My statement today will briefly focus on the continuing efforts of the United Nations with regard to the crisis in Ukraine, as well as latest developments since the briefing to the Council by Under-Secretary-General [Jeffrey] Feltman on 13 March.
The Secretary-General is today on his way to Moscow and Kyiv as part of his on-going and intensifying good offices efforts. He will pursue discussions in both capitals on political and diplomatic solutions to the crisis. In advance of his travel, he has this morning spoken with Ukrainian Prime Minister [Arseniy] Yatsenyuk.
Since the latest briefing to the Council, the Secretary-General has continued to engage with key actors with the aim of de-escalating the situation.
He has unfailingly urged dialogue and promoted adherence to fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter in relation to Ukraine, such as the respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity and ensuring the fulfilment of human rights for all, with particular attention to minorities.
During my recent mission to Ukraine I stressed the importance of inclusive government and the need to preserve a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-lingual Ukraine with all my interlocutors.
As you have seen from his public statements, the Secretary-General has repeatedly counselled against hasty actions, which can increase tensions and lead to miscalculations and unintended consequences.
My mission to Ukraine was followed by that of Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic. At the request of the Secretary-General, and given the volatility of the situation on the ground, Mr. Šimonovic extended his mission to Ukraine until yesterday, 18 March.
In the meantime, a UN human rights monitoring mission is being deployed in Ukraine in order to have an objective assessment as to what is happening on the ground. Mr. Šimonovic will take the floor after me to brief on his work in Ukraine and provide further information on the work of the monitoring mission. I can add that the United Nations has closely coordinated our efforts with the OSCE in view of its plans to also deploy monitors to Ukraine.
I wish to recall that during my mission to Ukraine, I briefed the Council on 4 March from Kyiv. I reported encountering a country grappling with a series of fast-moving and serious political, security and economic challenges.
Since that mission, the crisis appears only to have deepened. Instead of de-escalation, tensions in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine continue to rise.
The Crimean authorities decided to hold a referendum on Crimea’s status on 16 March and thereafter announced that close to 97 per cent of those who voted did so in favour of Crimea’s secession from Ukraine. The Secretary-General expressed his deep disappointment and concern at the precipitate decision to proceed with a referendum regarding an issue of such far-reaching consequences for Ukraine, the region and beyond.
Subsequently, Crimea declared its independence, which in turn was recognized by the Russian Federation.
On 17 March the European Union and the United States moved to apply targeted sanctions against Russian and Crimean officials.
On 18 March, President Putin signed a treaty, which the Parliament of the Russian Federation is expected to begin ratifying, to make Crimea part of the Russian Federation.
At the same time, the Government in Kyiv has committed to never accept Crimea’s independence or annexation, stating that Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine.
Yesterday, Ukraine's Prime Minister expressed concern that the conflict in the Crimean peninsula is “shifting from a political to a military stage”. This followed reports that a Ukrainian officer was killed in front of a Ukrainian military base on the outskirts of Simferopol.
Following this incident, the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister planned to travel to Crimea today. In turn, the Crimean leadership has allegedly stated that Ukraine's officials would be turned back. This underscores the dire need for the immediate opening of direct dialogue between Moscow and Kyiv.
Today, reports are emerging, that two Ukrainian naval bases in Crimea have been taken over by pro-Russian forces or unidentified groups. While initial reports suggest that the seizures of bases have so far occurred without bloodshed, such developments obviously carry grave risks. The Secretary-General has constantly underlined the importance of avoiding further provocative actions and of refraining from incitement.
These latest events have heightened tensions and added new layers of complexity to an already precarious situation. We are now faced with risks of a dangerous further escalation that could have ramifications for international peace and security and have serious significance for this Council and for the United Nations.
In a wider perspective, we should recall that the Russian Federation and Ukraine remain neighbours, with close, often complex, historic, cultural, economic and political ties. It is our view that it is in the interest of all of us that these two nations have positive ties, with each other and with the broader region. But the first step in that direction has to be based on immediate de-escalation and restraint in the present crisis.
I would like to close by quoting some of the Secretary-General’s key messages recently: “It is clear that we are at a crossroads. If positions continue to harden and rhetoric continues to sharpen, there is great risk of a dangerous downward spiral. … The focus must be to engage in direct dialogue between Moscow and Kyiv aimed at agreeing on specific measures that will pave the way towards a diplomatic solution… Although it has so far proven elusive, the path towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis is still open.”
It is in this spirit and in the spirit of the UN Charter that he now embarks on his mission to Moscow and Kyiv.
I only wish to add that our primary diplomatic tool is constructive dialogue on the basis of the chapter in the Charter on pacific settlement of disputes. The UN will continue to play its role of promoting dialogue for a peaceful and joint resolution of this crisis, which now has become more serious than ever.