Avoid Unilateral Actions that Could Stoke Tensions, Delegates Urge Warring Parties in Eastern Ukraine, Stressing Need to Implement Minsk Accords

SC/13793
25 April 2019
8516th Meeting (PM)

Avoid Unilateral Actions that Could Stoke Tensions, Delegates Urge Warring Parties in Eastern Ukraine, Stressing Need to Implement Minsk Accords

Kyiv’s Delegate Criticizes Decree Offering Russian Passports to Some Ukrainians as Moscow’s Representative Calls Process ‘Transparent’

Amid flaring tensions in eastern Ukraine, delegates in the Security Council today urged all parties to the conflict — now in its fifth year — to avoid unilateral actions that could exacerbate tensions, and to uphold their commitments, under the Minsk Protocol agreements to bring peace to the region’s 3.5 million beleaguered people in need of humanitarian assistance.

“A lasting and durable ceasefire remains an urgent priority,” said the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, one of four officials who briefed Council members on the latest developments.  She expressed regret that discussions on recommitting to a ceasefire during the Trilateral Contact Group’s 24 April meeting in Minsk were inconclusive.

She said the Russian presidential decree on the same date reportedly makes it possible for residents of certain parts of eastern Ukraine to obtain Russian citizenship under a simplified procedure — a move welcomed by entities controlling areas within Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions but protested by Kyiv as unprecedented interference in their country’s internal affairs.  All parties should address their concerns through dialogue within the existing negotiation formats, she insisted.

The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator said that 500,000 of those requiring aid and protection live within five kilometres of the contact line — placing them at risk of shelling, landmines and unexploded ordnance.  Funding for humanitarian access remains unpredictable, particularly in areas beyond Government control, she added.  Humanitarian agencies need $162 million to help 2.3 million people restore access to livelihoods and essential services, she noted, emphasizing that assistance must not be politicized.

Briefing by video-teleconference from Kyiv, the Chief Monitor of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine said that since the last recommitment on 8 March — among the shortest lived — there have been 50,000 ceasefire violations recorded and 238 instances involving weapons that should have been withdrawn.  He reiterated his call for the parties to grant the Mission full access to the region, noting that through its reporting, it facilitates implementation of the Minsk agreements.

The Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and of the Trilateral Contact Group also spoke from Kyiv, describing the growing rift between areas of Donetsk and Luhansk not controlled by the Government of Ukraine and the rest of the country.  Rhetoric from those areas advocating for further integration with the Russian Federation, has fuelled tensions, he said, adding that with the sides drifting further apart, the coordinators of the security, economic and humanitarian working groups have focused largely on mitigating the division’s effects on people on both sides of the contact line.

In the ensuing dialogue, Ukraine’s delegate described the Russian Federation’s citizenship decree as “yet another appalling episode in a chain of events to tear away the Russia-occupied territories from Ukraine”.  The Russian Federation has already organized a series of fake elections, introduced its own currency, expropriated Ukrainian enterprises and captured Ukrainian sailors in Ukraine’s own territorial waters, he pointed out, asking the OSCE officials to evaluate whether the 24 April passport decree helps or hinders implementation of the Minsk agreements.

France’s delegate said the Russian Federation is demonstrating a lack of political will to implement the Minsk accords and disdain for its commitments.  He condemned the decision to grant Russian nationality in some areas.  Germany’s representative pointed out that 24 April, the date Moscow chose for its most recent decree, is also the International Day of Multilateralism.  By choosing that date, the Russian Federation demonstrated its disdain for the international multilateral order, he said.

Responding, the Russian Federation’s representative said the decree was issued transparently in a process started long ago.  He asked which item of the Minsk agreements his country violated.  “Four million citizens of Ukraine are basically outlawed, whose existence is being ignored by the international community,” he said, accusing Kyiv of sabotaging the Mink agreements.  He said that his country is not interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, but rather offering the people the chance to resolve important issues for themselves.

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

The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 5:15 p.m.

Briefings

ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, recalling that Ukrainians exercised their democratic right to choose their next President on 21 April, said the United Nations, by its presence in Ukraine, is committed to working with the authorities and the people in supporting the provision of humanitarian assistance, safeguarding human rights and in the critical reform process.  However, the shadow of conflict in eastern Ukraine hangs over both the election and today’s meeting , she said, noting that many residents of that region were unable to exercise their democratic right and continue to face daily challenges associated with an active conflict.

“A lasting and durable ceasefire remains an urgent priority,” she said, expressing regret over the inconclusive nature of the discussions on a new ceasefire recommitment during the 24 April meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk.  Emphasizing that a lasting ceasefire should be accompanied by the withdrawal of heavy weapons from populated areas, the disengagement of forces, and protection of civilians, she stressed the importance of not politicizing the humanitarian work of the United Nations.

She went on to note that the Russian Presidential decree on 24 April reportedly makes it possible for residents of certain parts of eastern Ukraine to obtain Russian citizenship under a simplified procedure, a move welcomed by the entities in control of certain areas of the country’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.  Ukrainian authorities strongly protested the decree as unprecedented interference in their internal affairs by the Russian Federation, as well as a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, contrary to the Minsk agreements.  Recalling the Council’s endorsement of the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”, with its adoption of resolution 2202 (2015), she said the United Nations expects those agreements to be respected by all concerned.

To that end, she urged all parties to avoid any unilateral steps that could undermine implementation, and to address concerns through dialogue in the existing negotiation formats.  The Normandy Four (Germany, Russian Federation, Ukraine, France) and the Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine, Russian Federation, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) — as well as the Security Council — have devoted considerable attention to promote full implementation of the accords.  “Regrettably, progress has stalled”, she said, calling for greater resolve in efforts to continue.  She added that she expects all concerned to act in accordance with the Minsk agreements, demonstrate political will, take steps to decrease tensions and allow for resumed dialogue through existing mechanisms at all levels.

URSULA MÜLLER, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, recalled that since she last briefed the Council two months ago, the conflict in Ukraine has remained active while its impact on civilians living around the contact line has increased.  Five years since the start of the conflict that saw more than 3,300 civilians killed and up to 9,000 injured, 3.5 million people still need humanitarian assistance and protection and half a million live within five kilometres of the contact line — putting them at risk of shelling, landmines and unexploded ordnance.  “Shelling damages and disrupts critical civilian infrastructure, even though it serves both sides of the contact line,” she said, recalling that since her last briefing, civilian workers repairing damaged water pipelines in Donetsk came under small-arms fire and were forced to evaluate the area.

Emphasizing the need to ease freedom of movement for people affected by the conflict, she said that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed or injured by mines and explosive remnants of war since 2014, pointing out that mine-related incidents were the leading cause of casualties among children in 2018.  Describing those statistics as unacceptable, she called upon both sides to cease their use of landmines and to work with mine-action partners to raise awareness among civilians and plan for demining.  She also stressed that delays at checkpoint crossings must be reduced, reporting that no progress has been seen towards repairing the Stanytsia Luhanska pedestrian bridge used by civilians — many of whom are elderly or disabled and have limited mobility — to reach such essential services as health care and access to pensions.  “Speedy passage, in particular for those who are suffering from health issues, must be ensured,” she said.

In addition, funding support for humanitarian access in eastern Ukraine remains unpredictable, particularly in areas beyond Government control, she said.  Emphasizing that humanitarian assistance must not be politicized, she said the United Nations and its partners provide assistance in accordance with the universally recognized principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence.  Those actors require unimpeded and sustained access in order to do their work, she stressed.  Humanitarian agencies require $162 million to provide some 2.3 million people with protection and assistance and to restore their access to livelihoods, essential services and civilian infrastructure, but that appeal is only 9 per cent funded, she noted.  More support is needed, she said, calling for a redoubling of international efforts to that end.

ERTUGRUL APAKAN, Chief Monitor of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, briefed on the security situation in affected areas and shared challenges in implementing the Mission’s mandate.  On 24 April, participants in the working group on security issues did not reach agreement on a recommitment to the ceasefire, he said, adding that since the last recommitment, on International Women’s Day, which was one of the shortest lived, the Mission recorded more than 50,000 ceasefire violations and 238 instances using weapons that should have been withdrawn.  Despite these developments, progress can still be achieved, he added.

Some concrete steps on humanitarian mine action, specifically around schools and kindergartens, have been taken in recent months, he continued, noting that such developments are encouraging, but limited.  Discussions on additional measures to strengthen the ceasefire have not yielded results so far, he said, noting that casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure in the villages near the disengagement area of Zolote continue.  He reiterated calls for participants in the working group to grant the Mission full access to this region, noting that in 2019 so far, the Mission recorded 15 civilian casualties from mines, unexploded ordinance and improvised devices, among whom four were killed and 11 injured.

“As I was traveling in Luhansk region, I saw people preparing for Easter celebrations and visiting cemeteries,” he said, adding:  “These sites, located close to the contact line, need to be safe.”  Through its monitoring and reporting, the Mission contributes to the stabilization of the situation and facilitates implementation of the Minsk agreements, he said.  However, more must be done urgently to improve the conditions of those living close to conflict-affected areas.  For six days in April, tens of thousands of civilians on both sides of the contact line in the Donetsk region were left with limited access to water after pipelines were damaged, he said.

“As I mentioned in the past, sustainable solutions to ensure the protection of civilian infrastructure include the full withdrawal of heavy weapons, beginning with populated areas,” he stressed.  Moreover, existing entry-exit checkpoints are not enough to support the large volume of people moving across the contact line on a daily basis.  Men, women, children, and especially the elderly continue to move across precarious wooden ramps connecting the broken bridge at Stanytsia Luhanska, which remains the only entry-exit checkout in the Luhansk region.  “A solution to this pressing issue needs to be found,” he emphasized.  Expressing concern for the security situation of Mission staff and lack of access to the affected areas, he added:  “All these impediments steadily erode the Mission’s ability to fulfil its mandated tasks.”

MARTIN SAJDIK, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and the Trilateral Contact Group, also spoke via video-teleconference from Kyiv, noting that recent years have seen a deepening divide between certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions not controlled by the Government of Ukraine and the rest of the country.  That divide has also been fuelled by rhetoric emanating from those areas in the past few months, advocating for their further integration with the Russian Federation.  Noting that some 37,000 people cross the contact line every day at just five crossing points, he said it takes more than six hours to reach the other side, stressing: “This is a real humanitarian issue.”  He went on to recall that, in February, he called for efforts to improve conditions at the crossings and to open new entry-exit checkpoints, but no change has been seen so far.  Meanwhile, the two sides have been unable to agree on the technical aspects of erecting an auxiliary bridge to substantively improve crossing conditions.

With the sides drifting further and further apart, he said, efforts by the coordinators of the security, economic and humanitarian working groups have focused largely on mitigating the effects of the deepening divide on people on both sides of the contact line.  Turning to the protection of civilians, he said the number of civilian victims fell in 2018 to more than half the 2017 levels, and that trend continues today.  However, the threat of landmines and other unexploded ordnance remains high with more and more mines — particularly anti-tank mines — continuing to be laid, he said.  Underscoring the importance of demining efforts, he welcomed today’s decision by Ukraine’s Parliament to amend the financing provisions of its law on demining, which paves the way for more active donor engagement in that area.

“It is not enough to mitigate the effects of the divide, we have to undertake all efforts to narrow and even to eradicate it,” he said.  Statements by the new Ukrainian leadership are a source of optimism in that regard.  However, the 24 April presidential decree by the Russian Federation will most likely not prove helpful, he cautioned.  What is really needed is to end the growing economic disconnect across the contact line and reverse the disruptive measures that first triggered a brutal interruption of economic links in March 2017 — the blockade and economic ban on one side and the so-called “outside administration” on the other.  Efforts to reverse those measures should include the resumption of railway transportation services, including for passengers, and finding ways for those in the affected areas to access their pensions.  The ultimate goal must be full implementation of the Minsk agreements, to which there is no alternative, he stressed.

Statements

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) firmly condemned the decision to grant Russian nationality in some areas, thereby dealing a blow to the Minsk agreements after the election of a new President who pledged to extend a hand to people in eastern Ukraine.  The Russian Federation is demonstrating a lack of political will to implement the accords, and disdain for its commitments.  The so-called humanitarian arguments often cited by the Russian Federation are unfounded, he said, emphasizing that the de facto separatist authorities continue to impede the delivery of aid to several millions of people who need it.  Noting that the parties are not respecting the ceasefire, he said they are also failing to honour their pledge to withdraw heavy weapons, while mines continue to take lives on both sides of the contact line.  Calling for the OSCE Monitoring Mission to be granted access to the entire conflict zone, he condemned obstacles to its free movement.  The latest alarming developments open a period of uncertainty, he said.  While the new President has expressed his determination to relaunch implementation of the Minsk agreements and pledged greater closeness to those outside Ukrainian Government control, the situation of human rights has continued to worsen in Crimea and Sebastopol, as has the situation in the Azov and Black seas, he noted.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) condemned the Russian Federation’s decision to grant expedited citizenship in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, a violation of that country’s territory.  “Donbas is Ukraine and the people there are Ukrainian” regardless of the language they choose to speak, he said, emphasizing that the Russian Federation’s actions subvert the principles underpinning the Minsk accords.  Recalling that the Russian Federation signed the Minsk accords in 2014 and 2015, he welcomed the statement by Ukraine’s new President that he will redouble support for Ukrainian citizens in Russian Federation-controlled areas.  Rather than promote peace, Moscow continues to fuel a conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives, he said, expressing support for efforts to restore Ukraine’s control over its territory within internationally recognized borders.  The United States also supports the creation of an international security force that will facilitate implementation of the Minsk agreements.  He stressed that Donbas-related sanctions will remain in place until the Russian Federation implements the Minsk agreements and withdraws its forces, and when it returns control of Crimea to Ukraine.

Mr. TRULLOLS (Dominican Republic) recalled the Council’s endorsement of the Minsk accords as a genuine expression of the will of all involved.  The parties must reaffirm their commitment to multilateralism and the peaceful resolution of conflict, he emphasized, notably by abstaining from unilateral actions that could hamper efforts under way to achieve peace in eastern Ukraine.  Welcoming the President-elect’s comments about relaunching implementation of the Minsk agreements and his desire for peace, he rejected hostile actions that contravene aspirations to end the conflict, saying that is the same wish held by Ukrainians and the international community.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said all parties must commit to a de-escalation of tensions to allow improvement of the humanitarian situation.  It remains critical that all parties fully implement their respective commitments under the Minsk agreements, which at this point is the most promising road map for the peaceful settlement of hostilities in eastern Ukraine, he emphasized.  South Africa notes with concern the recent tensions between the parties and calls upon them to refrain from actions that could escalate tensions and further destabilize the situation on the ground, he said, underlining the critical role of the Special Monitoring Mission in the region.  Its access must, therefore, remain unhindered so it can monitor and verify compliance with the Minks agreements, he said.

KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) condemned the Russian Federation’s unilateral decree of 24 April on the granting of passports, saying it contravenes the Minsk agreements and risks further escalating tensions.  Expressing her expectation that all parties will abstain from such unilateral actions and honour their commitments, she called upon the Russian Federation immediately to end its support for armed groups in eastern Ukraine and encouraged the parties to respect the mandate of the Special Monitoring Mission.  Underlining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within internally recognized borders, and that Belgium does not recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea, she called for the full withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from the contested areas.  She went on to call attention to the humanitarian plight of 3.5 million people and the serious human rights situation on the ground.  She also welcomed the orderly conduct of the presidential elections as a “successful test for the Ukrainian democracy”.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said the parties have several options available in their pursuit of a sustainable solution, including the Normandy Quartet, the Trilateral Contact Group and the Minsk agreements.  Total openness on both sides — as well as strong political will — are required to end the political stalemate, he said, calling upon the parties to demonstrate greater will and make use of all necessary means to reduce tensions.  Noting the deepening impact of violence and instability on the region’s people, as well as their worsening humanitarian situation, he said access by humanitarian personnel is crucial, especially for the most vulnerable people.

TAREQ M. A. M. ALBANAI (Kuwait) said the situation in eastern Ukraine continues to impact the lives of civilians and to destroy critical infrastructure.  Urging the parties to refrain from provocative actions that might exacerbate the situation or hinder progress under the Minsk agreements, he said that exerting the political will to implement the accords is the only way forward.  Reiterating Kuwait’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within internally recognized borders, as well as for the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, he expressed hope that the parties will seek a comprehensive and balanced solution through dialogue, and in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland), strongly condemning the decision to provide expedited Russian citizenship to Ukrainian citizens living in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, welcomed the consolidated response by Ukrainian political forces.  “This is a highly provocative element of an ongoing aggressive campaign against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.  Emphasizing that international law does not allow widespread naturalization of the nationals of another State residing in that other State’s territory, he said such an action is clearly an illegal act of coercion against Ukraine.  It undermines the Minsk agreements following the Russian Federation’s holding of illegal elections in areas not under the control of the Ukrainian Government in 2018, the attack against Ukrainian ships in the Kerch strait, the introduction of the rouble zone, and the official recognition of documents issued by illegal military entities in Donbas.  Moreover, so-called “passportization” is a well-known component of the Russian Federation’s creeping annexation of Georgia’s break-away Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, he pointed out.  Moscow’s fuelling of tensions in Donbas is a direct challenge to international peace and security, with grave implications for the international legal order protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all States, he stressed, urging the international community to respond accordingly to the Russian Federation’s illegal behaviour.

GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) expressed regret over the non-implementation of the Minsk agreements, noting that the situation on the ground is marked by recurrent ceasefire violations and obstacles to the Special Monitoring Mission’s movements.  Continued distrust among the parties could nullify international efforts to restore peace to Donbas, he cautioned, urging all parties to demonstrate restraint and implement the Minsk agreements in full while avoiding the destruction of civilian infrastructure.

LUIS UGARELLI (Peru) expressed concern over the recent decree making it easier to grant Russian citizenship to Ukrainian nationals in some regions of the country, noting that those regions are occupied by separatist groups.  However, the Ukrainian Parliament’s decision to strengthen use of the Ukrainian language could affect the rights of linguistic minorities, such as those in the affected regions, he said.  Emphasizing that the Minsk agreements remain the basis for a political solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, he called for its full implementation, pressing all parties to uphold their commitments and abstain from any action that could hinder the resumption of dialogue.

WU HAITAO (China) said his delegation takes an impartial position on the situation, respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of all countries, including Ukraine, while opposing interference in that country’s internal affairs.  Recalling that the Council’s signing of the new Minsk agreements in February 2015 played a crucial role in mediating the crisis, he noted that their authority has been recognized by all parties, but many of its provisions have yet to be carried out.  He called on the parties to implement the new Minsk accords in earnest, commit to a political settlement, defuse tensions through dialogue and seek a comprehensive solution to the conflict, while urging harmony among Ukraine’s ethnic groups that country’s peaceful coexistence with its regional neighbours.

MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) urged all parties to refrain from actions that could be perceived as provocative and that might exacerbate the already fragile situation on the ground.  All parties must implement resolution 2202 (2015) in full, cease hostilities and uphold the Minsk agreements, which constitute the legal basis for a political solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.  Emphasizing the importance of dialogue and diplomacy, while recognizing the bumpy road ahead, he expressed Indonesia’s full support for all constructive efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said the Council should continue to consider the situation in Ukraine given the many illegal actions that the Russian Federation has undertaken on that country’s territory in recent years.  They include the late 2018 attacks on Ukrainian ships in the Sea of Azov, as well as continued efforts to destabilize Ukraine’s economy.  Calling on all Council members who care about peace in the region to demand that Moscow end such activities, he also condemned the latter’s 24 April passport decree.  The Russian Federation should focus on implementing the Minsk agreements, ending its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine and facilitating safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, he emphasized.  Recalling that March 2019 marked the fifth anniversary of the Russian Federation’s illegal annexation of Crimea — by which it imposed Russian law and military conscription in the peninsula — he said there have also been reports of arbitrary arrests, human rights violations and raids on homes.  Meanwhile, Moscow still has not provided access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, he noted.  Welcoming Ukraine’s recently concluded presidential elections, he said the United Kingdom looks forward to working with the new Administration.  The Russian Federation also has the opportunity to work for peace but has instead sadly decided to continue down its aggressive path, he added.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) sought clarity as to how the briefings relate to the request for today’s meeting since they have nothing to do with the Minsk agreements.  “Four million citizens of Ukraine are basically outlawed, and whose existence is being ignored by the international community,” he said.  In response to claims that the Russian Federation is forcing citizens of Ukraine to change their citizenship, he asked which item of the Minsk agreements his country has violated, asserting that, in fact, the President signed a decree under which citizens in Donetsk and Luhansk have the possibility to obtain Russian citizenship in a simplified manner.  They are not required to give up their Ukrainian citizenship, he stressed, pointing out that the decree was issued transparently and the process started long ago.  There is no reason to say it was timed to coincide with an event or designed to send a signal to anyone, he said.  Moreover, the Russian Federation has taken in more than 9,000 citizens from Ukraine’s south-eastern Oblast region, he said.  Indeed, there is a high demand for Russian citizenship because living conditions in southern Ukraine have been made impossible by the national authorities.  The Russian Federation is providing an opportunity to make the citizenship process easy because the conflict in Donbas has persisted for five years, he said.  People there did not have the right to vote in Ukraine’s recent presidential elections, and they have lived under a worsening socioeconomic blockade since 2017, he said.

He went on to accuse Kyiv of sabotaging implementation of the Mink agreements, with the authorities calling the people in Donetsk and Luhansk separatists and terrorists.  While it is easy to couch their suffering in claims of Russian aggression, the people of Donbas have no income and no pensions, unlike others elsewhere in Ukraine, he said, stressing that were it not for the Russian Federation, they would not have survived.  People in Donetsk and Luhansk deserve the opportunity to be under the protection of a State, he noted, saying Ukraine is not providing any basic services.  The Russian Federation is undertaking a large economic and social burden, but rather than receiving praise for its efforts, it is fielding hypocritical accusations about so-called aggression, he noted.  Describing his country’s actions as part of a trend to streamline migration procedures, he cited the European Union’s decision in 2018 to provide protection for more than 300,000 asylum seekers.  Providing citizenship is a sovereign State right, he said, reiterating that his country is not interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, but rather offering the opportunity for people to resolve important issues for themselves.  The people will decide whether they exercise that right or not, he said, adding that, for Kyiv, the number of people requesting Russian citizenship will become a litmus test of attitudes in Donbas and Luhansk.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity, associating himself with the statement delivered by France as part of the Normandy Four.  Expressing admiration for the Russian Federation’s diplomatic style, he said that, throughout history, it has included attempts to intimidate and provoke newly elected leaders.  Another textbook trait is not to “miss a moment for cynicism”, he said, pointing out that 24 April — the date chosen by Moscow for its most recent decree — is also the International Day of Multilateralism.  By choosing that date, the Russian Federation demonstrated its disdain for the international multilateral order, he said.

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) thanked Council members who condemned the illegal decree of 24 April, which the Russian Federation is trying to sell to the wider United Nations membership, using its tools of misinterpretation, manipulation, lies and disinformation.  Recalling his previous comparisons of Moscow’s recent aggressions to the Soviet “dirty war” of 1939, he said history seems to be repeating itself.  “Yesterday’s decree is yet another appalling episode in a chain of events to tear away the Russia-occupied territories from Ukraine,” he added, pointing out that the Russian Federation has already organized a series of fake elections, introduced its own currency, expropriated Ukrainian enterprises and captured Ukrainian sailors in Ukraine’s own territorial waters.  The new decree is yet another piece of the same puzzle — interference in the affairs of an independent State and a brutal violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.

Drawing parallels between Moscow’s current actions and those it took during the Russian Federation’s 2008 conflict with Georgia, he said that distributing Russian Federation passports en masse could easily be seen as legitimizing that country’s military presence on Ukrainian territory.  It is, in fact, an artificial pretext in order to continue to send troops and sustain the undisguised military aggression.  Calling for international efforts to reinforce pressure on the Kremlin, including through new sanctions, he said the Russian Federation’s purpose is to destabilize Ukraine and ruin the Minsk agreements in direct defiance of the international community’s demands.  Indeed, the illegal “passportization” of Ukrainian citizens also signals Moscow’s recognition of its occupation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.  “By this decision, Russia once again debunks its own propaganda narrative that this is a so-called ‘internal conflict in Ukraine’,” he said, emphasizing that Kyiv will not recognize any consequences of the 24 April decree and urging the Council to consider it null and void.

He went on to ask the OSCE officials to evaluate whether the 24 April passport decree contributes to or complicates implementation of the Minsk agreements.  He also asked whether the Assistant Secretary-General would characterize the decree as a “warranted and justified response” to the difficult humanitarian situation on the ground, and whether, not how, the Russian Federation can actually contribute to repairing the problems it created.

The representative of the Russian Federation, taking the floor a second time, said the Council heard more hackneyed and unfounded accusations today from the Ukrainian representative.  In the recent election, he Ukrainian people resoundingly rejected the conduct of President Petro Poroshenko over the last five years, he recalled.  Indeed, that they spoke out clearly, demanding change, which indicates that they are tired of writing off all Ukraine’s woes on the Russian Federation, he said.  “The Ukrainian people need real acts, real steps towards peace,” he emphasized, noting that Kyiv has long rejected that diplomatic path.  Returning to the issue of passports, he said hundreds of thousands of people across the region hold multiple citizenships.  “No one is going to force these people to take on a Russian passport,” he said, underlining that they will all be able to keep their Ukrainian documents.  The decree is only a humanitarian measure aimed at providing social protection to people living in abject poverty, he stressed.

The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs responded to the questions posed to her by imploring all parties to cease their use of landmines immediately and to plan for demining.  She also called on them to take all precautions to minimize harm to civilians and to provide access to critical services at all times.  In addition, they should rebuild the pedestrian bridge in question, improve conditions there and facilitate speedy passage for elderly persons and others in need.

The Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office said the Russian Federation’s unilateral decree could jeopardize the Minsk agreements.  He went on to state that recent diplomatic interactions between the two sides unfortunately did not yield a concrete ceasefire agreement.

The Chief Monitor, signalling his agreement with that assessment, added that access to certain areas of Donetsk on the non-Government side “is a real issue for us”, limiting the Special Monitoring Mission’s observation capacity.

For information media. Not an official record.