60 days. Such a decision would have no negative impact on human rights or the functioning of democratic institutions. Ukraine is ready to lift the order at any time and resolve the situation diplomatically. Demanding the immediate release of the 23 detained soldiers and three seized ships, he called on the international community to implement a new set of sanctions against the Russian Federation and to put more pressure on Moscow to de‑escalate tensions and allow free crossing in the Kerch‑Yenikale canal.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), said that its proposal to hold a meeting under another agenda title was absolutely right, given the range of untrue allegations made under this agenda item. No one has addressed the reason why Ukraine authorities decided to risk the lives of its sailors by the provocative act. He also questioned whether the Under-Secretary-General had read the Minsk agreement in which no mention is made of Crimea. As for the incident itself, an investigation is underway and will be shared, but meanwhile it is known that Ukrainian security personnel were present and the Ukrainian Army had violated Russian Federation territory. “This was a gross act of provocation”, he stressed, adding that support for Ukraine’s provocation has already resulted in encouraging violence in eastern Ukraine.
Those events specifically violate the Minsk agreements, a fact that is being ignored by Ukraine and its defenders in the Security Council, he continued. The status of Crimea has been settled through a referendum among its inhabitants. Without his country’s actions to protect Crimeans, they would be facing the kind of situation now being faced by civilians in Donbas. Commenting on the radical protests in Ukraine, he called for protection for Russian Federation diplomatic premises and personnel. Council members were condemning a Russian Federation act of aggression but were not examining the reason for such actions. What Kyiv has been doing is fraught with dangerous consequences, as his country will repel any incursions on Russian Federation territory, he stated.
MR. YELCHENKO (Ukraine), taking the floor a second time, said that everyone is fed up with the Russian Federation’s stories about the situation in Ukraine. Furthermore, the directions of travel of the vessels involved, as cited in the Russian Federation statement, made no geographical sense.