'Russia has negotiated a peace plan, and then systematically undermined it at every step'
Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council Meeting on Ukraine, November 12, 2014
Mr. President, thank you for convening today’s session on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Assistant Secretary-General Toyberg-Franzen, we thank you for your clear and objective briefing. Ambassadors Apakan and Tagliavini, we are grateful for both for your speaking with us today, and for the brave and critically important role the OSCE is continuing to play on the ground.
This is the Security Council’s 26th meeting on the current crisis in Ukraine. If our message and the message of other countries, today, on the deteriorating situation in eastern Ukraine sounds familiar, it is for good reason. For while the situation has evolved, the root of the problem remains the same: Russia’s flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Time and again, Russia has made commitments and then failed to live up to them; and subsequently offered explanations to this Council that it knows are untrue.
The most recent example involves the joint commitments made by Russia, the separatists it supports, and Ukraine on September 5th in Minsk. These include: an immediate end to ceasefire violations; restoration of Ukrainian control of its side of the international border; OSCE monitoring of the border; and a security zone on either side of the border; withdrawal of foreign forces, mercenaries and equipment from Ukraine; and the release of hostages and prisoners. On none of these have Russia or the separatists lived up to their word.
At Minsk, all sides committed to an immediate ceasefire. Yet rather than observe the ceasefire, the separatists have taken advantage of the agreed-upon pause in fighting to try to expand their territory beyond Minsk lines. Meanwhile, Ukraine had maintained a full ceasefire along the agreed lines, as it defends its forces and population from separatists’ push for more. Over the last few days, separatist attacks have increased significantly, including on positions around Donetsk airport and Debaltseve City, and, of course, near Mariupol.
At Minsk, all sides committed to permitting the OSCE to monitor and verify the ceasefire. Yet Russian-backed separatists have fired on OSCE monitoring drones and used jamming signals to interfere with its team members’ electronics, using equipment supplied by Moscow.
At Minsk, all sides agreed to permanent monitoring at the Ukrainian-Russian state border and the creation of a security zone along the border. Yet Russia has done nothing to restore Ukrainian government control of the international border. Russia has refused to press separatists to allow the OSCE access to the border. And Russia continues to flout Ukrainian airspace with its helicopters and UAVs. It also continues to send so-called “humanitarian convoys” – convoys it will not allow Ukrainian customs authorities or international monitors to search.
At Minsk, all sides committed to immediately free all hostages and illegally-held persons. Yet Russia and the separatists it backs continue to hold approximately 500 captives. These captives include Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko and Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, both of whom were captured by separatists on Ukrainian soil and illegally transported against their will to Russia.
At Minsk, Russia committed to remove all illegal military formations, military equipment and militants from Ukraine. Yet rather than withdrawing its military forces from Ukraine and rather than cutting off its support for separatists, Russia is instead surging more forces and more equipment across the border. The Russian military has maintained a forward presence in eastern Ukraine since the ceasefire took effect. We have information indicating that a Russian air defense system was operating near one of the separatists’ convoys in Donetsk. Russia has not provided this type of air defense system to separatists to date, suggesting that Russian forces were protecting the convoy.
On November 9th, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission reported two convoys of 17 unmarked green trucks moving west through Donetsk towards the ceasefire line. Yesterday, November 11th, OSCE monitors observed the movement of 43 unmarked military vehicles on the eastern outskirts of Donetsk. Five were seen towing 120-mm howitzers, and five others were towing multi-launch rocket systems.
NATO confirmed it has observed columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems, and Russian combat troops entering Ukraine over the past 48 hours.
The list goes on, but the pattern is clear. Where Russia has made commitments, it has failed to meet them. Russia has negotiated a peace plan, and then systematically undermined it at every step. It talks of peace, but it keeps fueling war.
That is not all. On November 2nd, Russian-backed separatists held illegal elections in the parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that they controlled. The elections contravened Ukraine’s laws and its sovereignty. They defied Point 9 of the Minsk Protocol.
But if Russia and the separatists intended the elections to cast a veneer of legitimacy on their actions, they failed. Instead, the world saw the elections for what they are: a shameless attempt to validate territory seized at the barrel of the gun: a gun provided by Russia. In keeping with its efforts to escalate rather than de-escalate at every turn, rather than condemn the separatists’ sham election like most of the international community, Russia encouraged it. Foreign Minister Lavrov even tried to argue that the elections were part of the Minsk agreements, which clearly stipulate that the elections be local and conducted “in accordance with the law of Ukraine.”
Russian and separatist actions in eastern Ukraine currently have nothing to do with improving the humanitarian situation in Donbas or decentralizing power, as called for in Points 3 and 8 of the Minsk Protocol.
A recent Associated Press report from the rebel-held town of Perevalsk – part of the territory that recently declared independence from Ukraine – revealed the town was ruled by a local warlord who goes by the nickname of “Batya,” or “Daddy.” “Daddy’s” power is maintained by a group of armed Cossacks whom he calls his “Great Don Army,” and four tanks outside his office fly Russian and rebel flags. Asked where his authority came from, “Daddy” told the AP reporter: “We are an independent organization and we don’t depend on anyone. I’m answerable only to President Putin and our Lord.”
In neighboring Alchevsk village, rebel leaders preside over the kangaroo trials of people accused of crimes. Defendants are not given lawyers, and their judges are whatever members of the community show up, who vote by a simple show of hands. This is what the separatists’ democracy looks like. We continue to see similar repressive tendencies in Russian-occupied Crimea, where members of the Tatar minority have been relentlessly persecuted and the free press muzzled.
By contrast, Ukraine has made a genuine effort to live up to its agreements at Minsk, and continues to show considerable restraint in response to constant provocation and attack. And the Ukrainian people have repeatedly chosen leaders who call for de-escalation over escalation – first in the presidential election, and then in parliamentary elections. Ukraine has also put in motion critically important reforms to reduce corruption and grant greater authority to its regions through constitutional reform. It has sought to maintain a ceasefire along the lines established at Minsk.
The United States continues to support the Minsk peace process and we continue to call for its full implementation. We remain prepared to roll back sanctions if the fighting stops, the border is closed, the foreign forces and equipment are withdrawn, and hostages are released.
We have said all along that there is no military solution to this crisis. The solution, as has been said by the OSCE here today and the United Nations, must be political. And, with Minsk, we have a roadmap to reach that solution. The problem is – and as it has long been throughout this crisis – you cannot reach a political solution if only one side is committed to forging it; and you cannot effectively implement a road map with parties who – like the Russians and the separatists they back – so consistently fail to keep their word.
We have seen Russia’s playbook in Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Crimea. So the question is not what Russia will try to do in eastern Ukraine. The question is what we, the international community, will seek to do to prevent yet another frozen conflict in Europe, manufactured by Russia.
The Minsk agreement was brokered under the auspices of the international community. As such, there must be consequences when Russia flouts the commitments it made and continues to destabilize its neighbor.
Russia has not earned the good faith that we would wish to bestow, and even when Russia claims, as Foreign Minister Lavrov did today, “the inadmissibility of disrupting the implementation of the Minsk ceasefire agreements" – actions are all that matter. And actions, alongside these words, show intentions. The Donetsk airport has come under artillery and arms fire attacks four times in the last 24 hours. And in the last day, Ukrainian positions are being shelled near Debaltseve, Avdiyivka, Hirske and Krasnohorivka.
What we can do – what we need to do – is keep ratcheting up the pressure on Russia until it abides by Minsk and chooses the path of de-escalation. Russia’s actions in Ukraine are not only a threat to the countries in Russia’s immediate vicinity, but also to the international order.