General Assembly Adopts Resolution Urging Russian Federation to Withdraw Its Armed Forces from Crimea, Expressing Grave Concern about Growing Military Presence

GA/12223
9 December 2019
Seventy-fourth Session, 41st Meeting (AM)

General Assembly Adopts Resolution Urging Russian Federation to Withdraw Its Armed Forces from Crimea, Expressing Grave Concern about Growing Military Presence

Text on Sport for Peace, Development Also Adopted

The General Assembly today adopted a resolution urging the Russian Federation to withdraw its military forces from Crimea and end its temporary occupation of Ukraine’s territory without delay, as it also adopted a text on sport for development and peace.

Through the text titled “Problem of the militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov” — adopted by a recorded vote of 63 in favour to 19 against with 66 abstentions — the Assembly, expressing grave concern about the Russian Federation’s militarization and reports of its continuing destabilization of Crimea through the transfer of weapons to Ukraine, urged it to stop such activity.

Further calling on the Russian Federation to refrain from efforts to extend its jurisdiction over nuclear facilities and material in Crimea, the Assembly condemning the growing Russian military presence in parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, the harassment of commercial vessels and the construction and opening of the Kerch Strait bridge.

Ukraine’s representative said that since 2014 the Russian Federation has been progressively militarizing the Crimean Peninsula by transferring to Ukraine nuclear capable aircraft and missiles, weapons, ammunition and military personnel.  “What is more alarming is that the occupying power is taking steps to nuclearize Crimea, in particular by deploying nuclear infrastructure on the peninsula,” he said, pointing out that the Russian Federation’s activities have far‑reaching consequences for security beyond the Black Sea area to South Europe and even in North Africa and the Middle East.  This seriously challenges the existing non‑proliferation regime and the international community must duly respond.

The Russian Federation’s delegate called the text a “bare‑faced lie” meant to impair the constructive course of the Normandy Quartet meeting taking place in Paris today.  The ongoing internal conflict in Ukraine has killed, wounded and badly injured thousands of people, and turned millions more into refugees and internally displaced persons.  “People of Crimea have long made their choice:  exposed to a threat of a ‘blood‑drenched massacre’ that was coming from nationalists who came to power in 2014, they decided to reunify with Russia,” he said, adding, “There is no problem of ‘militarization of Crimea’”.

The speaker for the European Union, however, said that the increasing militarization of the peninsula continues to negatively impact security in the Black Sea region.  The Russian Federation’s violations of international law have led to a dangerous escalation of tensions at the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov, he said, also condemning Moscow for imposing Russian citizenship on Crimean residents and conscripting them into the Russian armed forces.

In a second text titled “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal,” the Assembly urged Member States to observe the Olympic Truce, from the start of the Games of the Olympiad until the end of the Paralympic Games to be held in Tokyo in 2020, to ensure the safe passage and participation of athletes and all other accredited persons taking part in the Games.

The Assembly also called upon all Member States to cooperate with the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee in their efforts to use sport as a tool to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation, welcoming cooperation to maximize the potential of sport to make a meaningful contribution to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mori Yoshiro, President of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, said he still has hope for a world without conflict.  Peace was the original concept of the Olympics,” he said, recalling the Tokyo Olympics of 1964 as a major step toward recovery “from a burnt down land in just 19 years”.  The Tokyo 2020 Games, whose main theme is “Unity and Diversity”, is a welcome event that can bring about remarkable benefits.

Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, said that for the first time in Olympic history, gender‑balance would be achieved with the highest‑ever number of female athletes, or 49 per cent, participating in the Tokyo event.  The 2020 Games aim to be carbon‑neutral, thus supporting sustainable development objectives by conferring Olympic medals made from recycled electronics and using zero‑emission vehicles.

Member States emphasized the importance of investing in sport, pointed out that it helps eliminate gender stereotypes, teaches valuable skills, and promotes peace.  Monaco’s delegate said that sport helps promote respect and mutual understanding and provides platforms for exchange among people who may not meet in other ways.  Kenya’s representative noted that with at least 1.2 million people facing physical challenges, his country’s Government is promoting Special Olympics programmes to help develop psychomotor, cognitive and social skills.  He also echoed the sentiment of several Member States in underscoring that sport is essential to combating violent extremism and terrorism.

Also speaking today were the representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Maldives, Qatar, Singapore, Greece, China, Cuba, Cyprus, Cambodia, Israel, Iran, Syria, Belarus and Indonesia.

The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 December, to hold a joint debate and take action on draft resolutions on oceans and law of the sea.

Sport for Development and Peace

MORI YOSHIRO, President of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, introduced the draft resolution titled “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal” (document A/74/L.18).  Noting the multiple threats to peace around the world, he said he still hopes for a world without conflict.  People can live together by fostering understanding, he said, recalling his time as Prime Minister of Japan.  The initiative for a global Olympic truce is so “precious”.  Peace was the original concept for creating the Olympics.  It must be the mission of the international community to promote the Olympics for future generations.

Recalling the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, he said it was a major step toward recovery “from a burnt down land in just 19 years”.  It also led to dramatic economic growth in Japan.  “Giving courage to one another will strengthen us all,” he continued, adding that he is looking forward to the Tokyo 2020 Games.  The main theme of the games is “Unity and Diversity”, which are positive concepts that bring about remarkable benefits.  “What is marvellous about sport is its ability to help people overcome difficult challenges,” he said, adding that leaders must be courageous enough to believe that agreements could replace conflict.  Sport has the power to change the world and the future, he stressed.

MAHA YAQOOT JUMA YAQOOT HARQOOS (United Arab Emirates) said her country’s Government believes in the important role of sports in peace and development and in the power of harnessing peoples’ sports capabilities, especially of people with disabilities, for peace.  The United Arab Emirates has held many sports events over the years to support this viewpoint.  The Government helps develop young sports talent through roundtables and discussions that help attract and support youth.  These discussions support the development of academic talents as well as sports.  The United Arab Emirates is working to bolster the potential of young Arab athletes to participate in the upcoming Olympics.  As the seventy‑fifth anniversary of the United Nations anniversary, it is important to use sports for peace and development, drawing on the noble values of people worldwide.

LAILA SHAREEF (Maldives) said that sport can heal wounds, mend fences and rise above differences.  Sport has helped bring together people of different cultures and nationalities.  To this day, the flame of the Olympic movement symbolizes not only achievements in sport but a bridge that joins communities and promotes tolerance and social inclusion.  The Maldives is proud that it will be hosting the eleventh Indian Ocean Island Games in 2023.  This will not only promote sport at home but also help bring together future generations in cooperation and harmony.  The Indian Ocean Island Games will foster friendship and mutual understanding and will create a spirit of solidarity among all participating States through regional cooperation.

AHMAD SAIF Y. A. AL-KUWARI (Qatar) highlighted the positive role of sport in promoting peace, development and health.  Sport also helps combat terrorism and violent extremism that leads to terrorism.  Qatar has invested in building and developing sport facilities, which has qualified Qatar in hosting various international tournaments.  Qatar looks forward to hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup and is committed to helping the event enhance cooperation and understanding between various countries.  Myriad other initiatives aim to empower Arab youth to participate in this event.  Qatar is further focused on making this event environmentally‑friendly and carbon‑neutral.  Sport encourages tolerance and respect and therefore helps achieve sustainable development, he added.

ISABELLE F. PICCO (Monaco) said Member States are renewing their belief in the power of sports and in a few months will be watching the performance of the Olympic and para‑Olympic athletes.  Japan will be hosting the Games for the fourth time.  The introduction of new games and competitions helps build links with younger people and younger athletes.  The legacy of the Games moves beyond a sporting context and helps develop a message of unity.  The International Olympic Committee has moved to make the Games more enduring to the cities which host them and help them benefit from the infrastructure.  The Committee promotes the role of public policy, and many of its goals are similar to those of the United Nations.  The contribution of sports to sustainable development has been recognized by the United Nations for many years.  Sports helps contribute to gender equality, social inclusion and the promotion of health ways of living and many other goals of the United Nations.  Sports is relevant for reconciliation and helps promote respect and mutual understanding.  It provides platforms for exchange among people whom may not meet in other ways.

GAVIN ANG (Singapore) said sport — an important enabler of sustainable development — is an essential part of his country’s national identity, regarded by many of its people as a means to promote social cohesion.  He reviewed some of the ways through which Singapore aims to make sport inclusive, affordable and easily accessible, regardless of age, ability, gender or social status.  Pointing to the Southeast Asian Games now underway in the Philippines, he said that at the regional and international levels, sport transcends national boundaries, brings people together, builds bridges and reaffirms the close ties of friendship, community and family among the peoples and countries of Southeast Asia.

MARIA THEOFILI (Greece), recalling that the concept of the Olympic Truce dates to the eighth century B.C., said emphasis on Olympic peace remains a major feature of modern Olympic ideology and the inclusion of the Olympic Truce in the United Nations framework gives the ideal a distinct role.  In a world of differences, inequalities and conflicts, even a temporary truce is an achievement for the international community, who should spare no effort to ensure its actual implementation.  The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will offer an opportunity to observe the Truce and make peace an attainable goal.

ZHANG JUN (China) supported the adoption of the resolution and wished complete success to Japan.  He urged all Member States to resolve disputes and use sports to advocate for peace and help integrate different cultures.  Sports is an area in which athletes and people can exchange ideas and promote social cohesion and contribute to international peace and development.  Protectionism and unilateralism have damaged mutual trust and harmed friendships among people.  Many insightful people are worried about this.  The international community is at a crossroads.  Does it want multinationalism or unilateralism?  Cooperation or confrontation?  Progress or regress?  On these major issues, China’s attitude is very clear:  it stands by multilateralism and justice.  “We share the same world and a common future,” he said.  China will contribute to global peace and the defence of international order.  In February 2022, China will host the Winter Olympic Games and work closely with the Committee to bring about great competition.  It will work to hold games that meet ecological standards and strive for carbon neutrality.

LILIANNE SÁNCHEZ RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba) reaffirmed that practising physical education and sport is a fundamental right of all people.  The mechanisms and institutions for the exercise of this right must function properly and without discrimination.  This right must be guaranteed to children, women and persons with disabilities.  “Sport and physical education must be part of our life culture and an intrinsic part of our daily lives,” she said.  The widespread practice of sport since the 1959 revolution has been promoted to all in Cuba’s Constitution.  A national education system guarantees the teaching and practice of sport and physical activity.  The Government has institutionalized sport and established a governing body that coordinates education centres and prioritizes training of high‑quality athletes, she noted.

ANDREAS MAVROYIANNIS (Cyprus) said that there would be less need for the United Nations if Olympic ideals were upheld.  Creating a peaceful environment in hopes that this would have implications more lasting than the duration of the Games themselves was always intrinsic to the Olympic ideal.  Sport, with its unique capacity to bring people together, is also the most powerful tool to build ethos amongst youth.  The culture of sportsmanship, fair play, hard work and personal sacrifice in pursuit of a goal can go farther than any knowledge‑based education.  If the United Nations manages to build this values‑based culture at the individual, community and national levels, its mission to bring peace, development, respect for rights and freedoms, equality, solidarity, tolerance, social inclusion and health becomes much more feasible, he said.

SOVANN KE (Cambodia) said that that the social value of sport is undeniable.  Sport and the Olympic ideals contribute to a peaceful and better world by educating youth in mutual understanding, solidarity, teamwork, tolerance and other important values.  Health, education and community benefits are also found.  With that understanding, his country will proudly host the 2023 Southeast Asian Games, confident that they will promote friendly relations among the participating States and beyond.  Noting his co‑sponsorship of the draft resolution, he pledged Cambodia’s continued promotion of sport for peace and development.

YARON WAX (Israel) said that excluding athletes from sporting events negates the essence of sportsmanship, stressing that politics have no place in the world of sports.  Unfortunately, Iran still refuses to allow its athletes to compete against Israelis, forcing its own team members to forfeit or lose in competitions.  If Member States and sporting bodies like the International Olympic Committee strive to promote peace and human understanding through sport, surely they cannot tolerate such behavior, which the Committee has stated is “contrary to the rules of fair play and against the spirit of friendship embodied in the Olympic values”.  Israel supports the International Judo Federation for its recent decision to stand up against discrimination and suspend Iran from all competitions for its refusal to compete against Israeli counterparts.  It also supports the International Paralympic Committee for stripping Malaysia of the right to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships, after it disgracefully refused to let Israeli athletes compete.  Other international sporting bodies should work to stop this behavior, he said, which is in direct contrast to the resolution being discussed today and a blatant violation of the Olympic charter and code of ethics.

LAZARUS OMBAI AMAYO (Kenya) said the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will present a meaningful opportunity to harness the power of sport to foster an atmosphere of peace, development and understanding.  Kenya has prioritized the promotion of sports, improving existing stadiums, constructing new facilities to train rising young athletes, and periodically granting them tax exemptions.  With at least 1.2 million people facing physical challenges, his country is promoting Special Olympics programmes, as sports help develop psychomotor, cognitive and social skills to help them become more productive members of society.  As Kenya vies for a non‑permanent Security Council seat for 2021‑2022, he cited sports as a means to deter radicalization, prevent extremism and violence, and welcomed the designation of 6 April as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.

THOMAS BACH, President of the International Olympic Committee, recalled that when Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympic Games 125 years ago, the founder saw it as a way to promote peace among all nations and people.  The resolution to be adopted demonstrates clearly that his vision endures.  It is also a powerful reminder of the shared values on which both the United Nations and the Committee are built.  As the United Nations looks ahead to its seventy‑fifth anniversary next year, there is no better time than the 2020 Olympic Year to celebrate these shared values.  United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres declared that “if there is a true symbol of peace in our world, it is the Olympic spirit.”  In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Member States highlighted sport as an important enabler to achieve peace, health, education or empower women.  For the first time in Olympic history, gender‑balance would be achieved with the highest‑ever number of female athletes, or 49 per cent, participating in the Tokyo event.

The 2020 Games aim for carbon neutrality, thus supporting sustainable development objectives by conferring Olympic medals made from recycled electronics and using zero-emission vehicles, he said.  He went on to recall that four years ago in the General Assembly Hall, he had announced the creation of the Refugee Olympic Team.  Although the Committee wished that it was no longer needed, the reasons why the team was created persist.  Therefore, the Refugee Olympic Team will compete in the Tokyo Games to send a strong message of hope to all refugees and raise awareness across the world about the global refugee crisis, he said, stressing that the Olympic Games is politically neutral and autonomous.

The Assembly then adopted draft resolution “L.18” without a vote.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, after the text’s adoption, the representative of Iran said that the delegate of Israel made unfounded claims against Iran as a tool to divert attention from its discriminatory policy and practices against Palestinians.  Israel’s apartheid policy is well documented at the United Nations.  Israel should not talk about inclusion when it discriminates against Palestinians.

Prevention of Armed Conflict

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) introduced the draft titled “Problem of the militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov” (document A/74/L.12/Rev.1).  After the Russian Federation occupied Crimea in February 2014, it has been progressively militarizing the Crimean Peninsula without respite, he said.  It has been transferring destabilizing weapons systems, including nuclear capable aircraft and missiles, weapons, ammunition and military personnel, to Ukraine.  The occupation and subsequent militarization of Crimea has expanded the area of use of Russian warships and military aircraft in the Black Sea region to far beyond the Mediterranean basin.  “Thus, such activity has far‑reaching consequences for security not only in the Black Sea area, but in the whole of South Europe, as well as in North Africa and the Middle East,” he said.

The militarization of the Sea of Azov has implications for maritime trade while the illegal construction of the Kerch Strait bridge between the Russian Federation and temporarily occupied Crimea has contributed to the security threat, he continued.  The Russian Federation’s unlawful acts in the Black Sea on 25 November 2018, proved yet again the urgency of the problem of militarization of Crimea and parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.  While welcoming the release by the Russian Federation of 24 servicemen and vessels, he said the vessels were returned in unusable condition, without weapons, documents and equipment parts, including sensitive communication systems.  “What is more alarming is that the occupying power is taking steps to nuclearize Crimea, in particular by deploying nuclear infrastructure on the peninsula,” he added.  Deployment of nuclear forces in Crimea by the Russian Federation constitutes a serious challenge to the existing non‑proliferation regime and the international community must duly respond.  The main goal of the resolution, he explained, is to urge the Russian Federation to withdraw its military forces from Crimea and stop its illegal occupation of Ukraine’s territory.

DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), in explanation of vote before the vote, said it is hard to comprehend what goals are guiding the authors of the text.  “People of Crimea have long made their choice:  exposed to a threat of a ‘blood‑drenched massacre’ that was coming from nationalists who came to power in 2014, they decided to reunify with Russia,” he said.  The ongoing internal conflict in Ukraine has killed, wounded and badly injured thousands of people, and turned millions more into refugees or internally displaced persons.  The draft resolution before the Assembly is based on a “bare‑faced lie”.  It is quite indicative, that in order not to let people realize the absurdness of this Euromaidan propaganda, one of the resolution’s provisions suggests that everyone should refrain from visiting Crimea.

“Even the title is a lie,” he said, adding:  “There is no problem of ‘militarization of Crimea’”.  Under the Russian‑Ukrainian agreements, before 2014 the Russian Federation had the right to deploy up to 25,000 military personnel in Crimea.  There were 12,000 Russian personnel against 15,000 Ukrainian.  Adoption of the resolution is meant to impair the constructive course of the Normandy Quartet meeting taking place in Paris today.  “The President of Ukraine, by the way, told us and all the others many positive and inspiring things in the course of preparation for today’s meeting,” he said, asking:  “Whose instructions do our Ukrainian colleagues carry out?”

AMMAR AL ARSAN (Syria) said that there are several negative practices by some Member States, including misuse of the General Assembly’s agenda item “prevention of armed conflict.”  The resolution is politicized as the drafters of the text failed to hold consultations and give enough time to reach consensus.  This dangerous practice drains energy and money from the Assembly’s programme of work.  The situation in Crimea is the result of the referendum conducted there.  His delegation will vote against the resolution, he said, urging other delegations to also vote against it or abstain from the voting.

The Assembly then took up the draft resolution titled “Problem of the militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov” (document A/74/L.12/Rev.1), adopting it by a recorded vote of 63 in favour to 19 against with 66 abstentions.

Explaining their positions after the vote, the representative of Singapore said that his country is committed to the principles of multilateralism and non‑interference and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.  It opposes annexation of any territory as it is a clear violation of international law.  Despite revisions to the text, his delegation continues to support as a matter of principle Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and all countries’ freedom of navigation.

The representative of Belarus said that the Minsk agreement is the only proper basis for resolving the conflict and his country is ready to offer space for negotiations under the Minsk format.  As part of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission, Belarus voted against the resolution.  Overloading the General Assembly agenda with this kind of text of a political nature does not help resolve the conflict.  Rather, it reduces the options for a peaceful settlement.  The text lacks references to the Minsk agreement, he said, pointing to the importance of the Trilateral Contact Group and the Normandy format.

The representative of Iran said that concerned parties should pursue a workable solution based on the Minsk agreement, endorsed by Security Council resolution 2202 (2015).  Parallel action undermines the internationally agreed format.  Addressing this issue in the General Assembly or seeking a solution outside the agreed format will not work.

The representative of Indonesia said his delegation supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and is against annexation.  Emphasizing the importance of resolving the conflict through direct dialogue and the need to avoid escalation of tensions, he said his delegation abstained.

GUILLAUME DABOUIS, European Union, in a statement after the adoption, said that it does not recognize the illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol by the Russian Federation and continues to condemn this violation of international law.  The European Union remains committed to fully implementing its non‑recognition policy, including through restrictive measures.  The Union calls again on Member States to consider similar non‑recognition measures, in line with Assembly resolution 68/262.  The increasing militarization of the peninsula keeps negatively impacting the security situation in the Black Sea region.  The Union condemns the fact that the Russian Federation, in violation of international humanitarian law, is automatically imposing Russian citizenship on Crimean residents and conscripting them into the Russian armed forces.

The Russian Federation’s violations of international law have led to a dangerous escalation of tensions at the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov, he said.  The European Union notes the release of unlawfully detained Ukrainian seamen and the return to Ukraine of the three vessels seized a year ago in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait.  The Union has repeatedly stressed that the Russian Federation needs to comply with the 25 May 2019 order of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea and return the seized vessels to Ukraine.  It was deeply disturbed to read reports about the dismantled state in which the vessels were returned to their legitimate owners.  The European Union condemns the construction of the Kerch Bridge without Ukraine’s consent, which is an additional violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  The Union expects the Russian Federation to ensure unhindered and free passage of all ships through the Kerch Strait to and from the Azov Sea, in accordance with international law.

For information media. Not an official record.