Speakers Urge Peaceful Settlement to Conflict in Ukraine, Underline Support for Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity of Crimea, Donbas Region

GA/12122
20 February 2019
Seventy-third Session, 67th & 68th Meetings (AM & PM)

Speakers Urge Peaceful Settlement to Conflict in Ukraine, Underline Support for Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity of Crimea, Donbas Region

There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of the five-year conflict in Ukraine, with deployment of a United Nations-mandated peacekeeping operation there being an effective tool to bring peace, speakers told the General Assembly today.

“The United Nations ability to properly address this challenge will have, without any doubt, a direct impact on the future of the rules-based international order,” said Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, as he addressed the Assembly’s plenary on “the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”.

He noted that 7 per cent of Ukraine’s territory, including Crimea and eastern parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, are currently under occupation, with about 13,000 people killed and more than 28,000 wounded in the conflict, which began in 2014.

A United Nations-mandated multinational peacekeeping operation with a clear objective to end the Russian Federation’s aggression and restore Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity could be a decisive factor in bringing peace to Donbas, he said, stressing that there is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of this international conflict.

The Russian Federation’s delegate said that the title of today’s meeting was misleading as Crimea is his country’s territory, with attempts being made at the United Nations to hand a “guilty verdict” to his country without any evidence.  It is Ukraine’s authorities that started attacks on their own citizens.

He went on to outline events that took place prior to the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine, describing how the Ukrainian nationalists staged a coup in Kyiv.  He denounced Ukraine’s President for using the Assembly meeting to boost his popularity ratings in the run-up to the upcoming election.

Joining many other speakers, the European Union’s representative condemned the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation and expressed concern about the ongoing militarization of that territory and the Black and Azov seas.

He reiterated the Union’s call for all sides to swiftly and fully implement the Minsk agreements and honour their commitments in full, to achieve a sustainable political solution to the conflict in line with Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) principles and commitments.

Poland’s delegate proposed a two-pronged approach to address the matter.  First, the Russian Federation must conform to the Minsk agreements and withdraw its weapon systems from the sovereign Ukrainian territory.  Then, a full-fledged United Nations-mandated peacekeeping mission could be deployed to the conflict zone, or the Organization could at least initiate the process by sending a fact‑finding mission to Ukraine.

Liechtenstein’s representative said that, as in other crises the Security Council is unable to tackle, the Assembly has a mandate and responsibility to play a more active and meaningful role in the situation in Ukraine.  He called for special attention to the Minsk agreements’ self-governance and decentralization provisions and stressed that many serious crimes committed during the crisis warrant a thorough investigation.  In that vein, he urged Ukraine to ratify the Rome Statute, including provisions granting the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over the crime of aggression.

Syria’s delegate described the request to include the current item on the Assembly’s agenda as a unilateral, politicized move.  Today’s meeting is a fresh attempt to hinder the implementation of the Minsk agreements and undermine efforts to resolve the crisis.

Noting that the Assembly’s consideration of the agenda item constitutes a violation of Article 12 of the Charter of the United Nations, he said the inclusion of the terms “temporarily occupied territories” does not change the fact that the item falls exclusively under the Security Council’s purview.

Latvia’s delegate highlighted the plight of the Crimean Tatars, whose history is fraught with suffering and persecution.  He expressed alarm over reports of torture, enforced disappearances and suspected killings, as well as continuous violations of the freedom of expression, freedom of religion and media freedom, calling on the Russian Federation, as the occupying Power in Crimea, to end all human rights violations.

Germany’s delegate said that, in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, Kyiv gave up its nuclear weapons in return for a guarantee from the Russian Federation of Ukraine’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Moscow’s violation of that agreement was a grave setback for international law, he stressed, asking what example that sets for other nations considering abandoning their nuclear weapons programmes.  “You cannot just breach international law and get away with it,” he said.

In other business, the Assembly elected Inger Andersen (Denmark) as Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to a four‑year term.  She will succeed Erik Solheim (Norway), who resigned in November 2018.

The Assembly also appointed Felipe García Landa (Mexico) as a member of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) for a term expiring on 31 December, replacing Carlos Ruiz Massieu (Mexico), who is taking on a new mission.

Also speaking today were representatives of Norway (for the Nordic countries), Estonia, Peru, Lithuania, Slovakia, Italy, Republic of Moldova, Canada, United States, Czech Republic, Georgia, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Slovenia, Australia, Switzerland, Belarus, United Kingdom, Turkey, Croatia, France and Belgium.

The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 February, to convene a high-level debate on international migration and development.

Statements

PETRO POROSHENKO, President of Ukraine, said that today marked the fifth anniversary of the start of the foreign military aggression against his country.  Five years ago, hundreds of innocent lives, not only of Ukrainians, but also Russians, Armenians, Jews and many others, were lost in the name of his country’s independence, dignity and freedom.  The General Assembly adopted a resolution in March 2014 reiterating Ukraine’s sovereignty within internationally recognized borders.  It was a timely reaction to the Russia Federation’s illegal attempts to redraw the borders in Europe with the occupation of Crimea.  The Assembly also, for a third year in a row, adopted the resolution on the human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.  This text recognizes the Russian Federation, a permanent member of the Security Council, as an occupying Power.  Just a few months ago, the Assembly supported Ukraine’s request and adopted a resolution condemning the militarization of Crimea, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.  “The United Nations ability to properly address this challenge will have, without any doubt, a direct impact on the future of the rules-based international order,” he said.

On this day in 2014, the Russian Federation started its covert military invasion in Ukraine in clear violation of norms and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, he continued.  Moscow grabbed Crimea, then it turned Donbas into a battlefield, and then it continued its aggression in the Sea of Azov, the Black Sea and the Kerch Strait.  About 44,000 square kilometres, or 7 per cent of Ukraine’s territory, including Crimea and eastern parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, are currently under occupation.  About 13,000 people were killed and more than 28,000 people were wounded.  More than 1.8 million residents of Crimea and Donbas had to leave their homes due to the Russian Federation’s aggression and occupation.  The referendum in March 2014 was fake.  Five years ago, this war began under the pretext of defending Russian speakers in Ukraine.  It is noteworthy that the report of the International Criminal Court lead prosecutor recognized the conflict in Crimea and Donbas as armed conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, and Moscow’s attempted annexation of Crimea as an ongoing state of occupation.

He went on to submit an appeal, signed by thousands of his country’s people, to the Secretary-General to press on Moscow to release Ukraine’s crew members illegally detained by the Russian Federation when their vessels were in the international waters of the Black Sea.  The total number of Russian armed forces along the Russian Federation-Ukraine border exceeds 87,000 personnel.  To overcome humanitarian consequences of Moscow’s military aggression, the United Nations agencies have mobilized more than $460 million over the last five years.  The human rights monitoring mission continues to report the growing number of violations and abuses in the temporarily occupied territories.  He also asked for United Nations support in the release of over 70 Ukraine hostages held in the Russian Federation and Crimea.  A United Nations-mandated multinational peacekeeping operation with a clear objective to end Moscow’s aggression and restore Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity could be a decisive factor in bringing peace to Donbas.  “Looking back from a five-year retrospective, I have to reconfirm that there is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of this international conflict,” he said.  “This is why I reaffirm yet again, from this highest world rostrum, Ukraine’s firm commitment to multilateralism and international law.”

MONA JUUL (Norway), also speaking on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, said that five years have passed since the start of the Russian Federation’s violation of international law in Ukraine.  The violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity began with the illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol.  Then followed the destabilization of eastern Ukraine, leading to the illegal declaration of independence of the so‑called “people’s republics”, she said.  The Russian Federation has extended its illegal annexation of Crimea by militarizing the peninsula, building the Kerch Strait bridge and gradually imposing unilateral control of the Strait.

She expressed concern about the deterioration of the human rights situation in Crimea, including pressure and detentions on dubious charges of human rights defenders, journalists and minorities, particularly Crimean Tatars.  The conflict in eastern Ukraine has resulted in the death of an estimated 13,000 people and the displacement of millions.  Regrettably, the implementation of the Minsk agreements is not moving forward.  The humanitarian situation is dire due to shelling, mining, disrupted utilities and lamentable conditions at crossing points on the contact line.  Parties should allow unhindered access for humanitarian actors in line with international humanitarian law.

JOÃO PEDRO VALE DE ALMEIDA, Permanent Observer for the European Union, condemned the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation, which remains a clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.  He expressed concern about the ongoing militarization of the Crimean Peninsula and the Black and Azov seas.  Since the illegal annexation, the human rights situation has severely deteriorated.  Residents of the peninsula face systematic restrictions of fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression, religion or belief and the right to peaceful assembly.  The rights of Crimean Tatars have been gravely violated through the shutting down of Crimean Tatar media outlets, the banning of the activities of the Mejlis — their self‑governing body — and the persecution of its leaders and members of the Crimean Tatar community.

The situation in the Azov Sea also remains high on the agenda of the European Union, he said, expressing concern about the dangerous increase of tensions in the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait.  He reiterated the European Union’s call for all sides to swiftly and fully implement the Minsk agreements and honour their commitments in full, to achieve a sustainable political solution to the conflict in line with Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) principles and commitments.  The Russian Federation should fully assume its responsibility in this regard and use its considerable influence over the armed formations it backs to meet the Minsk commitments in full.  Respect for these principles and commitments must be restored, he said.

BARTOSZ CICHOCKI (Poland) said that the situation in eastern Ukraine remains highly volatile and still poses a threat to international peace and security.  He proposed a two-pronged approach to address the matter.  The Russian Federation must conform to the Minsk agreements and withdraw its armed formations and weapon systems from the sovereign Ukrainian territory.  The United Nations should not cease to look for fresh ideas that could break the political deadlock and create new opportunities for immediately improving the situation on the ground.  A full-fledged United Nations-mandated peacekeeping mission deployed to the conflict zone is one such idea.  The Organization could at least initiate the process by sending a fact‑finding mission to Ukraine.  Poland, as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, is ready to facilitate this endeavour.

LEMBIT UIBO (Estonia), associating himself with the European Union, urged the Russian Federation to stop its aggression and illegal occupation of Ukraine’s territory.  Respect for territorial integrity and the prohibition of the use of force are fundamental principles of international law.  These two principles are clearly stated in the Charter of the United Nations, he recalled.  “Estonia will never recognize the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation,” he stressed, expressing concern for Moscow’s “ongoing disregard” for Ukraine’s sovereignty.  Ukrainian servicemen should be immediately released and the freedom of navigation in the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov restored.  He also expressed concern over the Russian Federation’s continuous steps towards the complete militarization of the Crimean Peninsula and the human rights violations it perpetrates there.  Three and a half million Ukrainians need humanitarian assistance and 13,000 have been killed since the crisis began.  “Russia should fulfil its Minsk commitments, stop hostilities and withdraw its armed formations and military equipment from eastern Ukraine,” he stressed.

PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) emphasized that international relations should be based on respect for global agreements and norms.  Citing the Budapest Memorandum, he also underscored the importance of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  The Minsk agreements serve as the legal basis to bringing about peace, he said, recalling a Security Council resolution endorsing the accords.  He also highlighted the role of the Normandy format and the Trilateral Contact Group, which are mediating the parties to the conflict.  He urged the parties to observe ceasefires and withdraw heavy weapons from the contact line.  It is alarming that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine recorded numerous ceasefire violations.  Commending humanitarian assistance by the international community, especially the United Nations, to alleviate the suffering of those affected by the conflict, he said Ukraine must restore control of its territory.

AUDRA PLEPYTĖ (Lithuania), associating herself with the European Union, said that respect for international law by all countries is vital to maintaining international peace and security.  Unfortunately, five years of conflict in Ukraine is a history of blunt neglect and violations of international law and the Charter of the United Nations.  The annexation of Crimea shakes the very basis of the international legal order.  The role of the Russian Federation and its continuous violations of the territorial integrity of Ukraine cannot be underestimated, while the conflict was initiated, and remains orchestrated and financed, by Moscow.  The full and swift implementation of the Minsk agreements by all parties is a central precondition to achieving a lasting solution to this deadly conflict, she said.

MICHAL MLYNÁR (Slovakia), associating himself with the European Union, reconfirmed Ukraine’s sovereignty over the Crimean Peninsula and Ukraine’s absolute right to have full access to the Sea of Azov, as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  As Chair of OSCE, Slovakia is engaged in reducing tension, building trust and facilitating dialogue between both sides of the crisis.  He added that the only way to achieve a peaceful resolution is through full and comprehensive implementation of the Minsk agreements by all sides.  “Those who remain in the conflict-affected territories struggle day in, day out to get by,” he said.  There is also an urgent need to scale up efforts to alleviate the suffering of civilians caught in the middle.  Specific measures to improve the living conditions of people must be pursued, he stressed, adding that, last month, his country donated 24 tons of humanitarian aid to the Luhansk Regional Children’s Hospital in Lysychansk.

MARIA ANGELA ZAPPIA (Italy), associating herself with the European Union, expressed concern about the crisis in Ukraine.  She underscored Italy’s 2018 OSCE Chairmanship, noting it had taken full advantage of the platform for dialogue afforded by that body.  Her country condemned and did not recognize the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and urged that international humanitarian and human rights laws be fully respected.  Human rights observers and humanitarian actors should be granted full and unhindered access.  Italy remains committed to a political solution based on the Minsk agreements.  She urged all sides to show a genuine commitment and political will to allow momentum to be regained, noting there was no alternative to the Minsk agreements.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that the title of today’s event “the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine” is misleading and was imposed.  Crimea is in the Russia Federation and the question has been settled once and for all.  The General Assembly heard offensive statements against his country today.  Ukrainians elected President Poroshenko as a President of peace in 2014, but he has become the President of war, a war that continues today.  “Wherever he goes, we can smell gunpower.”  It was their weapons that shelled its own citizens in Ukraine.  It is convenient for the Ukraine’s authorities to blame Moscow to deflect public attention.  Ukraine’s authorities are even reluctant to have dialogue with its own people.  Citing a witness account, there are no regular Russian forces in Donbas.  Attempts are made in this Assembly to hand a guilty verdict without any evidence.

He went on to outline events that took place prior to the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine, describing how the Ukrainian opposition started mass protests and how these events ended up in military clashes.  He argued that the democratically elected President had to flee due to threats to his safety.  That was a coup by nationalists.  An incident in which 50 people were burned to death due to opposition to the nationalist regime and that has not even been investigated.  No one disputes the validity of the Minsk agreements.  Today, his delegation disseminated a document listing violations of the accord by Ukraine.  Kyiv, supported by Washington, D.C., continues to ignore the package of measures in the agreements.  The Russian Federation dispatches humanitarian convoys to Donbas to ensure normal life there.  This Assembly meeting has become nothing but an election campaign for President Poroshenko, whose rating is plummeting, in the run-up to the upcoming presidential election.  He condemned external interventions by the West in Ukraine and human rights violations against Russian-speaking populations there.

TATIANA MOLCEAN (Republic of Moldova), associating herself with the European Union, said that the ongoing militarization of the Crimean Peninsula, Black Sea and Sea of Azov, as well as the seizure of Ukrainian vessels and the dire human rights situation, are matters of great concern for the international community.  Her country shares many things with Ukraine, including a tragic past and similar modern challenges to territorial integrity and sovereignty.  By bringing before the General Assembly matters arising from challenges to their sovereignty, territorial integrity and national security, Ukraine, Republic of Moldova and other States from the post-Soviet era do not seek politicization in the work of the Assembly.  It is natural for such States to turn to the United Nations for assistance, based on observance of international law and the Charter of the United Nations.

ANDREJS PILDEGOVIČS (Latvia) said that five years have passed since the Russian Federation illegally annexed Crimea.  This violation of international law must not become a silent reality, nor should the Russian Federation’s covert and overt actions in the eastern part of Ukraine become “business as usual”.  Those Crimean people who are affected by the Russian Federation’s repressive policies must be supported and they need to hear that the international community has not forgotten Crimea.  The most vulnerable group continues to be the Crimean Tatars, whose history is fraught with suffering and persecution.  He expressed alarm over reports of torture, enforced disappearances and suspected killings, as well as continuous violations of the freedom of expression, freedom of religion and media freedom.  Latvia strongly condemns discrimination against Crimean Tatars.  He called on the authorities of the Russian Federation, as the occupying Power in Crimea, to end all human rights violations.

RICHARD ARBEITER (Canada), recalling that his country was the first among Western nations to recognize Ukraine’s independence in 1991, said it is now supporting Kyiv’s electoral reforms in the lead-up to upcoming elections.  Canada will never cease to condemn the Russian Federation’s illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea five years ago, which destabilized the east of Ukraine, nor to Moscow’s ongoing support to the insurgency in the region.  Expressing concern about ongoing military and civilian casualties and violations of international law, he said that, despite concerted efforts, little progress has been seen in the implementation of the Minsk agreements.  All sides must fulfil their obligations under those accords and every Member State must stand up and press the Russian Federation to do the same.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said that, five years ago, the world bore witness to the Russian Federation’s brazen annexation of Crimea.  Within a week of signing the Minsk agreements, the Russian Federation violated them.  Some of the Ukrainian soldiers captured by the Russian Federation remain held four years later, again in violation of the agreements.  The Russian Federation continues to destabilize Ukraine to make it subservient and the international community should remain united in support of Ukraine.  The United States is committed to the success of a stable, democratic and free Ukraine and will not recognize the Kremlin’s purported annexation of Crimea.  Its Donbas-related sanctions will remain in place until the Russian Federation fully implements the Minsk agreements, he stressed.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said that, as in other crises the Security Council is unable to tackle, the Assembly has a mandate and responsibility to play a more active and meaningful role in the situation in Ukraine.  Reaffirming his delegation’s support for that country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence within internationally recognized borders, he expressed concern about the plight of some 5.2 million people currently affected by the conflict, especially children and older people.  Liechtenstein consistently contributes to humanitarian relief efforts with a focus on vulnerable groups.  While a comprehensive and sustainable ceasefire is needed, it will only be possible when the parties demonstrate the required political will.  Continuing violations of the Minsk agreements are unacceptable and should be an urgent matter for discussion by the United Nations.  In addition, he called for special attention to the agreements’ self-governance and decentralization provisions and stressed that many serious crimes committed during the crisis warrant a thorough investigation.  In that vein, he urged Ukraine to ratify the Rome Statute, including provisions granting the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over the crime of aggression.

MARIE CHATARDOVÁ (Czech Republic), associating herself with the European Union, said that the occupation of Crimea, as well as military engagement in eastern Ukraine by the Russian Federation, is a breach of international law.  Moscow must be reminded that it bears special responsibility for the resolution of this conflict and restoration of peace and security on the European continent.  She expressed deep concern for the human rights situation in Crimea and over the systematic human rights abuses by the de facto authorities targeting Crimean Tatars.  She urged the Russian Federation’s de facto authorities to grant access for the international human rights observers to the occupied Peninsula and urged the immediate release of Oleg Sentsov, Stanislav Klykh and other Ukrainian citizens whose trials in the Russian Federation are apparently in breach of international law and elementary standards of justice.  She also expressed concern over the escalation of tensions in the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait, calling on Moscow to release Ukraine’s crewmembers who have been illegally detained since November 2018.  Both sides must focus on solving the eastern Ukraine situation peacefully by meeting the commitments of the Minsk agreements.

KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia) said that the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine is the continuation of the same pattern it started in his country back in 2008, which resulted in the ongoing occupation of Abkhazia and Tskinvali/South Ossetia.  Its behaviour against its sovereign neighbours seriously undermines security and stability in the European region, he said.  These actions must be kept under the constant scrutiny of the international community and must be adequately addressed.  Developments in the Sea of Azov and specifically the Kerch Strait in November 2018 represented yet another example of the blatant violation of international law and international maritime law by the Russian Federation.  He condemned the attack against Ukrainian vessels and urged the Russian Federation to immediately release the seized ships.

GEORGI VELIKOV PANAYOTOV (Bulgaria), associating himself with the European Union, said that his country has been consistently supporting a peaceful settlement of the crisis in eastern Ukraine.  The full implementation of the Minsk agreements remains the only viable and internationally recognized option to this end.  The necessary political will should be exercised so that the ceasefire efforts can hold and pave the way for progress on issues of a political, economic and humanitarian nature, he said.  As a Black Sea littoral State, Bulgaria shares the concerns about the ongoing militarization of the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov.  This, together with the militarization of the Crimean Peninsula, has a severe negative impact on the security situation in the Black Sea region and beyond.  Bulgaria has been an active contributor to the efforts aimed at resolving the crisis and alleviating its consequences.  It has contributed to the OSCE tool‑box, including with personnel in its Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), associating himself with the European Union, recalled that, in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in return for a guarantee from the Russian Federation of Ukraine’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Moscow’s violation of that agreement was a grave setback for international law, he stressed, asking what example that sets for other nations considering abandoning their nuclear weapons programmes.  “You cannot just breach international law and get away with it,” he stressed, calling on the Russian Federation to immediately release the Ukrainian servicemen taken captive during a recent incident in the Sea of Azov.  Calling for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements — in the framework of the Normandy format — he also expressed Germany’s support for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, as well as its readiness to further explore the possible deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said that, as Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reports clearly show, the human rights situation in Russian Federation occupied Crimean Peninsula and the non-Government-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine remain deeply concerning.  He called upon the Russian Federation to respect human rights on the Crimean Peninsula and to allow full access of human rights monitors.  The Ukrainian reform process is suffering from the ongoing conflict.  Ukraine has embarked on an ambitious and challenging path towards reforming its economy and society, he said.  The progress that has been made is admirable.  However, the conflict has put pressure on Ukraine’s economy, on its institutions and on its reform process.  A clear example is the economic damage inflicted by the restrictions placed on shipping in the Sea of Azov by the Russian Federation since early 2018.

DARJA BAVDAŽ-KURET (Slovenia), associating herself with the European Union, said her country does not recognize the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.  Moreover, the annexation poses serious challenges to the security and stability of the wider region, she emphasized.  The repeated ceasefire violations, accumulation of heavy weapons and dire humanitarian situation in the conflict zone are of grave concern for Slovenia.  Measures aimed at the protection of the local population are of paramount importance.  Civilian infrastructure must be safeguarded, and aid must be delivered those in need.  She called on all sides to swiftly and fully implement all obligations committed to in the Minsk agreements.  “We also find it unacceptable that the OSCE [Special Monitoring Mission] continues to face major restrictions in the territories controlled by the Ukrainian Government,” she added.  For its part, Slovenia will continue to offer medial and psychosocial rehabilitation to children in conflict areas.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) said that her country is firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity.  Australia backs up this commitment with a set of sanctions designed to respond to ongoing threats.  It deplores the Russian Federation-backed authorities’ reportedly unfair administration of justice in Crimea and their attacks on basic freedoms of expression and association.  She also expressed concern about the recent escalation of tensions in the Kerch Strait and adjacent seas, particularly regarding the Russian Federation’s seizure of Ukrainian naval personnel and vessels in waters near the Kerch Strait.  The Russian Federation should refrain from impeding the lawful exercise of navigational freedoms and rights in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.  Ukraine must be allowed unhindered access to its ports, she said.

JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland) said that his country’s position on the situation remains unwavering.  “We do not recognize the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, which constitutes a breach of international law,” he stressed.  Calling for the respect, protection and implementation of international law in Crimea, he urged that international human rights monitoring mechanisms gain rapid, safe and unfettered access there.  He reiterated his country’s support for the resolution titled “Situation on human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol”, presented in the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) in 2016.  He also expressed concern for increased tensions near the Kerch Strait, adding that the incident of 25 November 2018 demonstrates potential for escalation.  Stressing that the sailors captured that day return to Ukraine without any further delay, he added:  “They must benefit from the protections foreseen under international law.”

IRINA VELICHKO (Belarus) expressed support for the principle of multilateralism as well as for a peaceful solution and end to all violence in neighbouring Ukraine.  Recalling that the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine was convened in her nation’s capital, she expressed support for the resulting Minsk agreements and called for their implementation.  Regarding a possible deployment of an international peacekeeping mission in Ukraine, she said parameters must be agreed that are acceptable to all parties.  For its part, Belarus launched a large-scale international dialogue on security issues with a focus on overcoming divisions and achieving peace and geopolitical tranquillity.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said that today marks the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Russian Federation’s operation to illegally annex Crimea from Ukraine.  The forcible Russian seizure of 10,000 square miles from Ukraine broke the first principle of international law and violated several international agreements and commitments including Article 2 of the Charter of the United Nations.  In another context, the representative of Germany, speaking in the Security Council, said that, to listen to the account of Moscow on the matter, you would think it was Ukraine that invaded the Russian Federation and not the other way around.  She also underscored the serious human rights violations that the Russian Federation continues to commit in the Peninsula.  In detention centres, victims have been mistreated and tortured, to punish or exhort confessions.  The Russian Federation continues to ignore calls for the High Commissioner on Human Rights to visit Crimea.

FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) expressed full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, unity and sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders.  Emphasizing that Crimea is Ukrainian territory, he said Turkey — with millions of residents of Crimean Tatar descent — follows the situation closely and remains concerned that, five years after annexation, the activities of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People are banned on the Peninsula.  In 2018, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars from their historical homeland will be observed.  “We stand by the Crimean Tatars in their peaceful struggle for safety and freedom in their ancestral homeland,” he said.  Also voicing concern that the situation remains tense in Donbas, he stressed the need to resolve the situation through diplomatic means in line with international law and by fully implementing the Minsk agreements.  In addition, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine requires strong support from all parties.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) expressed concern with the dangerous increase of tensions in the region, which led to the incident around the Kerch Strait and the Crimean Peninsula in 2018.  The use of force by the Russian Federation is unacceptable and without justification, especially in the context of increasing militarization in the area.  He called on Moscow to release the seized Ukrainian vessels and their crews unconditionally and without delay.  The conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to pose a serious threat to international peace and security.  It is important to reiterate that this is not a frozen conflict, but one in which people are being killed on an almost daily basis.  The Minsk process and the full implementation of the Minsk agreements remains the key to achieve a sustainable, peaceful and comprehensive political solution.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), associating himself with the European Union, said that, despite the guarantees provided by the Russian Federation when the Budapest memorandum was signed regarding the recognition of the sovereign territory of Ukraine, it has brazenly violated its obligations.  This is a source of worrisome tensions.  Following the serious naval incident that occurred on 25 November 2018, it is necessary that vessels be assured of safe and unobstructed passage in accordance with international law.  The illegal annexation of Crimea has led to serious violations of the human rights of the people living in this territory.  There have been extrajudicial killings, as well as enforced disappearances, he said.  The Russian Federation should put an end to policies that are aimed at terrorizing anyone who speaks out against the annexation of Crimea.  He called upon Moscow to fulfil its international obligations and commitments and to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine within its recognized borders.

AMMAR AL ARSAN (Syria) described the request to include the current item on the Assembly’s agenda as a unilateral, politicized move.  Expressing concern about a growing trend among several Member States to exert political and economic pressure on the United Nations to usurp its power, he said the situation in the territories under discussion today are governed by the Minsk agreements.  Their implementation, as well as that of the Council resolution endorsing them, requires genuine political will from all parties.  Today’s meeting is a fresh attempt to hinder the implementation of those accords and undermine efforts to resolve the crisis.  Noting that the Assembly’s consideration of the agenda item constitutes a violation of Article 12 of the Charter, he said the inclusion of the terms “temporarily occupied territories” does not change the fact that the item falls exclusively under the Council’s purview.  The United Nations must consolidate collective trust, he said, warning that more divisions will only tarnish its reputation.

JEROEN COOREMAN (Belgium), associating himself with the European Union, said that his country did not recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, as it runs counter to international law and is a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  Today marks five years since this illegal annexation and five years of conflict in eastern Ukraine.  During this time, more than 10,000 people have lost their lives and more than 1.5 million people have left the region.  The Minsk agreements remain the only way to end the conflict, he said, calling on all parties to implement them and honour their commitments.  The Russian Federation should stop fuelling the conflict by providing support to armed formations.  He regretted the obstacles to the work of the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, as it played a special role in reducing tensions.  The Mission should be allowed safe and unimpeded access to the entire territory of Ukraine, including Crimea.

For information media. Not an official record.