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SC/14795
17 February 2022
8968th Meeting (AM)

With Events Evolving Rapidly in Ukraine, Political Affairs Chief Calls for Diplomacy, Maximum Restraint, as Security Council Evaluates Minsk Accords

United States, Russian Federation Trade Barbs over Potential for Invasion, While Kyiv Vows to Repel Any Escalation of Violence

Against the backdrop of evolving events in eastern Ukraine — including reported violations of the ceasefire agreement in the last 24 hours — it has become clear that the situation is perilous, and diplomacy must urgently prevail, the top United Nations political official told the Security Council this morning.

“Whatever one believes about the prospect of such a confrontation, the reality is that the current situation is extremely dangerous,” said Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, during a meeting in which Council members diverged widely on their expectations for armed clashes in the upcoming days.  Noting that the issues underpinning the crisis are both complex and long-standing — and touch on matters relating to the broader European security architecture — she said that, while seemingly intractable, they can and must be resolved through diplomacy.

Voicing regret that diplomatic talks in both the Normandy Four format and the Trilateral Contact Group remain deadlocked, she stressed that the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the 2015 Minsk Agreements remains the only Council-endorsed framework for a negotiated, peaceful settlement.  She also cited reports of fresh ceasefire violations across the contact line in the past several hours, emphasizing that, if verified, they cannot be allowed to escalate.  She called on all sides to exercise maximum restraint.  Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its borders must be respected.

Briefing the Council via videoconference were two representatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), including Mikko Kinnunen, the Special Representative for the Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group.  Stressing that the latter’s three members — OSCE, Russian Federation and Ukraine — remain “too far from one another”, he urged them to continue engaging and ultimately implement all elements of the Minsk agreements.  While it has become popular to accuse participants of violating those accords, he cautioned that it is neither possible nor appropriate to single out one party, as none have fully implemented the agreements’ provisions.  Referring to the alleged shelling in Luhansk today near the contact line, he underlined the importance of swiftly establishing facts and avoiding escalation.

Yaşar Halit Çevik, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, described the gradual degradation of the ceasefire agreement over the past year.  Impediments to the Mission’s free movement have also escalated in non‑government-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine.  He noted that, since the beginning of 2022, the Mission has recorded, on average, twice as many daily ceasefire violations as it did during the same period in 2021, as well as a rise in civilian casualties as a result of shelling and small arms fire.  Meanwhile, crossing points along the contact line have been severely limited, with serious implications for civilian lives.

Also briefing was Tetiana Montian, a civil society activist from Ukraine, who said Kyiv has no intention of implementing the Minsk agreements.  Emphasizing that people in the eastern Donbass region are not represented in politics and are even criminally prosecuted, she said free thinking in Ukraine is squashed and civilians are deprived of their civic rights.  She described Ukraine as a colony of the West — which has “plunged my country into slavery” — adding that the real goal of Western nations is to lure the Russian Federation into a war.  “We are not a chessboard […] and we are not pawns in a political game,” she stressed, warning that OSCE has remained blind to the shelling and other violence being wrought by Ukrainian forces.

Taking the floor, Council members diverged on several matters, including the utility of such geostrategic groupings as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the likelihood of an imminent aggression by the Russian Federation.  However, nearly all speakers agreed that the situation in eastern Ukraine remains highly fraught and that both de-escalation and diplomatic engagement are urgently needed.

Sergey Vershinin, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Council President for February, said in his national capacity that the goal of today’s meeting is to reaffirm support for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.  However, seven years after their signing, it is clear that Ukraine — whose leaders describe the accords as having been signed “at the barrel of a gun” — has no plans to implement them.  Indeed, Kyiv stubbornly avoids direct negotiations, fails to restore economic links between the two countries and refuses to provide for the special status of certain regions, as mandated by the agreements.  He also decried the “ostrich-like” position of Western States, who turn a blind eye to those obvious violations, and urged the Council to avoid speculation about plans for a Russian invasion, which his country has firmly and repeatedly denied.

In sharp contrast, Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States, described the Russian Federation’s looming aggression in Ukraine as the most immediate threat.  Recalling that Moscow has amassed over 150,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, he said that, while it claims to be drawing down those forces, on-the-ground intelligence indicates that an attack is imminent and may take place in the coming days.  Outlining in stark terms the potential elements of such an invasion, he explained that “by sharing what we know with the world, we hope that we can influence [the Russian Federation] to abandon the path of war and choose a different path while there is still time”.

James Cleverly, Minister of State for Europe and North America of the United Kingdom, reaffirmed support for the Minsk agreements and underscored the responsibility of all parties to fully implement them.  Emphasizing that the Ukrainian people are once again living under the threat of invasion — with Russian troops, heavy weaponry and military vessels amassed at their borders, from Belarus to the Black Sea — he declared:  “Let us say clearly what the world can see:  Russia has deployed the forces necessary to invade Ukraine, and now it has readied them for action.”  He also voiced deep concern that diplomats representing the Russian Federation in OSCE talks have repeatedly failed to come to the negotiating table.

Germany’s representative said that, while many obstacles remain, the reaffirmation of the ceasefire in July 2020 proved that progress is possible “if political will is there”.  Commending the work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, she echoed calls on all parties to ensure that it is able to carry out its mandate without interruption.  More than 90 per cent of cases where monitors’ free movement has been disrupted or their equipment destroyed have taken place beyond the contact line in territory not under the control of Ukraine’s Government.  Urging Moscow to use its influence to guarantee the Mission’s free and safe access, she turned to the unprecedented build-up of troops along the Russian Federation’s border, stressing:  “It is next to impossible to not perceive this as a threat or the preparation for an attack.”

The representative of China, striking a different tone, praised the Russian Federation’s recent diplomatic engagement with the leaders of France, Germany and other nations.  Emphasizing that European countries should make independent and strategic decisions, he said the gradual enlargement and expansion of NATO — a relic from the cold war — in eastern Europe must be addressed, as its agenda runs counter to current trends.  Indeed, regional security cannot be guaranteed by flexing muscles, he said, pointing out that one NATO nation refuses to relinquish its “cold war mentality” and continues to stir up tensions the Asia-Pacific region.

Meanwhile, the representative of Ukraine expressed grave concern about a recent appeal by the Russian State Duma — one of the chambers of that country’s Parliament — to recognize the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as so-called “peoples’ republics”.  Noting that such an action would violate the Minsk agreements and deal a blow to the prospects of peace, he added that Ukraine will defend itself in the event of a further escalation.  He thanked countries that have expressed their support and solidarity with Ukraine, welcoming attempts at diplomacy while cautioning that progress will remain stalled as long as Moscow makes preconditions.  The Russian Federation has a choice — “to embark on the path of de-escalation and diplomatic dialogue, or experience a decisive consolidated response by the international community,” he said.

Also speaking were representatives of Norway, Brazil, Ireland, India, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates, Ghana, Mexico, Albania, France and Gabon.

The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 1:07 p.m.

Briefings

ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, recalled her last briefing on the situation in Ukraine as it relates to the implementation of the Minsk agreements, on 11 February 2021.  At that time, she drew attention to the fragile security situation that prevailed despite the nominal ceasefire in place.  Today, there is widespread speculation and accusations about a potential military conflict.  “Whatever one believes about the prospect of such a confrontation, the reality is that the current situation is extremely dangerous.”

Noting that the issues underpinning the current crisis are both complex and long-standing — and touch on matters relating to the broader European security architecture — she said that, while seemingly intractable, they can and must be resolved through diplomacy.  Expressing support for such efforts, including the Secretary-General’s good offices, she noted with regret that little meaningful progress has been made in implementing the 2015 Minsk agreements.  Talks in both the Normandy Four format and the Trilateral Contact Group remain deadlocked.  Noting that the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements remains the only Council-endorsed framework for a negotiated, peaceful settlement, she noted with concern reports of fresh ceasefire violations across the contact line over the past several hours.  “If verified, these must not be allowed to escalate further,” she said, calling all sides to exercise maximum restraint.

She commended the work of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), emphasizing that its Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine must enjoy safe and secure conditions.  Meanwhile, the Secretary-General remains fully engaged with key actors — including the Governments of the Russian Federation and Ukraine — and has stressed that there is no alternative to diplomacy.  It is incumbent on all Member States to fully respect the principles of the United Nations Charter, to settle disputes by peaceful means and to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.  Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders must be respected as called for in relevant General Assembly resolutions.

Welcoming recent statements prioritizing continued diplomatic engagement and announcing the redeployments of forces, she went on to stress that more must urgently be done to end inflammatory rhetoric and defuse tensions.  The United Nations country team in Ukraine remains fully operational and humanitarian colleagues are committed to providing assistance in line with the principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence.  It is therefore imperative that all sides allow safe and unimpeded access by humanitarian actors, and not lose sight of the needs of some 2.9 million people who require support.  Early and adequate funding of the $190 million 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan is also needed.

She went on to note that, for the war-wary people of Donetsk and Luhansk, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are only compounding suffering.  Millions who, prior to the pandemic, could still maintain family and community connectivity have been unable to travel freely across the contact line, while others experienced an abrupt loss of access to basic services and livelihoods.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continues to monitor the impact of hostilities and record reports of human rights violations, and documented the lowest number of civilian casualties in 2021 since the beginning of the conflict, due in large part to widespread adherence to the ceasefire.  That trend must continue, she stressed, declaring:  “We simply cannot accept even the possibility of a new conflict in Ukraine.”

MIKKO KINNUNEN, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group, briefing via videoconference, provided a snapshot of current talks, emphasizing that addressing the Donbass issue hinges on considering the broader context in the region.  Currently, participants in the Trilateral Contact Group — OSCE, Russian Federation and Ukraine — are “too far from each other”, and work must continue.  At the same time, all elements of the Minsk agreements must be implemented, as it forms the basis of the Contact Group’s work.  Noting that it is popular to accuse participants of violating these accords, he cautioned that none of their elements have been fully implemented, and it is neither possible nor appropriate to single out one party for being responsible for this fact.  More flexible positions are needed to compromise, he said.  One of the Contact Group’s key priorities is the contact line, he said, stressing that no one will benefit from military activities in the area.  Referring to the alleged shelling in Luhansk today near the contact line, he underlined the importance of swiftly establishing facts and avoiding escalation.

Recalling that, in December 2021, Trilateral Contact Group participants had agreed to the ceasefire, leading to a month-long reduction in violence, he said this must be fully implemented.  Indeed, when there is political will, this and other elements are possible, he said, emphasizing that not enough progress has been made.  Pointing to the recent Russian Duma decision that called for recognizing the independence of areas in Donetsk and Luhansk, he said all parties must remain committed to respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Commending the recent work of the Normandy Four, OSCE discussions in Moscow and other efforts, he said such initiatives could trigger progress.  Noting that the Trilateral Contact Group has met virtually for two years, he said these virtual discussions are not ideal for productive dialogue, adding that he was working towards holding in-person talks as soon as possible.

YAŞAR HALIT ÇEVIK, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, outlining recent developments, noted that the gradual degradation of the ceasefire agreement regrettably continued over the past year.  Impediments to the Mission’s mandated freedom of movement have also escalated, limiting its capabilities.  Mission members have at times been intimidated and monitoring tools are subjected to intense threats daily.  In Luhansk, the Mission remains deprived of its operational freedom and independence — placing its sustainability is at risk — while the contact line remains exceedingly difficult to cross, both for monitors and civilians.

Underlining the need for restraint and for all parties to abstain from inflammatory public rhetoric, he described the overall security situation along the contact line as volatile.  Ceasefire violations have been reported throughout the year, including the increased use of heavy weapons, which both sides have agreed to withdraw.  Following a December 2021 meeting at which the sides reconfirmed their determination to uphold the ceasefire regime, such incidents dropped significantly, but tensions remain high.  He also cited ceasefire violations in and near several symbolically important locations during the reporting period which put civilians at risk.

Since the beginning of 2022, he continued, the Mission has recorded on average twice as many daily ceasefire violations as it did during the same period in 2021.  Those actions also led to a rise in civilian casualties as a result of shelling and small arms fire.  Other violations — including trench extensions, the presence of heavy weapons in residential areas and the use of unmanned aerial instruments — also continued.  Regrettably, discussions in the working group on security issues have stalled over the past year.  Noting that COVID-19-related movement restrictions continue to impact the population, he said crossing points have been limited to two and there has been no progress in opening new crossings.  Access to health care has been curtailed, young people are losing out on educational opportunities and older persons missed pension payments.

Calling for the urgent opening of all crossing points and the lifting of all restrictions on both sides of the conflict line, he emphasized that the parties must press forward with the critical exchange of security guarantees.  “The [Mission’s] capacity on the ground exists, but the will to use it needs to be strengthened,” he stressed, calling for the strong and sustainable support from the international community.  He also outlined evolving events over the last 24 hours, noting that the Mission recorded some 500 explosions along the contact line in the Luhansk oblast.  While tensions now seem to be easing, he urged the sides to strictly adhere to their ceasefire commitments and immediately de‑escalate.  Noting that the Mission was able to visit affected parts of the Ukraine Government-controlled areas and continues to monitor the impact on civilians, he said it will report to the international community as soon as possible.

TETIANA MONTIAN, a civil society activist from Ukraine, briefing via videoconference, said all briefers who have just spoken must be aware that Kyiv has no intention of implementing the Minsk agreements in their entirety.  Instead, Ukraine continues to receive weapons and assistance while the people in Donbass are not represented in politics and are being criminally prosecuted.  Pointing to accusations of high treason made against certain individuals, she shared observations stemming from a recent visit to Donbass, where the people’s only fault is that they are against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and joining Europe.  She asked if the same people who closed all opposition channels are going to hold conversations with those in Donetsk and Luhansk, also wondering why it would be a problem to provide a special status to the area.  Any different thinking in Ukraine is being squashed, and people have no right to form political parties or to speak in their country.  Talks with people in Donetsk and Luhansk will “never, ever, ever” happen, she said, adding that Ukraine is a colony of the West, which has “plunged my country into slavery”.

The real goal of the West — despite all the peace-loving speeches, including those heard today — is for the Russian Federation to be lured into a war, she said.  If this was not the case, the puppet Government in Kyiv would have implemented the Minsk agreements.  “The West wants a war with Russia and wants it to take place on the territory of Ukraine,” she stressed.  “We are not a chessboard, but the people of Ukraine, and we are not pawns in a political game.  You will lead the events to a war.”  Indeed, OSCE has been blind to shelling and other violence, destruction and death, she said, recalling her visit along the contact line, where civilians — including women, children and elderly persons — have been and are being killed.  Europe is looking duplicitously at the suffering of the 100,000 people living along the contact line, she said, asking the Council to compel the “marionettes in Kyiv” to implement the existing agreements.

Statements

SERGEY VERSHININ, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Council President for February, speaking in his national capacity, said today’s meeting marks seven years since the Council adopted resolution 2202 (2015), unanimously endorsing the Minsk agreements.  The main goal of the meeting is to reaffirm that no alternative exists to their implementation.  However, seven years on, it remains clear that implementing that package is in no way part of Ukraine’s plans.  Noting that such a break is now openly stated by many Ukrainian officials, he added that no pressure is being exerted by Western Governments to implement these agreements.  In that vein, he outlined recent political developments, including statements made by several Ukrainian senior officials describing the Minsk agreements as running counter to that country’s national interests and having been signed “at the barrel of a gun”.

He said it is impossible for Moscow to be sidestepping its obligations under the Minsk agreements because there is no mention of the Russian Federation in that text.  Meanwhile, Kyiv’s obligations are ignored as it continues to stubbornly avoid direct negotiations, fails to restore economic links between the two countries and refuses to provide for the special status of certain regions, as mandated by the agreements.  Instead, it places blame on the Russian Federation through futile and baseless allegations.  Voicing concern over the “ostrich-like” position of Western colleagues who prefer not to see those obvious violations, he said they instead seek answers in the Normandy Four format, which only provides more space for Ukraine to continue its military adventures.  Recounting horrific instances of violence committed by Ukraine against civilians, he urged Council members to refrain from turning the present meeting “into a circus” by continuing to speculate about a so-called Russian invasion of Ukraine, as enough was heard about that during the United States-led meeting on 31 January.

ANTONY BLINKEN, Secretary of State of the United States, said the Minsk agreements — signed by both Ukraine and the Russian Federation — remain the main framework for resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where today the most immediate threat is Moscow’s looming aggression.  “This is a moment of peril” both for the lives and safety of Ukraine’s people and for the rules-based international order, he stressed, adding that it directly affects every nation of the world.  The principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter — including that one country cannot dictate another’s choices — are under threat.  Recalling that the Russian Federation has amassed over 150,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders in recent months, he said that, while Moscow claims to be drawing down those forces, on-the-ground intelligence paints a different picture.  Indications are that an attack is imminent and may take place in the coming days.

Outlining a likely scenario for such an invasion, he said the Russian Federation would first manufacture a pretext for its attack.  “We do not know what form it will take,” he said, noting that it could be a false report of a mass grave discovery or even a fake or real chemical weapon attack.  Such a pretext would circulate through Russian Federation media outlets, spreading alarm.  Next, the Government of the Russian Federation would issue proclamations about its responsibility to respond to such actions.  Bombs could then be dropped on Ukraine and Russian tanks and soldiers could advance on various targets.

Acknowledging the specificity of those remarks, he declared:  “By sharing what we know with the world, we hope that we can influence [the] Russian Federation to abandon the path of war and choose a different path, while there is still time.”  The United States will be happy to accept any criticism about such information should the Russian Federation not invade Ukraine, as it remains strongly in favour of diplomacy.  However, it stands ready to respond decisively in the case that Moscow does act.  Against that backdrop, Washington, D.C., has proposed a meeting with the Russian Federation at the Foreign Minister level next week, aimed at resolving the matter peacefully, as well as fresh meetings of the NATO-Russia Council and the OSCE Permanent Council.  He added that Moscow can announce today — without any equivocation — that it will not invade Ukraine, and back up that statement by sending its troops back to their barracks and its diplomats to the negotiating table.

JAMES CLEVERLY, Minister of State for Europe and North America of the United Kingdom, reaffirming support for the Minsk agreements, in line with resolution 2202 (2015), underscored the responsibility of all parties to fully implement their commitments.  In this context, he condemned the action taken by the Russian State Duma to propose that the Russian President recognize the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent.  This action would directly undermine the Minsk agreements and must be clearly rejected by the Russian authorities, in line with their commitments.  The United Kingdom welcomes all efforts to support the process and avoid escalation, including the role of OSCE and the Normandy format.  Recalling the context for the present situation, he said that, since 2014, when the Russian Federation instigated a conflict in Donbas, 14,000 people have died in the conflict.

Today, he said, the Ukrainian people are yet again living under threat of invasion with over 100,000 Russian troops, heavy weaponry, and military vessels amassed and exercising on their northern, eastern and southern borders, from Belarus to the Black Sea, adding:  “Let us say clearly what the world can see: Russia has deployed the forces necessary to invade Ukraine, and now it has readied them for action.”  He emphasized the need for steps to be taken towards a diplomatic resolution, calling on the Russian Federation to show up to diplomatic meetings and commit to meaningful OSCE talks, including via Chapter III of the OSCE Vienna Document, stating:  “They did not show up on Wednesday, and do not plan to show up on Friday.”  Stressing that the Russian Federation’s actions are “clearly designed to intimidate, threaten and destabilize Ukraine”, he underlined the need for the Russian Federation to give the Minsk agreements the chance to be implemented, free from coercion; for it to engage seriously with diplomacy; and for it to stand down all its troops.

MONA JUUL (Norway) expressed deep concern over the Russian Federation’s large-scale military build-up in occupied Crimea, to the north, east and south of Ukraine, and in Belarus and the Black Sea.  She described the reports of increased shelling as “most disturbing”, stressing:  “They must not be used by Russia as a pretext for any military action”.  The Russian Federation falsely seeks to portray the conflict in eastern Ukraine as internal, while, in fact, it has fuelled the conflict by providing financial and military support to the armed formations it backs.  Expressing strong concern over the Russian State Duma resolution calling for the recognition of the self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, she warned against such a step, which would further violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  All parties must uphold the Minsk agreements and engage constructively to resolve the conflict peacefully, she said, encouraging the Russian Federation to engage in the OSCE Chairmanship’s Renewed European Security Dialogue initiative.  “Through threatening posture, rhetoric and unrealistic demands, Russia is challenging European security,” she said, stressing:  “Every country has the right to freely choose its security alignment.  We cannot allow the established security architecture to be replaced by spheres of influence.”  Also expressing concern over the increasingly fragile ceasefire in Donbass from July 2020, she called on parties to seek a durable ceasefire and attend to the severe humanitarian situation after eight years of conflict.

RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) said resolution 2202 (2015) has not yet been fully implemented.  He urged all parties to fulfil the letter and the spirit of the Minsk agreements and to pursue genuine dialogue to assist diplomatic efforts to overcome the current security challenges in the region.  A comprehensive ceasefire — the first provision of the Minsk agreements — remains an essential element in this process.  Beyond that, further disengagement of forces and military equipment on the ground is required, allowing unimpeded access of humanitarian relief to people in most desperate need.  Trust among relevant parties is crucial to strengthening dialogue and achieving a sustainable solution.  In addition, negotiations on parameters to grant special status to certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions must be conducted with a sense of urgency, flexibility and spirit of compromise, while efforts to implement the Minsk agreements must observe full respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  The Council has the utmost responsibility to avoid and condemn any attempt of a military solution to this crisis, he said, urging parties to take the necessary measures to de-escalate tensions and play a constructive role in reaching a political settlement.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), stating that Ukraine has the same fundamental right as every other sovereign and independent State to choose its own foreign policy and ensure the security and defence of its territory, added:  “That is a right we hold to be self-evident.  It is a right that Ireland struggled to obtain.”  Noting that the Russia Federation’s military build-up at Ukraine’s border continues to raise tensions, she reiterated her country’s calls for calm and diplomacy, as well as for sustained and credible moves on the ground towards de-escalation, which implies a significant withdrawal of both troops and equipment.  Welcoming the efforts of all those engaged in dialogue, including through the Normandy format and Poland, as OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, she underscored the importance of the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, and the related conflict‑resolution efforts in the Normandy format and Trilateral Contact Group.  Calling on all parties to act constructively within both formats, she expressed deep regret at the decision of the Russian State Duma to submit a call to recognize the non-government-controlled areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, as independent entities.  “This would be a clear violation of the Minsk agreements,” she stressed.  Further, she expressed concern about restrictions imposed on the Special Monitoring Mission’s freedom of movement, and the damage to its equipment, as well as regretted the Russian Federation’s decision to refuse an extension to the mandate of the Border Observation Mission to monitor the border crossings.

T.S. TIRUMURTI (India), noting that the Minsk agreements provide a basis for a negotiated settlement, urged all parties to continue to engage through all possible diplomatic channels and work towards their full implementation.  Normandy format meetings will further facilitate this goal, he said, welcoming recent talks in Paris and Berlin.  Any steps that increase tension may best be avoided by all sides in the larger interest of securing international peace and security.  Quiet and constructive diplomacy is the need of the hour.  The issue can only be resolved through diplomatic dialogue.  Recalling that more than 20,000 Indian students and nationals live and study in different parts of Ukraine, including in its border areas, he said the well-being of Indian nationals is a priority of his delegation.  He also reiterated the call for the peaceful resolution of the situation, with sincere and sustained diplomatic efforts ensuring that concerns of all sides are amicably resolved through constructive dialogue.

MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), noting that, if the situation is allowed to escalate it would threaten global stability and the Council’s ability to fulfil its mandate, strongly urged all actors to respect the peace, security, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  Reiterating that the stand-off is “imminently solvable”, he called on major military Powers, particularly those represented in the Security Council, to undertake sustained efforts towards a minimum level of de-confliction and mutual respect.  He reiterated the obligations of all parties to fully implement their commitments, in accordance with the Minsk agreements, and welcomed, in this regard, the meeting of the Normandy format advisers held earlier this month, as well as the follow-up meeting slated for March.

LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) stressed the need for all concerned parties to engage in constructive dialogue in the interest of de‑escalation and the maintenance of regional security and stability.  Emphasizing the importance of implementing the Minsk agreements in full and in good faith, in line with resolution 2202 (2015), she urged all stakeholders to avoid steps that would make implementation more difficult.  Noting the important role of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, she called for attention to the critical situation of civilians in eastern Ukraine, where United Nations reports mention that there are 3.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, of whom 55 per cent are women and 16 per cent children.  Furthermore, there are obstacles for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to some of those in need, particularly in areas near the contact line in eastern Ukraine, she noted, calling on all parties not to obstruct access to humanitarian aid or the movement of civilians in conflict areas, in accordance with their obligations under international law.

HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) underscored the need for the Council to reiterate its conviction and support for the processes for the further implementation of the Minsk agreements, seven years after the adoption of resolution 2202 (2015).  Unfortunately, he said that, while the Minsk agreements remain largely unimplemented, the conflict festers in parts of the Donbass region, with increasing civilian casualties and deepening vulnerabilities, mostly of elderly persons and women-led households.  The implications of the situation for the region and international peace and security have also been dire, he added.  He went on to reaffirm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, took note of security concerns of other Member States in Europe, and urged restraint by all parties.  Welcoming diplomatic efforts to address the situation, including recent discussions among leaders of the Normandy Four reaffirming the ceasefire in the eastern region of Ukraine, as well as the OSCE‑facilitated dialogues at different levels, he urged renewed dialogue within the Normandy Four process to resolve differences in the interpretation of the sequencing of the Minsk Package.  Further, he urged parties to guarantee unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance in Government and non-government-controlled areas in line with international humanitarian law.

JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) said parties must urgently send a clear signal with a view to advancing along the path of détente, diplomacy and dialogue.  Such recent actions as troop withdrawal announcements can generate much needed trust.  Commending world leaders who have become involved to find a peaceful exit to this crisis, he said only a diplomatic solution can be considered.  Any solutions will mean bringing an end to tensions in eastern Ukraine, with the Minsk agreements providing the guidelines to do so.  The conflict has affected the population, with 3 million requiring humanitarian assistance and 1.5 million having been displaced, he said, requesting the guarantee of free movement for civilians on both sides of the contact line and assurances for unobstructed access for aid deliveries.  Given the plethora of landmines in the area, he called upon the parties to refrain from deploying them and work towards demining.  Existing tensions and their potential consequences make it clear that replacing diplomacy by confrontation would be like diving over a cliff, he said, expressing full support for the Secretary-General’s efforts.

ZHANG JUN (China) said the Minsk agreements are universally recognized binding instruments to settle the Ukraine issue, but provisions are not being fully implemented and ceasefire obligations continue to be violated.  Dialogue must pave the way to a political solution.  As for tensions in the eastern region, all parties must adhere to the overriding goal of a political solution and fully consider each other’s security concerns.  China supports efforts to ease tensions, noting the Russian Federation’s recent diplomatic engagement with France, Germany and other leaders.  European countries should make independent and strategic decisions, he said, voicing support for the Secretary-General’s views.  At the same time, “everything happens for a reason”, he said, noting that the enlargement and expansion of NATO — a cold war creation — must be addressed, as the organization’s agenda runs counter to current trends.  Indeed, regional security cannot be guaranteed by flexing muscles.  In fact, one country refuses to give up its cold war mentality as it continues to take actions in the Asia-Pacific region that are only brewing tensions.  In this vein, he urged countries to learn from history, enhance mutual trust and do more to contribute to world peace and regional stability.

FERIT HOXHA (Albania) rejected any attempt to pressure Ukraine to implement the Minsk agreements according to one side’s interpretation.  While fully supporting the rights of minorities in Ukraine, he said asking for “executive powers” for Russian minorities in Ukraine means nothing less than taking control of the Kyiv Government and Parliament, pointing to stances by senior Russian figures who articulated publicly that Ukraine should claim “symbolic sovereignty” over territories in Donbass.  “We should not accept such policy of fabricating dysfunctional States.  Not in Ukraine.  Not anywhere,” he said, rejecting Moscow’s call to recognize the independence and sovereignty of parts of Ukraine — a “stereotyped playbook” seen in Georgia in 2008 — as legally invalid if taken.  On the Russian military build-up in and around Ukraine and in Belarus, he pointed to a further reinforcement of weapons and troops, noting the latter had increased to 150,000 from 100,000 over three weeks — instead of a much-claimed partial withdrawal.  Describing. such a move as a “Damocles Sword” to instigate fear in the population, he said the decision to partially block the Black Sea, Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait under the pretext of holding regular naval exercises only adds to the strangulation effort.  He demanded the removal of the occupying troops from the occupied territory and condemned the illegal annexation of Crimea.  Any renewed attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would severely affect European security, he said, calling on the Council and the international community not to accept such action.  The Russian Federation should engage in a Renewed European Security Dialogue, he said, also supporting the call by Secretary Blinken for talks with Minister Sergey V. Lavrov as soon as possible and renewed NATO Russia Council meetings.  “Every mechanism must be used and fully exploited for diplomacy and de-escalation,” he stressed.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said implementing the Minsk agreements cannot be considered separately from activities on Ukraine’s eastern borders.  France has worked towards de-escalating the situation and fostering dialogue.  The military build-up on a neighbour’s border is threatening and unacceptable, especially as the Russian Federation has already infringed the borders of Ukraine in the past, he said, adding that there will be consequences for any further infringements.  Dialogue is essential to address the situation in Donbass, as well as regional security.  In terms of implementing the Minsk agreements, he said continued efforts in the Normandy format must advance, which was not possible at the 10 February meeting.  The Minsk agreements constitute the suitable framework for pursuing dialogue, he said, expressing concern about the recent Russian State Duma proposal to change the status of eastern Ukraine.  Taking note of possible ceasefire violations, he expressed hope that an investigation would proceed soon.

MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) raised concerns about alarming rhetoric and shows of force that have been exacerbated by recent actions.  Commending efforts to de-escalate tensions, he said a confrontation would have disastrous consequences for all.  Reiterating the call on parties to show restraint, he asked them to resume dialogue and make better use of existing channels to de-escalate the situation.  The Normandy format and Minsk agreements provide a pathway to ensure the cessation of hostilities and open a way for peaceful neighbourly relations.  He called on the parties to respect their commitments and resume dialogue.  Sovereignty and territorial integrity are essential principles, he said, calling on the Council to reject any confrontation, use the tools of peace at hand and undertake its responsibilities.

Mr. VERSHININ (Russian Federation), taking the floor again in his national capacity, said the people of Donbass — many of whom have Russian citizenship — have been subjected to Ukrainian shelling for many years.  The proposed initiative mentioned by several speakers to recognize Donbass as an independent state is just that, an initiative.  Instead of speculating on the parliamentary procedures of other nations, Council members should instead focus on the implementation of the Minsk agreements.  While the representative of the United Kingdom outlined some of the background on the situation in eastern Ukraine, that picture was one-sided and superficial, he said.

Meanwhile, he said, the United States delegate claimed to have “usefully” laid out an imagined scenario for an invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation.  Describing that statement as both regrettable and dangerous, he said Moscow has repeatedly and clearly stated its intentions, but those statements have not been heeded.  Russian forces remain on Russian territory — with some units having already returned to their home bases — and drills are being conducted in areas deemed necessary.  Meanwhile, Ukraine continues to violate past agreements through its increased militarization, with lethal weapons provided by the United States, United Kingdom, Poland and other nations.  Citing an obvious desire to bog down today’s discussion — which should be about the parties’ legal obligations — he called for an authentic dialogue and urged the United States to carefully consider a new written request for security guarantees, which the Russian Federation sent to Washington, D.C., this morning.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), also taking the floor for a second time, expressed regret that the representative of the Russian Federation continues to use the same rhetoric.  In his earlier statement, United States Secretary of State Blinken laid out the facts on the ground, which can be clearly seen by all.  To those delegations who called today for increased diplomacy, she replied that the United States will continue to intensify its diplomatic efforts, calling once again on the Russian Federation to engage at the negotiating table.

SERGIY KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine) recalled that, seven years ago today, the Ukrainian city of Debaltseve sustained a full-fledged offensive by troops from the Russian Federation and their proxies.  Heavy artillery and rocket shelling spared neither the Ukrainian military nor civilians.  Those attacks occurred despite the existence of a disengagement line, agreed by Ukraine and the Russian Federation under the Minsk Memorandum of 19 September 2014 — the second document in the Minsk agreements package — which clearly defined Debaltseve as a Government-controlled area.  Describing that as just one example of how Moscow violated the Minsk agreements almost immediately after signing them, he said that, just this morning, the Stanytsia Luhanska village in Ukraine was shelled with heavy weapons from the occupied territory of Donbass, damaging civilian infrastructure including a kindergarten.

Meanwhile, two days ago, the Russian State Duma appealed to President Putin to recognize the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as so-called “Donetsk and Luhansk peoples’ republics”, which contravenes commitments undertaken by Moscow under the Minsk agreements.  Stressing that such a recognition would be tantamount to a deliberate withdrawal from the Minsk arrangements — as well as a serious blow to the politico-diplomatic settlement that Ukraine and its partners have been working to promote — he said such a move will also have implications for the global rules-based order and security architecture.

“[The Russian Federation] has a choice:  to embark on the path of de-escalation and diplomatic dialogue, or experience a decisive consolidated response by the international community,” he said.  Welcoming statements made today by Council members outlining clear rejections of the Russian Federation’s intentions, he called on Moscow to take a constructive stance and move forward in the framework of existing negotiation formats.  Recalling Moscow’s agreement to create security zones in the border areas between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, he said this initiative is even more urgent amid the deployment of 150,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, a blockade by the Russian Federation in the Black Sea and widespread misinformation campaigns.

While Ukraine remains committed to peaceful resolution by diplomatic means, he reiterated that it would defend itself in the event of an escalation by the Russian Federation.  Thanking countries for their support and solidarity, he welcomed efforts in the framework of the Normany Four format, while warning that progress will remain stalled as long as Moscow makes preconditions about direct dialogue.  He also laid out a range of issues that could be included in political track negotiations and emphasized Ukraine’s willingness to engage in such talks.  “It remains up to [the Russian Federation] to take decisions that would lead to full implementation of […] the Minsk agreements,” he said, urging Moscow to abandon its strategy of threats and adhere to the principles of the United Nations Charter.

ANTJE LEENDERTSE (Germany) said, together with France, her country stands committed to advancing the implementation of the Minsk agreements in the Normandy format.  While many obstacles remain, the reaffirmation of the ceasefire in July 2020 proved that progress is possible “if political will is there”.  Welcoming key legislative steps by Ukraine in recent months, she encouraged the Russian Federation to also engage constructively, and expressed concern over a resolution by the Russian State Duma urging President Vladimir V. Putin to recognize the self-declared “People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk” as independent states — which would run counter to the Minsk agreements and constitute a breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Commending the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, she echoed calls on all parties to ensure that it is able to carry out its mandate without interruption.  More than 90 per cent of cases where monitors’ freedom of movement has been disrupted or their equipment destroyed have taken place beyond the contact line in territory not under the control of the Ukrainian Government, she said, urging the Russian Federation to use its influence to guarantee free and safe access for the Mission.  Turning to military developments, she noted the unprecedented build-up of troops from the Russian Federation along that country’s border with Ukraine, as well as that of Belarus.  “It is next to impossible to not perceive this as a threat or the preparation for an attack,” she said, deploring the fact that Moscow has failed to provide a satisfactory explanation and calling for diplomatic progress.

Mr. VERSHININ (Russian Federation), once again speaking in his national capacity, recalled that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently called the Minsk agreements “totally without merit”.  Turning to statements made today about the validity of the Russian Federation’s membership in the United Nations, he said it is not the first time such baseless claims have come up as part of certain delegations’ self-aggrandizement.  In fact, the same speculations could be made about Ukraine’s membership or that of any other country, he said.

Ms. MONTIAN, in closing remarks, recalled the many messages she had received after delivering her briefing at the outset of today’s Council meeting.  No one fears a Russian Federation invasion, she said, emphasizing that the collective West’s game was to throw the troops of the Kyiv regime into Donetsk and then trigger sanctions.

For information media. Not an official record.