Liberation Not Complete until Last Russian Soldier Leaves, Vows Deputy Foreign Minister, Flagging General Assembly Debate
The coming months will be crucial to settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine through renewed political will, despite the average daily occurrence of more than 500 ceasefire violations and violent flare-ups, senior international officials told the Security Council today.
Citing today’s major incident in Donbas involving more than 2,500 explosions, Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacekeeping Affairs, stated: “The much-needed and long-awaited peace in eastern Ukraine can be achieved if there is sufficient political will, good-faith negotiations and concrete support for efforts to silence the guns.”
She also expressed hope that renewed commitments made in December 2019 by the leaders of the “Normandy Four” (France, Germany, Russian Federation, Ukraine) will result in concrete progress on the ground. Indeed, the conflict continues to exact an unacceptable humanitarian toll while destabilizing overall peace and security, she said, pointing out that more than 3.4 million people living on the line of contact require humanitarian assistance, as well as protection.
With the 2019 humanitarian response plan having been severely underfunded, the 2020 plan will require $158 million, with the goal of reaching 2 million people, she continued. As such, the Council must encourage and fully support the positive momentum and commitment of the Normandy Four and the Trilateral Contact Group to address the conflict with renewed impetus and a sense of urgency, followed by measures to restore trust and enable tangible improvement of the situation along the contact line.
Heidi Grau, Special Representative of the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) Chairperson-in-Office, said that, despite today’s flare-up of violence in Donbas and violations of the 2015 Minsk Agreements, OSCE efforts included the disengagement of forces and hardware in three pilot areas, the exchange of prisoners, agreements relating to local elections in areas not controlled by the Government of Ukraine and an audit of Voda Donbasa, the company supplying water in Donetsk.
Halit Çevik, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, said that, although the frequency of ceasefire violations has dropped, the daily average remains at 520, as violations involving weapons observed across withdrawal lines persist. “What lies ahead in the coming months is crucial,” he emphasized. “There is an urgency to maintain the momentum.”
Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs described this morning’s attack on Ukrainian forces, carried out by Russian occupation forces with the use of Minsk-proscribed weapons, as a cynical attempt to disrupt the peace process in Donbas. “It is a war, the only ongoing war in Europe,” he said, emphasizing that it is waged by Russian troops and their mercenaries, using weapons and ammunition supplied by Moscow. Urging the Russian Federation to grant humanitarian agencies unfettered access to detainees, and allow them to search for missing persons, he said that a full and comprehensive ceasefire, as well as unhindered OSCE access to the entire occupied territory would facilitate the peace process. In the coming days, the General Assembly will consider its agenda item “Situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”, he said, stressing that the liberation of Ukrainian territory will not be complete until the last Russian soldier is gone.
However, the Russian Federation’s representative said there was an attempt to create a parallel political reality, while emphasizing that the parties to the conflict are not the Russian Federation and Ukraine, but the regions of Donetsk and Donbas. Indeed, the Minsk Agreements are the sole real hope for peace and for Ukraine to rebuild trust with Donbas after referring to its residents as separatists in their own land. Calling for unconditional compliance with measures reached under the Normandy format, he said elections in that region can only occur in a climate of trust, when the people whom Kyiv called separatists are not under threat.
Estonia’s representative suggested the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping mission, recalling that the Russian Federation blocked Ukraine’s request that the Security Council mandate such an operation.
The representative of the United States noted that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has taken steps to implement the Minsk Agreements, but the Russian Federation has not demonstrated the same spirit, even by honouring the ceasefire. Indeed, that country continues to take aggressive actions, she added, calling upon Moscow to meet its commitment to the accords and to stabilizing the situation in the conflict areas. She went on to emphasize that the United States does not recognize the annexation of Crimea, urging the Russian Federation to end its aggressive actions and respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
France’s representative described the Ukraine conflict as Europe’s most deadly ordeal in the six years since it began. Reaffirming the importance of granting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to civilians, he said they are the main victims of one of gravest humanitarian crises in a decade, pointing out that 3.4 million of them rely on humanitarian assistance.
Germany’s representative cited several violations linked to the Russian Federation, including repeated restrictions on the freedom of movement and the issuance of Russian passports to more than 200,000 people living in the area of concern.
Belgium’s representative, describing the Minsk Agreements as a “dead letter” five years after it was signed, emphasized, however, that it remains indispensable to a lasting ceasefire. Expressing alarm over recent flare-ups, she called upon the parties, especially the Russian Federation, to respect the Special Monitoring Mission and grant it full access to the entire territory of Ukraine.
The Dominican Republic’s representative hailed international efforts — including those of the Quartet, as well as France and Germany, in particular — to facilitate the removal of mines.
Indonesia’s representative expressed his delegation’s opposition to the annexation of any sovereign country or territory, describing such an action as a clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, China, Tunisia, Niger and Viet Nam.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5:20 p.m.
ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacekeeping Affairs, summarized recent developments, saying that the package of measures contained in the Minsk Agreements adopted by the Council in 2015 remains the only framework for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Recalling the outcome of the Normandy‑format meeting held in Paris by the leaders of France, Germany, Russian Federation and Ukraine, she said they committed to a ceasefire, to support and to an agreement within the Trilateral Contact Group on additional disengagement areas. Providing a snapshot of her own visit to Ukraine in December 2019, she reported that she reiterated the Secretary-General’s support for ongoing peace efforts, an improved humanitarian situation and stronger initiatives for dialogue to ensure sustainable peace.
However, those positive signs remain limited and easily reversible, she said, describing the use of heavy weapons as a stark reminder that, without political will, there is a very real risk of backsliding into further violence. The Council should encourage all stakeholders to do their utmost to ensure positive momentum in negotiations, she said. Despite steps to mitigate the conflict’s impact on civilians, it continues to claim lives, cause injuries, restrict freedom of movement and drive human rights violations, as reported by the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission. In 2019, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 167 civilian casualties, a 40 per cent decrease from 2018.
Noting that 3.4 million people along the contact line still require humanitarian assistance and protection, she said that women — who lead 70 per cent of households — often lack access to social benefits or support. Water, education and health infrastructure are severely affected, with 50 incidents of damage to schools in 2019, a 200 per cent increase from 2018. Citing 88 incidents targeting water networks near or on the contact line, she emphasized: “Attacks on civilian infrastructure must stop.” The United Nations and partners must have free access to those in need, she added, pointing out that they have reached an estimated 1 million people annually since 2014 due to generous contributions from donors. However, that constitutes less than one third of all those in need, she pointed out.
With the 2019 humanitarian response plan having been severely underfunded, the 2020 plan will require $158 million, with the goal of reaching 2 million people, she said. The conflict continues to exact an unacceptable humanitarian toll while destabilizing overall peace and security. As such, the Council must encourage and fully support the positive momentum and commitment of the Normandy Four and the Trilateral Contact Group to address the conflict with renewed impetus and a sense of urgency, she stressed. That should be followed by action to restore trust and enable tangible improvements in the situation along the contact line. “The much-needed and long-awaited peace in eastern Ukraine can be achieved if there is sufficient political will, good-faith negotiations and concrete support for efforts to silence the guns,” she said.
HEIDI GRAU, Special Representative of the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) Chairperson-in-Office, briefed via video‑teleconference from Kyiv, expressing regret over the flare-up of violence in Donbas. She recalled that the two sides recommitted to a ceasefire on 17 July 2019 and the number of violations remained below the 2018 average. There were 40 per cent fewer civilian casualties in 2019 than in 2018 and 70 per cent fewer than in 2017, but mine contamination has become a larger problem, causing 7 out of 10 casualties in January and becoming the focus of OSCE’s attention. She reported a disengagement of forces and hardware in Stanytsia Luhanska, Zolote and Petrivke since July 2019, an important signal that allows rebuilding of the pedestrian bridge across the Siverskiy Donets River, as well as access for people and ambulances.
Concerning the political dimension, she noted that, on 1 October 2019, the two sides accepted the Steinmeier formula, which complements the Minsk Agreements and sets out the sequence of local elections in areas not under Government control. The political working group has since had substantial discussions on integrating the formula into Ukrainian legislation. She expressed regret that public declarations by the de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk contradict the goals of the Minsk Agreements — restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. As for the economy, she reported that, in November 2019, the two sides agreed to a financial and operational audit of Voda Donbasa, the company supplying water in Donetsk. On 29 December 2019, an exchange of about 200 detainees, the first in two years, gave new impetus to the humanitarian working group. Echoing Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo, she emphasized that every victim is one too many.
HALIT ÇEVIK, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, also briefed via video-teleconference from Kyiv, providing an update on the security situation, recent developments in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and the conflict’s impact on civilians. With progress hinging on a comprehensive ceasefire, the Mission has recorded a significant decrease in violations since 1 January, as well as isolated spikes in violence, he reported. Citing details of reported violations, he said that a serious incident occurred in Luhansk today involving more than 2,500 explosions. Despite promises made by the Normandy Four, the political commitment to a ceasefire, expressed at the highest level, has yet to be translated into concrete implementation on the ground, he noted. Indeed, the average number of daily ceasefire violations stands at 520, another 647 are attributable to the use of artillery, including tanks and mortars, and 200 incidents involved weapons used in violation of the withdrawal lines.
Still, there have seen several positive developments in recent months, he continued, noting that demining activities are ongoing. The parties have disengaged forces and hardware in three pilot areas — Stanytsia Luhanska, Zolote and Petrivske. Construction of a new bridge in Stanytsia Luhanska is an example of what can be achieved through political will, he said, emphasizing that progress is possible. Discussions on identifying three new disengagement areas are progressing in the Trilateral Contact Group, with participants outlining proposals for other areas, with a view to completing the process by the end of March. Additional discussions on demining plans and opening checkpoints across the contact line are needed, he said, adding: “What lies ahead in the coming months is crucial; there is an urgency to maintain the momentum and to meet the deadlines set by the Normandy Four leaders.”
For its part, the Special Monitoring Mission continues to follow up on information concerning civilian casualties, he reported, emphasizing that its presence is critical to providing an objective and impartial report on the situation on the ground and to supporting the efforts of both sides to implement their commitments. While freedom of movement is essential, as enshrined in the mandate of the Special Monitoring Mission and the Minsk Agreements, its operations are often limited by obstacles in areas outside Government control, particularly in the southern part of the Donetsk region, he said, describing daily restrictions as unacceptable. Recalling that the Minsk Agreements set out the key elements to address the security situation, he declared: “Time is of the essence for the resolution of this conflict, which has now entered its sixth year.” The Council’s support and active interest remain crucial, he added.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) noted that yesterday marked five years since the adoption of resolution 2202 (2015), a mandatory element of international law but one respected by few. Citing a “mantra” that his country does not respect its international responsibilities, he emphasized that the parties involved in the area are not the Russian Federation and Ukraine, but the regions of Donetsk and Donbas. There is an attempt to create a parallel political reality, he added, describing statements that Ukrainian forces must be prepared to liberate Donbas as unhelpful, as is a statement about advancing to the border. He went on to stress that, for millions of eastern Ukraine residents, the Minsk Agreements are the sole real hope for peace and for Ukraine to rebuild trust with Donbas after referring to its residents as separatists in their own land. Calling for unconditional compliance with measures reached under the Normandy format, he said disengagement and mine clearance have been swept under the rug and Ukraine is waging war against the people of Donbas. Elections in that region can only occur in a climate of trust, when the people Kyiv called separatists are not under threat, he said, expressing hope of hearing from colleagues supporting resolution 2202 (2015).
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States), noting that 13,000 people have been killed since the Russian Federation invaded Crimea, said her delegation supports the Minsk Agreements and the Normandy format. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has taken steps to implement the accords, but the Russian Federation has not demonstrated the same spirit, including by honouring the ceasefire, she said. Indeed, today’s attack caused Ukrainian casualties and the Russian Federation continues to take aggressive actions, she added, calling upon Moscow to meet its commitment to the Minsk Agreements and to stabilizing the situation in the conflict areas. Other actions should include opening access for civilians and honouring provisions of the ceasefire. Emphasizing that the United States does not recognize the annexation of Crimea, she called upon the Russian Federation to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and to end its aggressive actions.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), recalling the region’s recent history, said the Normandy format has improved the situation. While there are fewer civilian casualties, deaths still occur, and the situation remains a pressing challenge in Europe. Noting that the Russian Federation’s delegate just told Council members that Ukraine is not implementing the package of measures contained in the Minsk Agreements, he recalled that the first provision was a ceasefire, and from the very beginning, Moscow violated the accord. It has since committed other violations, including today’s attack, repeated restrictions on the freedom of movement and issued Russian passports to more than 200,000 people living in the separatist area, he pointed out.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said the quest for peace must be a collective effort. Emphasizing the importance of the Minsk Agreements and the adoption of resolution 2202 (2015), he noted that OSCE reported ongoing ceasefire violations, a cause for concern. Fatalities continue to occur, exacerbating civilian suffering and displacement, he noted, hailing international efforts — including those of the Quartet, France and Germany, in particular — to help those people by facilitating mine removal. An upcoming Normandy‑format meeting will help to ensure peaceful elections in the region, he said, reiterating his delegation’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity while urging continued dialogue between the parties.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) emphasized that the Minsk Agreements provide a road map for peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Noting President Zelenskyy’s commitment to the Steinmeier formula, she described the Russian delegate’s account of Minsk accord violations as largely a falsehood wrapped in a fairy tale. That country’s only interest is to undermine Kyiv in eastern Ukraine, she said, pointing out that the Minsk provision on withdrawal of foreign troops is a far cry from the situation today, marked by ceasefire violations and the use of heavy equipment along the line of contact. Instead, the Russian Federation’s troops are, in fact, planting more mines, she said, adding that those actions have had a devastating effect on the people of Ukraine since the conflict began six years ago, with 13,000 killed and almost 30,000 injured. The Russian Federation bears a heavy responsibility for the suffering and should desist from sending so-called “humanitarian convoys” across the border. That country started the conflict, she recalled, stressing the United Kingdom’s enduring support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said the provisions outlined in the Minsk Agreements are necessary for lasting peace, emphasizing that a ceasefire remains indispensable. Trust between the relevant parties is crucial in order to strengthen dialogue and find a sustainable solution, she added. The continuing exchange of prisoners must be encouraged, as must efforts to identify further areas of disengagement. She went on to express her delegation’s support for the Special Monitoring Mission and for the framework established under the Minsk Agreements, while stressing the need for both parties to implement its provisions without conditions.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) expressed his delegation’s opposition to the annexation of any sovereign country or territory, while noting that such actions are in clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations, as well as international law. The Minsk Agreements constitute the legal basis for a political solution and provide a road map for settling the conflict in Ukraine, he emphasized, expressing Indonesia’s support for the full implementation of the accords. Encouraging the relevant stakeholders to uphold their commitments in full, he said that would be a crucial confidence‑booster to pave the way for a political solution as peace and stability are restored in the affected areas. Indonesia calls upon the parties to cease hostilities immediately and commit themselves to full respect for the ceasefire, while refraining from provocations that could generate more tensions.
THANDEKILE TSHABALALA (South Africa) said the Special Monitoring Mission must be allowed unhindered access in order to verify compliance with the Minsk Agreements, which remain the most promising road map to peace. Expressing serious concern about ongoing ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine, she called for the urgent de-escalation of tensions to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance. South Africa encourages all efforts — including the increased role of the Normandy Four — to help build trust in the quest for a long-term, peaceful and sustainable solution to the situation in Ukraine, he said.
WU HAITAO (China) called upon all relevant parties to remain committed to the Minsk Agreements and to reach a conclusion to the conflict, while promoting harmony among all ethnic communities in Ukraine. China opposes any interference in the internal affairs of States, including Ukraine, and respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, he said, emphasizing that there is no possible military solution to the conflict. Dialogue is the only way, he added.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) said his delegation supports non-interference in the internal affairs of States, as well as a balanced and comprehensive solution to the situation in eastern Ukraine through dialogue, based on resolution 2202 (2015). He went on to recall the positive developments of 2019, including the Normandy-format meetings, the exchange of prisoners and disengagement efforts, which pave the way for a peaceful settlement and ease civilian suffering. However, Tunisia is alarmed about recent signals of a backslide into violence, he said. Emphasizing the importance of the OSCE role in monitoring the conflict, he said that his delegation expects to see accelerated implementation of all agreements, as well as efforts to promote stability and security in the region.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) said his delegation condemns the illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, as well as the occupation of certain territories of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Minsk Agreements remain the basis for a political resolution to the conflict in Donbas, he emphasized, pointing out that the Russian Federation has regularly breached the accords. Moreover, Moscow’s initiatives, such as conducting illegal elections and the conscription of Ukrainian citizens into its army, contravene the spirit of the Minsk Agreements. Calling upon the Russian Federation to implement the accords in full and immediately withdraw its armed forces from Ukraine, he went on to express concern over the grave humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, where about 3.4 million people still need humanitarian assistance and protection.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger), expressing his delegation’s concern over the ongoing violence, said appropriate financial resources must be mobilized in response to the population’s needs. The Minsk Agreements offer a viable solution and its provisions must be implemented, he emphasized. Appealing to the parties to implement those accords and to demonstrate the required political will to end the conflict, he welcomed the ongoing Normandy-format talks while emphasizing that there is no military solution. Niger hopes OSCE will intensify its efforts to ensure compliance with the ceasefire and other provisions, he added.
DINH NHO HUNG (Viet Nam) said the recent encouraging progress, from the release of detainees to the Paris meeting of leaders, can pave the way forward. Meanwhile, the situation on the ground remains a concern, he said, noting that death, destruction and the displacement of civilians continue. Viet Nam remains hopeful that more positive steps will follow, including a successful ceasefire, demining activities and the expansion of disengagement areas, he said.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÉRE (France) said the Ukraine conflict remains Europe’s most deadly ordeal in the six years since it began. In recognition, France and Germany mobilized new efforts with the two parties involved to reaffirm commitment to the Minsk Agreements, as well as tangible, specific efforts for its implementation, the first step being the release of 200 prisoners on 29 December 2019. He went on to reaffirm the importance of granting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to civilians and deplored today’s attack, which resulted in at least one death. Hailing the courage of OSCE men and women on the ground, he condemned any actions that place them in danger them and called for the opening of new crossing points, as well as further clearance of mines. Civilians are the main victims of one of gravest humanitarian crises in a decade, he emphasized, pointing out that 3.4 million rely on humanitarian assistance.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium), Council President for February, spoke in her national capacity, describing the Minsk Agreements as a “dead letter” five years after it was signed. It also remains indispensable for establishing a lasting ceasefire, she added. Expressing alarm over recent flare-ups, she called upon the parties, especially the Russian Federation, to respect the Special Monitoring Mission and grant it full access to the entire territory of Ukraine. OHCHR must also have free and full confidential access to affected civilians, she said, expressing grave concern about the targeting of crucial civilian infrastructure, including water supplies, sanitation and schools. The presence of Russian equipment and military personnel is deeply disturbing and poses a threat to civilians on both sides of the conflict line, she noted, urging the parties to work on a solution with respect to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as internationally recognized.
SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, said this morning’s attack on Ukrainian forces, carried out by Russian occupation forces using Minsk-proscribed weapons, was a cynical attempt to disrupt the peace process in Donbas. Emphasizing the commitment of his country’s leadership to ending the conflict, and its resolve to repel armed aggression, he said Ukrainian positions have been shelled more than 400 times over the last two months, resulting in 13 servicemen killed and almost 60 wounded. “It is a war, the only ongoing war in Europe,” he said, emphasizing that it is being waged by Moscow’s troops and their mercenaries, using weapons and ammunition supplied by the Russian Federation. That country’s vain attempts to twist the truth can be regarded as pathetic and laughable were they not an insult to the memory of thousands of Ukrainians who lost their lives defending their homeland.
Urging the Council not to lose sight of the broader context of the Russian Federation’s armed aggression, he said the east is not the only front line, pointing out that, in the south, Crimea has been turned into a human rights ghetto and a huge military base following the peninsula’s illegal annexation. Militarization is in full gear, posing a serious threat to the Black Sea region and beyond. By launching the so-called Crimean air bridge, the Russian Federation not only violated international law and bilateral treaty obligations, but also caused huge economic losses for Ukraine and threatened the environment of the Black Sea and the Azov Sea, he noted.
“Against all odds, Ukraine works for peace,” he stressed, urging the Russian Federation to grant ICRC unhindered access to detainees and to search for missing persons. A full and comprehensive ceasefire, as well as unhindered OSCE access to the entire occupied territory, would facilitate the peace process, he said, adding that his country also looks forward to local elections throughout its territory, including its temporarily occupied parts, and is working hard to end a war that it did not start, no matter how long the other side tries to prolong it. In the coming days, the General Assembly will consider the agenda item “Situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”, he noted, underlining that the liberation of Ukrainian territory will not be complete until the last Russian soldier is gone.
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), taking the floor a second time, asked why international voices call for Moscow to respect the Minsk Agreements, but not Kyiv, questioning whether they actually believe his country can end the conflict in Donbas with “the stroke of a pen”, and are naïve enough to believe that the region’s people are puppets of the Kremlin. The representatives of Donbas who signed the Minsk Agreements saw some of its elements as concessions and defeats, while in response, Ukraine calls them terrorists. Ukrainian groups detonated a mine and fired more than 50 mortar shells, he said, wondering why “young boys” are being deployed to the affected region. It is important to understand there are two sides involved in the conflict — Kyiv and Donbas — not three, emphasizing that there can be no resolution without dialogue between them.
Mr. KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine) asked whether the Council should listen to the spokesman of the President of the Russian Federation or to statements from 67th Street in New York City.
Mr. HEUSGEN (Germany) said his delegation does indeed believe that Donetsk and Luhansk are puppets of Moscow.
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) clarified that the information to which his counterpart from Ukraine referred did not come from 67th Street, but from official sources.