Statement by H.E. Ms. Olena Zerkal, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine for European Integration, at the UNSC Arria-formula meeting on the Russian occupation of Crimea

Statement by H.E. Ms. Olena Zerkal, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine for European Integration, at the UNSC Arria-formula meeting on the Russian occupation of Crimea


Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour to join you here, at the Security Council Arria-formula meeting on the issue of the Russian occupation of Crimea.

I thank the delegations of Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States for organizing this event.

Four years after the beginning of the Russian armed aggression against my country, holding of this event is important not just for Ukraine. It also has huge effect for the international community because of outputs of Russia’s actions for international peace and security.

In 2014 Russia signalled through its occupation of Crimea and military invasion in eastern Ukraine its total disregard for established principles of international law, including the UN Charter.

It did this before – in 2008 in Georgia.

And less than two weeks ago in the UK, it demonstrated again that it has neither respect for sovereignty of other nations nor care for well-being of thousands of innocent civilians, whose health and lives were so blatantly and callously endangered when a chemical nerve agent was recklessly used in a public place.

Is this a pattern of behaviour of a responsible international actor, the one entrusted with maintaining international peace and security? Let alone of the Security Council permanent member?

The answer is obvious.

In fact, this latest episode of Russia’s aggressive behaviour proves that Moscow has neither moral no legal red lines. Or, at best, that these red lines are a moving target – the less resistance Russia faces, the further it moves them away from the rules-based international system, back to the medieval Hitler-Stalin era of dictatorial, revanchist and adventurist regimes with nor regard for human toll whatsoever.

How many new red lines, or “new normals” imposed by Russia on the world, will we tolerate?

Getting back to Crimea, I would like first and foremost stress tremendous human cost that the Russian Federation has imposed on the people of peninsula.

This human cost ranges from tenth of thousands of IDPs accommodated in other parts of Ukraine, to the great many of victims of the four-years violent campaign of coercion and violence, targeting anyone opposed to the attempted annexation of Crimea.

Here I would like to make four points.

Firstly, Crimea has for all ends and purposes became a human rights ghetto.

The Russian Federation refuses to fulfil its obligations as an Occupying Power.

There is no indication whatsoever that it intends to comply with the requirements of the UN GA resolutions 71/205 and 72/190.

The report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights prepared in accordance with resolution 71/205 concluded that the human rights situation in Crimea had significantly deteriorated under the Russian occupation.

Murder, torture, harassment, illegal detention and enforced disappearances, persecution of journalists, human rights defenders and activists are among the most widespread human rights violations in the occupied Crimea.

People live in fear of being labelled an extremist, a terrorist or a Ukrainian spy with the consequence of being sent to jail or disappear without trace.

The cases of Oleh Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Mykola Semena and dozens of others are a clear proof of that.

The processes that led to their detention or restriction in movement were distorted by blatant violations of fair trial guarantees and of the presumption of innocence.

But all the appeals were denied.

Just yesterday the so-called Supreme Court of Crimea reconfirmed the sentence of the Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh, who, in a show of a politically motivated persecution, has been sentenced to three and a half years of prison just for raising the Ukrainian flag on the roof of his own house.

Moreover, the Russian occupying authorities do not limit themselves to individual persecutions. The suppression of activities of Mejlis – the representative and legitimate organ of the Crimean Tatars – as well as intimidation and expulsion of its members, as it happened with Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, had a detrimental effect on the exercise of political and civil rights of persons belonging to the whole Crimean Tatar community.

All these individuals are now at risk of arrest and repression because of their involvement with, as the Occupying Power labels it, an “extremist” organization.

Secondly, we observe the accelerated militarization of Crimea, which has already changed the security balance in the region.

Russia has more than doubled the strength of its military on the peninsula and moves forward with an upgrade of Crimean military infrastructure for deployment of nuclear weapons.

We all know that just recently Russia has deployed a second battalion of S-400 “Triumph” air-defence systems in Crimea, while the first battalion was deployed there in spring last year. These systems are capable of destroying aircraft, drones, cruise and ballistic missiles at a range of up to 400 kilometres.

In other words, Moscow is transforming Crimea into a huge military base – with land, air and naval components, using it as a launch pad for its military interventions elsewhere.

Here, Syria is one of the most recent examples.

Thirdly, the Russian Federation pursues the policy of legitimizing the attempted annexation of Crimea by using different subversive tactics and strategies.

One of them is through Secretariats of various international and regional organizations. For example, it includes in its national reports and submissions information and data related to Crimea in violation of relevant UN GA resolutions.

When it comes to Crimea maritime areas, Russia’s claim of responsibility for implementation of International Maritime Organization instruments there reflects an ongoing usurpation of Ukraine’s rights as the coastal state relating to maritime navigation, protection of the marine environment, search and rescue, ship registration, certification of crew members.

This is yet another gross violation of international law and the national legislation of Ukraine.

Russia’s reckless unilateral actions have turned the northern part of the Black Sea into a grey zone for international shipping as well.

And finally, Russia goes on with its propaganda, disinformation and fake news with regard to Ukraine, including Crimea.

Indeed, winning TV coverage and headlined, carrying out false charm offensive campaigns to mislead the general public by creating an alternative reality – all of this can contribute to winning or starting the wars.

It is proven by the Russian TV – master of the craft.

After all, facts – even concrete, hard and indisputable ones – always lose to the fog of confusion created by lies. The reason for this is that those who speak the truth, are bound by its limits. While those, who lie, have no bounds – or mentioned red lines – at all.

Mr. Chair,

What is Ukraine’s response to all of these Russia’s actions, which amount to existential threat to my country?

No matter how Russia tries to provoke our military reaction, all of Ukraine’s efforts in defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity are driven and deeply rooted in International Law.

Because we strongly believe that it is only through law that one can deal with the outlaw regime.

That is why we had no choice but to take the issues related to the mentioned violations to the International Criminal Court, International Court of Justice and Arbitration proceedings under UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Ukraine’s case before the ICJ is aimed at holding Russia accountable for serious violations of two treaties – Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

As regards the UNCLOS arbitration, it is presented with the strong case of Russia unlawfully excluding Ukraine from its own waters, stealing our valuable resources and usurping Ukraine’s authority.

These cases are moving forward and are an integral part of the mentioned Ukraine’s overall strategy – namely, to make full use of all available means under international law in order to secure justice.

At the same time, Russia still shows no respect for these institutions and the rule of law as such.

Just one example.

Nearly one year ago, the International Court of Justice issued an order of provisional measures against Russia.

Among other things, it ordered Russia to stop its discriminatory ban on the Mejlis, the legitimate representative institution of the Crimean Tatar people.

What has Russia done to comply with the Court’s order?


The ban on the Mejlis is still in place, and the Crimean Tatar people are still vulnerable.

The situation is just as urgent – if not more so – as it was when the Court acted a year ago.

Therefore, Russia is anything but clearly ignoring not just the international community, but the binding order of the World Court itself.


I started by stressing that Russia’s aggressive actions – be it in Ukraine, UK, Georgia, Moldova, Baltic states, Syria or elsewhere – are meant to persuade the world that essential principles of international law and our common values – democracy, the rule of law, good governance, human rights and fundamental freedoms – are no longer universal, and should be applied only if or when it suits Russia.

Just like moving targets.

Thus, it is only by common front that the world can prevent this revanchist madness from spiralling out of control. Without doing that, as the chemical weapon use in the UK has just shown, no nation can be safe – no matter how close to Russia, geographically or politically, it is.

That is why it is high time for the international community to find a proper political response to Russia’s behaviour.

First of all, to beef up the existing multilateral and bilateral sanctions. The UN GA resolutions “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine” must be upheld and serve as a roadmap to de-occupation.

Next, we should dust off Article 99 of the UN Charter that authorizes the Secretary-General to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.

Here, UN Chief’s promising “surge in diplomacy” should finally reach Ukraine and Crimea in particular – either through good offices, dedicated Special Envoy, establishing UN support office or other diplomatic means ready at his disposal.

International community should also find ways of enacting Article 27 of the Charter that obliges Russia to abstain from voting in the Council as a party of a dispute.

In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to recall that this Sunday, 18 March, Russia intends to organize its Presidential elections, including in the territory of the occupied Crimea.

Ukraine has already expressed its resolute protest to the Russian Federation.

These elections are yet another test for the international community and for the United Nations.

We should not accept another flagrant violation of international law.

We should act together to stop Russian occupation of Crimea.

I urge your action.

Either by strengthening of sanctions against Russia, or by raising our collective voice in the UN and other international organizations – that is how we should react to Russian unlawful and reckless behaviour.

I thank you.