Senior Officials Urge Steps to Make Eastern Ukraine Ceasefire Irreversible, Telling Security Council Minsk Accords Remain Largely Unimplemented

SC/13698
12 February 2019
8461st Meeting (PM)

Senior Officials Urge Steps to Make Eastern Ukraine Ceasefire Irreversible, Telling Security Council Minsk Accords Remain Largely Unimplemented

Accusations Fly over Presence of Heavy Weaponry as Delegates Voice Deep Concern over Plight of Civilians, Infrastructure

While the 2015 Minsk agreements are the only agreed framework for a negotiated peace in eastern Ukraine, they remain largely unimplemented, senior United Nations and other officials told the Security Council today, urging all parties to the conflict to uphold their commitments to uphold a permanent ceasefire.

“There is an urgent need to agree on the additional measures that would make the ceasefire sustainable and irreversible,” emphasized Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas in the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, one of four expert briefers on latest developments.

He said negotiations appear to have lost momentum, with stakeholders either unable or unwilling to reach agreement on forward steps.  Advanced military positions on both sides of the contact line are also coming closer to each other in the so-called “grey areas”, he added.  Now in its sixth year, the conflict remains an active threat to international peace and security, he stressed, urging the parties to avoid unilateral actions that could deepen the divide.

Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, underlined that civilians continue to pay the highest price, with more than 3,000 having been killed and nearly 9,000 injured since the conflict began in 2014.  Some 3.5 million people will need assistance and protection in 2019, she said, urging both sides to do more to improve conditions at checkpoints, and all parties to stop using landmines immediately.

Ertuğrul Apakan, Chief Monitor of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), spoke by videoconference from Minsk, saying that the number of ceasefire violations have decreased since the last recommitment on 29 December.  However, heavy weapons have not been fully withdrawn and continue to be used, he noted, adding that challenges to the Mission’s freedom of movement remain.  He stressed the responsibility of both sides to make good on their commitments and ensure effective monitoring by the OSCE.

Martin Sajdik, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group, also spoke from Minsk, saying that conditions at checkpoints continue to deteriorate.  Stressing that 1.1 million crossings occur each month, he said that “the absolutely full” implementation of the Minsk agreements is crucial.

In the ensuing debate, the Russian Federation’s representative said his delegation had every reason to call today’s meeting since Kyiv is not abiding by the ceasefire, but rather, moving deep into the grey area.  The Special Monitoring Mission confirmed that new Ukrainian tanks and artillery have arrived in Donbass, he added.  Nor is Kyiv carrying out its political commitments, he said, stressing that instead, it is trying to re-launch discussion of issues already agreed, an effort condoned by its Western partners.

On that point, Ukraine’s delegate said today’s meeting proves only that the Russian Federation’s ongoing military activity in his country’s occupied Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea regions is obstructing peace.  As of this February, Russian-armed formations in Donbass have 496 main battle tanks in their possession, comparable to the combined arsenals of Germany and France.  The 35,000-strong armed force in occupied Donbass is supported by more than 2,100 members of the Russian military, he said, demanding:  “What do these numbers speak of in terms of Russia’s real intentions?”

Germany’s delegate said the Minsk accords and ongoing negotiations are the only avenues through which progress has been seen, and they must, therefore, be pursued alongside improved implementation within the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group.  Germany remains ready to explore — with its Normandy-format partners (France, Russian Federation, Ukraine) — how a United Nations mission can contribute to progress, he emphasized.

France’s representative, meanwhile, stressed that the conflict is not the outcome of a Western arrangement.  The Special Monitoring Mission plays a central role in the quest for a solution, he noted, urging all parties — especially the separatists — to allow it to circulate freely throughout the territory, including Russian Federation-Ukraine border areas.

Also speaking today were representatives of Kuwait, Poland, United States, Indonesia, China, South Africa, Peru, United Kingdom, Belgium, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic and Equatorial Guinea.

The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended 5:51 p.m.

Briefings

MIROSLAV JENČA, Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas in the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, recalled that the Council endorsed, in its resolution 2202 (2015), the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”, calling upon all parties to implement the measures, including a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire.  In its presidential statement of 6 June 2018, the Council similarly reaffirmed the centrality of the Minsk agreements, he said.  While the accords remain the only agreed framework for a negotiated peace in eastern Ukraine, they regrettably remain largely unimplemented, including their key security and political aspects, he noted.  “Negotiations appear to have lost momentum”, with stakeholders either unable or unwilling to reach agreement on forward steps, he said, pointing out that detailed discussions have been taking place in separate forums without participation by the United Nations.

He went on to note, however, that the Secretary-General has stressed his strong support for the lead role of the Normandy Four (France, Germany, Russian Federation, Ukraine), the Trilateral Contact Group and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in finding a peaceful settlement of the conflict, and has repeatedly called for revitalizing efforts through those forums.  As highlighted over the past five years, the conflict in eastern Ukraine is neither dormant nor frozen, he said, emphasizing that it continues to claim victims in the heart of Europe.  Noting that the main stakeholders in the Trilateral Contact Group made five recommitments to the ceasefire in 2018, he said more than a dozen were made since the start of the conflict, but each was short-lived.

Advanced military positions on both parts of the contact line are coming closer to each other in the so-called “grey areas”, while the use of heavy weapons, and their deployment near the contact line, is a reality, he stressed.  Noting that Minsk will host another round of Trilateral Contact Group talks this week, he expressed the expectation of the United Nations that the parties will reach tangible outcomes and implement decisions in good faith and without delay.  While violence has decreased since 2014, an estimated 1.5 million people remain internally displaced, he noted.  “There is an urgent need to agree on the additional measures that would make the ceasefire sustainable and irreversible.”  The priority of the parties should be to withdraw heavy weapons from populated areas, to disengage forces and to protect civilian infrastructure.

The United Nations is fully committed to providing humanitarian assistance, human rights monitoring and development support, he continued.  Indeed, the scale and urgency of needs remain immense, with more than half a million people living within 5 kilometres of the contact line and, therefore, being the most exposed to shelling, gunfire and landmines. It is essential that the international community step up efforts to meet humanitarian needs as part of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine, he emphasized.  Now in its sixth year, the conflict remains an active threat to international peace and security, he added, calling again for swift progress on implementing the Minsk agreements.  He also urged all parties to avoid unilateral steps that could deepen the divide or depart from the letter and spirit of the Minsk agreements.

URSULA MUELLER, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that civilians continue to pay the highest price, with more than 3,000 having been killed and up to 9,000 injured since the conflict began in 2014.  “The humanitarian consequences are severe,” she emphasized, noting that 3.5 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection services in 2019, many of whom are elderly, women and children.  Critical civilian infrastructure continues to be damaged or disrupted, she said, recalling that 89 incidents in 2018 affected water and sanitation facilitates.  She urged all parties to the conflict to take feasible precautions to avoid harm to civilians, stressing that international humanitarian law must be upheld.

She went on to reiterate appeals for both sides to do more to improve crossing conditions at checkpoints.  With freezing temperatures during Ukraine’s winter, it is critical to improve essential services at crossing points as people continue to wait several hours to cross.  Already in 2019, 10 people have died at the checkpoints, most of them elderly, she said, adding that older people account for more than half of those crossing and face long-standing barriers to access their pensions.  Calling upon the Government of Ukraine to adopt a national mine-action framework, she said landmines and other explosive hazards caused some 43 per cent of all civilian casualties in 2018.  “I implore all parties to immediately cease using landmines.”

She went on to stress the need for humanitarian organizations to have unimpeded and sustained access in order to alleviate the suffering of civilians.  Despite access challenges, a complex operating environment and limited funding, humanitarians are “making a real difference”, she said, underlining the fact that they continue to be guided by the principles of humanity and neutrality.  In 2018 alone, she recalled, humanitarians reached some 1.3 million of the most vulnerable civilians with critical assistance.  Turning to the innovative funding mechanism intended to support the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan and address acute needs, she called for contributions, emphasizing:  “This year, we require $162 million to provide aid to 2.3 million people,” she emphasized.

ERTUĞRUL APAKAN, Chief Monitor, Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), spoke briefed by videoconference from Minsk, saying the last ceasefire recommitment began on 29 December and resulted in a significant decrease in violations.  However, the violence continues, he said, adding that heavy weapons have not been fully withdrawn and continue to be used.  Noting that the Trilateral Contact Group will meet on 13 February, he said that he will emphasize the need for a comprehensive ceasefire within the working group on security issues.

“There must be progress to strengthen the ceasefire,” he emphasized, pointing out that violence is spilling into nearby villages on both sides of the contact line, resulting in casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.  “Civilians must be protected,” he said, citing various circumstances in which civilians were killed or injured in 2018 while noting that four civilian casualties have been reported in 2019.  Underlining the need to undertake all measures to prevent further casualties, he said the withdrawal of troops should be a priority.  Especially needed are positive steps on humanitarian mine action — notably around schools, kindergartens and entry/exit points — as is the need to raise awareness of such dangers among children.  Civilian infrastructure must also be protected, and local ceasefires and arrangements honoured, he added.

Turning to the humanitarian situation, he said thousands of people travel long distances every day, forced to use checkpoints in order to receive their pensions and visit family members separated by the conflict.  The consequences of such hardships have been especially difficult for the elderly, who often travel in sub-zero temperatures.  He said that since September, 14 people have died from natural causes while waiting at checkpoints.  Steps must be taken to facilitate access by humanitarian staff who can provide assistance, he added, calling for the opening of more checkpoints, particularly in Luhansk.

He said the Special Monitoring Mission continues to monitor and report on security developments, but challenges to its freedom of movement remain, especially in areas under Government control.  Stressing the responsibility of both sides to make good on their commitments and ensure effective monitoring by the OSCE, as outlined in the Package of Measures, he said the Mission must continue to facilitate implementation of the Minsk agreements, while continuing to monitor and report on the security situation, facilitate dialogue in order to reduce tensions and promote normalization throughout Ukraine.  In that context, the Mission has announced patrolling activities in remote areas, he said.

MARTIN SAJDIK, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group, spoke via videoconference from Minsk, providing a snapshot of successes and setbacks on the ground.  Despite years of attempts to implement the Minsk agreements, the crisis in eastern Ukraine continues, he said.  There was much progress in 2018, including on telecommunications, which is vital for civilians, especially the elderly waiting to receive their pensions.  However, there were also some concerning setbacks, including with respect to conditions at crossing checkpoints, which continue to deteriorate, he noted.  According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), 1.1 million crossings occur in a month, he said, stressing: “The full, the absolutely full, implementation of the Minsk agreements is crucial.”

Statements

VASSILY NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) recalled the 2015 signing of the Minsk agreements by the OSCE, Ukraine, Russian Federation, “DNR” and “LNR”, saying his delegation has every reason to raise the issue today since the Package of Measures is annexed to resolution 2202 (2015).  The Council reiterated its support for the Package in its presidential statement of 6 June 2018, he noted.  Recalling that Western countries staged a coup d’état in Ukraine and fomented belief in mythical Russian aggression and threats, he said 21 February will mark the anniversary of the Minsk signing, intended to reach a peaceful settlement of the crisis, sparked by armed protesters intent on grabbing power through bloody provocations.  “Ultimately, that’s exactly what they did,” he said, emphasizing that the West and the three guarantor countries bear direct responsibility for everything that took place, and continues to take place, as does the United States, the “puppeteers of the Maidan Theatre”, which provided Ukraine with weapons and fostered its reckless actions.  In reality, the West is not interested in Ukraine, he continued, saying the country is only of interest as a pawn in a geopolitical confrontation with the Russian Federation.

The formula for settlement has been agreed, but Kyiv is sabotaging the Minsk accords and trying to make Moscow pay the price, he said.  Pointing out that all provisions of the formula are in sequenced order, he said implementation of item 9 – border control — is only possible after the separation of forces, the establishment of a law on Donbass, and the creation of self-governing and other entities.  He recalled that on 5 February, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General began proceedings against the opposition leader who decided to run in the 31 March presidential election because he is urging dialogue between Kyiv and Donbass and offering that area a special status.  Yet such talk is perceived as treason and subject to criminal prosecution, he said, pointing out that in all other conflicts, the Council works to bring the parties to the negotiating table and launch a political process, as in Syria, Yemen and the Central African Republic.  “Why should this be any different in Ukraine?”

The West is satisfied with the paradigm pursued by Kyiv, he said, adding that the President of Ukraine believes that his country’s woes over the last three centuries are the consequence of occupation by the Russian Federation.  Pointing out that people living in Donetsk and Luhansk do not protest against local authorities and are not begging Kyiv to save them, he said that, by contrast, the situation in south-east Ukraine is explosive.  Kyiv is not abiding by the ceasefire, but rather, moving deep into the grey area, he said, emphasizing the that the Special Monitoring Mission confirmed that new Ukrainian tanks and artillery have arrived in Donbass.  Kyiv is not carrying out its political commitments, he stressed.  Instead, it is trying to re-launch discussion of issues already agreed, an effort condoned by its Western partners.

Ukraine’s President says the Minsk format does not exist and allows nationalism and hatred of the Russian Federation to run rampant, he said, noting that, for its own part, the Council continues to use clichés like “democratic choice”, while only mildly scolding Kyiv for lack of progress in fighting corruption, and overlooking violations of civilizational norms and rising neo-Nazism.  The people of Donbass — 10 per cent of Ukraine’s population — will not have the opportunity to vote in the presidential election, he noted.  For whom will they vote? he asked Council members.  Kyiv’s provocations are only exacerbating the situation, he said, expressing hope that the Council will appeal to Ukraine to abide by its international commitments.  The Minsk accords are the only chance to settle the situation in Ukraine, he said, cautioning against hope for a “Plan B” or a military solution.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said the current ceasefire remains fragile and elements of the Minsk agreements are yet to be fully implemented.  However, there has been progress, notably the prevention of a further escalation of the conflict and the Government’s push for decentralization to grant eastern Ukraine a large degree of autonomy.  The key message now is that those agreements and ongoing negotiations are the only avenues through which tangible progress has been seen, and they must, therefore, be pursued alongside improved implementation within the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group.  Emphasizing the OSCE’s important role, he said that his delegation remains ready to further explore – with its Normandy-format partners (Germany, France, Russian Federation, Ukraine) – how a United Nations mission can contribute to progress, which is urgently needed since more than 13,000 men, women and children have lost their lives and many more are sick, injured, impoverished and displaced.  Germany will continue to help in providing assistance to relieve this dire humanitarian situation, he said, while underscoring the most important remaining task:  advancing progress on implementing the Minsk agreements.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said today’s meeting falls on the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Minsk agreements.  “We would have liked to have welcomed lasting peace,” he added.  However, weapons are still present in an environment characterized by lack of trust, he noted.  Expressing his delegation’s recognition of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, urged all concerned to implement the Minsk agreements and abide by relevant Security Council resolutions.  He urged the Governments of Ukraine and the Russian Federation to demonstrate the political will to ensure progress.  Turning to the humanitarian situation, he said the crisis is worsening every day, adding that there are too many obstacles impeding relief efforts, including a serious lack of funds.  He also stressed the need to improve the living conditions of elderly people in the affected region.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said that while it is critical for all signatories to implement the Minsk agreements, it is essential to “remember who the victim is and who the aggressor is in this case”.  To really de-escalate the situation in Donbass, it is crucial that the OSCE more effectively engage in unhindered execution of the Special Monitoring Mission’s mandate.  Emphasizing that Russian aggression remains a threat to regional security, she said the crisis in Ukraine is a consequence of Russian aggression against a sovereign, neighbouring State.  She expressed concern over the Russia Federation’s use of military force against Ukrainian ships in November and urged Moscow to ensure unhindered access to that country’s ports.  “Furthermore, we call for the immediate and unconditional release of the Ukrainian vessels and their crew members,” she added.  Russia must stop destabilizing the socioeconomic situation in eastern Ukraine and end its violations of international law.  She went on to state that the Russian Federation’s claims of sovereignty over maritime areas of the Crimean Peninsula have no legal basis, stressing that, besides its political support for Ukraine, Poland will continue to provide it with essential aid.

JONATHAN COHEN (United States), noting the upcoming fifth anniversary of Russian aggression against Ukraine, declared:  “It is Russia that must end this conflict” by withdrawing its troops from eastern Ukraine and Crimea.  The United States does not and will not support the Kremlin’s purported annexation of Crimea or anything less than full restoration of Ukraine’s control over its territory, he said, emphasizing that the Donbass-related sanctions will stay in place until such changes are made.

The Russian Federation called today’s meeting to discuss the Minsk agreements, he said, describing that action as ironic since Moscow failed to honour the accords, notably provisions on implementing the ceasefire and allowing the OSCE to monitor that effort.  The Russian Federation violated those key elements by arming, training and leading forces in eastern Ukraine, he said, adding that Moscow has flouted its commitments from the beginning, using military forces under its control to capture new territory.

Welcoming Ukraine’s continued commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and to implementing the Minsk agreements, he pointed out that, rather than use the accords to resolve the conflict, the Russian Federation has taken an unjustifiable role in fomenting conflict while disingenuously arguing for a protection force that will only end up protecting Moscow’s proxies.  He went on to recall the incident in the Sea of Azov, urging the Russian Federation to release the detainees and return Ukraine’s ships.  The United States stands with the European Union and others against the Russian Federation’s unacceptable conduct in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea, he stressed, calling upon Moscow to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, extending to its territorial waters.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) emphasized that respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States is a fundamental principle of international relations and called upon the parties to adhere fully to and implement the Minsk agreements.  Encouraging the equidistant withdrawal of all heavy weapons in order to create a security zone, he called upon all involved to exercise restraint, manage the crisis responsibly, promote a peaceful settlement and consistently uphold respect for international law.  Stressing the importance of dialogue and diplomacy, he urged the concerned States to take steps to de-escalate tensions.  For its part, the Security Council must fully shoulder its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, in accordance with the United Nations Charter, he stressed.

WU HAITAO (China) said the Minsk agreements played a critical role in mitigating the crisis in Ukraine, and the various mechanisms related to the interpretation of the accords have been functioning well.  However, many provisions have yet to be implemented, he noted.  Mediation has come to a standstill amid the absence of guarantees for the safety of civilians.  He called upon all parties to implement the Minsk accords and maintain dialogue to foster peace in Ukraine.  A long-term solution requires the accommodation of the aspirations and legitimate rights of all regions and ethnic groups, he emphasized, calling attention to the importance of addressing the concerns of all parties in order to balance all interests.  China, for its own part, has taken an impartial position on the crisis, which cannot be through the use of force, he said, stressing that dialogue and negotiation is the only way out.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said it is obvious from the briefings today that eastern Ukraine remains in urgent need of an immediate cessation of hostilities.  Continued violations of the ceasefire, the presence and use of heavy weapons, all in violation of the Minsk agreements, are of grave concern, he said, calling upon all parties to ensure an urgent de-escalation of tensions by implementing the Minsk agreements.  That will help to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.  It remains critical for all parties to implement commitments under the Minsk agreements, he reiterated, adding that at this point, that accord provides the most promising road map to peace.  It is also critical that all parties refrain from all provocative actions that may further impede peace, he stressed.

PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) said the Minsk accords constitute the legal basis for forging a political solution to the situation in Ukraine.  Underscoring his delegation’s support for implementation of the Package of Measures and encouraging stakeholders to uphold their commitments, he welcomed efforts by the Normandy Four and the Trilateral Contact Group to facilitate dialogue, emphasizing the crucial need for adherence to the ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy artillery.  Expressing alarm that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has registered more than 1,600 ceasefire violations, many by weapons banned under international law, including anti-personnel mines, he pointed out that the conflict has claimed more than 3,300 lives, with 4.4 million more people forced to abandon their homes and now in dire need of humanitarian assistance.  He expressed support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, underlining the importance of restoring national control over all areas in conflict, including through social and economic ties to ensure the people’s well-being.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) noted that 12,800 people have died in Donbass since April 2014, among them 3,300 civilians.  The Special Monitoring Mission reported more than 30 victims in January 2019 alone, he said.  France has spared no effort, in the Normandy format, to bring the parties closer together and foster implementation of the Minsk agreements, he said.  Much remains to be done in order to implement its commitments and improve security conditions, he said, citing the need to maintain the ceasefire, withdraw heavy weapons, ensure disengagement of the three pilot areas, undertake demining, and protect sensitive civilian infrastructure.  He expressed concern over the lack of political will to implement the commitments, and over the Russian Federation’s illegal use of force in the Kerch Strait.  Recalling that incident in the Sea of Azov incident, he stressed the necessity of free, safe and unimpeded passage for commercial and military vessels.

More broadly, he called for facilitating civilian passage across the contact line, recalling that 10 people have died in recent weeks due to the dire conditions facing those crossing the line or waiting to do so.  Welcoming the Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine, he stressed that ending the crisis is the responsibility of the parties, especially the Russian Federation, which he urged to implement the Minsk commitments.  He went on to underline that the conflict is not the outcome of a Western arrangement, saying the Special Monitoring Mission plays a central role in the quest for a solution.  He urged all parties, especially the separatists, to allow it to circulate freely throughout the territory, including the Russian Federation-Ukraine border.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) noted that his counterpart representing the Russian Federation spoke colourfully about other actors yet said nothing about his own country’s role in the crisis and its repeated violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty.  The Russian Federation’s aggression is not limited to Donbass and Crimea, he noted, saying that country seeks to undermine the ceasefire and supply Russian-supported forces with weapons.  Such actions have had a tragic impact on Ukrainian civilians and the Russian Federation bears heavy responsibility for that ongoing loss of life, he emphasized.  Noting the increase in the number of Russian violations since the December recommitment – involving continued military activity in the disengagement zones – he said the Special Monitoring Mission is unable to carry out its mandate due to the Russian Federation’s refusal to support its efforts, which threatens Crimea and, ultimately, the security of Ukraine and the wider region.  He also cited the Russian Federation’s downing of a long-range unmanned aerial vehicle near the border outside Government control last week, as well as illegitimate elections in the non-Government-controlled “Luhansk Peoples Republic” and the “Donetsk People’s Republic”.

In response to the Russian Federation’s 2015 plans for an illegal referendum in Crimea, he recalled, the Council adopted a resolution reaffirming Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, noting that Ukraine had not approved a referendum.  However, the Russian Federation vetoed that resolution, he said, going on to object to Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea, due in part to its persecution of ethnic and religious groups — including the Tatars — living there.  Despite calls in General Assembly resolutions for a visit to Crimea by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Russian Federation refuses such entry, he said.  Russian authorities also admitted to using force to seize three Ukrainian vessels, in contravention of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, he said, underscoring that the Russian Federation’s actions in Ukraine have no basis in international law.  The United Kingdom will not ignore such actions, which challenge the rules-based international order, he said, urging the international community to remain focused on the Russian Federation’s behaviour, including its construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait.

KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) noted that there is a violation of the ceasefire every day and called for swift implementation of the Minsk agreements.  She also called upon the Russian Federation to immediately “cease from feeding the conflict” by supporting “armed formations”.  Lack of progress in implementing the Minsk agreements is felt on the ground, she emphasized, adding that the presence of heavy weaponry, banned under the Minsk accords, continues to threaten the chances for peace.  Condemning the organizing of elections in occupied territories back in November, she urged all parties to authorize full and unimpeded access for humanitarian workers.  She reaffirmed Belgium’s full support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) said that the serious incidents of 25 November constitute a major hindrance to implementation of the Minsk agreements.  The deteriorating security situation continues to claim many lives and destroy critical infrastructure.  He called upon Ukrainian stakeholders to strictly implement the Minsk agreements, emphasizing that all appropriate measures must be taken to ease tensions.  He reiterated his delegation’s support for all efforts to find a political solution to the conflict, stressing that all parties must uphold their commitments to relevant agreements and Security Council resolutions.

BERIOSKA ILUMINADA MORRISON GONZÁLEZ (Dominican Republic) expressed concern over 9,500 ceasefire violations registered by the OSCE last month.  In spite of setbacks, the Minsk accords offer the legal basis for ending the conflict, she said, expressing support for the Package of Measures supported by the Council in 2015.  She called for the exchange of prisoners as a gesture of good faith.  “We must continue to call for all efforts which will improve access and assistance to the most vulnerable,” she added.

JOB OBIANG ESONO MBENGONO (Equatorial Guinea), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, saying full implementation of the Minsk agreements is the only way to reach a political solution.  The situation in the east of Ukraine remains a source of grave concern, and reducing tensions and violence must remain an overarching priority.  Calling for immediate adherence to the ceasefire, he stressed that cooperation, determination and political will are essential to a political resolution of the conflict.  He went on to emphasize the important role played by humanitarians on the ground in delivering aid to people in dire need.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that since the Russian delegation will make a customary practice of calling thematic meetings on the basis of significant dates relating to the Russian Federation-Ukraine conflict, he is also inclined to share some important dates.  Recalling that 20 February is the day back in 2014 when Russia began its invasion of Crimea, he said 17 July is the anniversary of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in a terrorist attack by Russia that killed 298 people, and 25 November is when the Russian navy attacked Ukrainian vessels.  Today’s meeting proves only Russia and its ongoing military activity in Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea regions that obstruct the path to peace.  As of this February, Russian-armed formations in Donbass have 496 main battle tanks in their possession, comparable to the combined arsenals of Germany and France, he said.

He went on to state that the 35,000-strong armed force in occupied Donbass is supported by more than 2,100 members of the Russian military, he said.  “What do these numbers speak of in terms of Russia’s real intentions?” he asked.  Since 2015, Russia has sabotaged implementation of the ceasefire agreements a total of 18 times, he continued, adding that there were more than 54,000 ceasefire violations during that period.  On almost 6,000 occasions, Russian forces used weapon systems prohibited under the Minsk agreements, he noted, emphasizing that Ukraine has withdrawn all proscribed weapons and regularly provides the OSCE with a detailed weapons inventory.  Yet, there are numerous and regular cases of blatant violations, with the other side stationing heavy weapons in the immediate vicinity of the actual contact line, rather than the withdrawal line, he stressed, noting also that there has been no progress in negotiations on creating an area free of heavy weapons near Mariupol.

He went on to stress that Ukraine provides the maximum support possible for the work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.  Meanwhile, all the Mission’s long-range unmanned aerial vehicles were shot down over the occupied territories between 2016 and 2017.  In 2018, the Mission also encountered more than 900 restrictions on access to Russian-occupied parts of Donbass.  “We still believe that a peacekeeping operation under the United Nations auspices can bring peace to Ukraine,” he said, adding that the mandate of such a mission should extend to the entire occupied territory and provide for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Ukraine’s territory.  Calling upon the Russian Federation to give up its attempts to misuse the United Nations peacekeeping toolbox, he declared:  The only ways for Russia to prove its declared willingness to de-escalate is to cut the talk and walk the walk – and to join Ukraine and partners in a construction work on [peacekeeping operations],” he stressed.  Regarding the issue of prisoners, he said Ukraine has sent 13 official written proposals entailing various ways to exchange Ukrainian prisoners for Russian citizens sentenced in Ukraine for crimes against territorial integrity.  “No response,” he added.

Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), taking the floor a second time, said that his counterpart representing Ukraine tried to replace one party – separatists in Donbass – with the Russian military, a disingenuous attempt to bring the Russian Federation into the question of implementing the Minsk agreements.  Yet, he said nothing about the provisions of the accords not being implemented.  Having heard the same hackneyed incantations recited over the years, with only passing references to Ukraine in the context of the Minsk accords, he recalled also that the agreements make no mention of Crimea and the Sea of Azov, nor of the OSCE’s mandate.  Germany’s representative, who accused the Russian Federation of “taking Minsk” in 2015, is himself an author of the accords, he pointed out.  “We have no plans to take anything or invade anything,” he stressed.  In response to that delegate’s description of the Russian Federation’s proposal to table a Security Council draft resolution as “a joke”, he emphasized that it was a subject of discussion between the Chancellor of Germany and the President of the Russian Federation.

Responding to claims of a Russian military presence in Donbass, he asked Mr. Apakan and Mr. Sadjik whether they can confirm the figures offered by Ukraine’s representative.  On heavy weaponry, he cited an agreement that disengagement would take place after seven days of quiet on the contact line, to be confirmed by the Special Mission.  However, there were violations on Ukraine’s side, he said, questioning Kyiv’s role in the Trilateral Contact Group and the sub-contact group.  As for the Budapest memorandum – on Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal – he said all parties to the memorandum were obliged to abide by all OSCE principles, and not to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, a commitment that the Russian Federation upholds.  While acknowledging Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, he said Kyiv has only itself to blame for the fact that Crimea “decided to run away” in 2014.  It is ludicrous to hear Council members who have never been to Crimea decry suffering there, he said, stressing that his delegation has invited any United Nations mission to visit Crimea, provided that conditions are met.  He asked which Minsk commitments his country should implement, urging everyone to read the agreements.

Mr. YELCHENKO (Ukraine) recalled that in 2012, when he was Ambassador to Moscow, 12,000 Ukrainian citizens living in the Russian Federation had cast votes, but in 2014, that figure dropped to 1,100.  Asking about the “millions” of Ukrainians within the Russian Federation who have been deprived from voting, he said that if his Russian counterpart wishes the 4 million people in Donbass to vote “under the Russian gun”, he should consider allowing the 2.2 million people in Crimea to do the same.

Mr. HEUSGEN(Germany) also took the floor a second time, reiterating his plea that all sides “really think” about the people of Donbass.  “Why can’t you do something practical, instruct, send a message back home, that tomorrow you are determined to work on this?” he asked, calling upon the Russian Federation to repair a bridge that is hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  He also called upon both sides to demonstrate some compassion and political commitment.

Mr. APAKAN, Chief Monitor, Special Monitoring Mission of the OSCE, said he does not wish to make any comment outside the established facts, which are presented in the report.  In response to the Russian Federation’s representative, he said the Special Monitoring Mission has observed forces displaying the Russian flag, adding that this is nothing new and has been reported previously.

For information media. Not an official record.