Statement by Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN, at the UNSC briefing on Ukraine

Statement by Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN, at the UNSC briefing on Ukraine

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Mr. President,

On 20 May, the Security Council clearly stated its position on the Russian request to discuss Ukraine’s language law by rejecting it. The Russian representative, however, demonstrated outrageous disrespect to Council rules and to its members by abusing its EOV right and delivering a lengthy statement on substance.

Now, Russia yet again wants to talk about Ukraine’s law on functioning of the state language, as if it might threaten international peace and security and if there were no more important issues on the Council agenda. In fact, this matter is a purely internal issue, it has no relation whatsoever to international peace and security and has nothing to do with the implementation of resolution 2202. On 22 May, I sent a letter to the Council with a detailed argumentation on the issue. It is contained in document S/2019/422. For the convenience of the Council members and in order not to repeat myself I ask the Secretariat to distribute this letter now.

I just want to stress the following. A country that for centuries suppressed the Ukrainian language and forcefully replaced it with the Russian in all spheres of public life is not in a position to tell us now what language we should speak and write. Just compare: there are Ukrainian schools in Australia, Argentina, Slovakia and many other countries. Russia, where about 3 million Ukrainians live, has not a single Ukrainian school. Moreover, there were 7 Ukrainian and 15 Crimean Tatar schools in Crimea before the Russian occupation in 2014. The occupying authorities closed all Ukrainian and half of the Crimean Tatar schools. I can only repeat the words from the Sermon on the Mount: “You hypocrite! First, remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye”.

Mr. President,

Every time the Russian delegation raises this subject, it pursues a double goal: to put a political pressure on Ukraine and to distract attention from other issues. In May, it tried to impose its own agenda on the newly elected President of Ukraine, who was inaugurated just the same day, and to distract attention from the anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Stalin regime. Today, by raising this spurious issue four days before the parliamentary elections in Ukraine, Moscow is trying to provide political support to the pro-Russian parties. At the same time, Moscow tries to distract attention from the anniversary of the downing by the Russian military of flight MH-17 on 17 July and from implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Or to be more precise, their persistent non-implementation by Russia.

That’s why my delegation requested that the Security Council considered developments related to the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Mr. President,

This is the first Council meeting on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict after the Presidential elections in Ukraine. I, therefore, would like to reiterate the unwavering commitment of Ukraine’s new leadership to the politico-diplomatic way of resolving this conflict. Implementation of the Minsk Agreements remains among its top priorities.

Right after assuming the duties as Head of State, the President made concrete steps towards the potency of the Trilateral Contact Group, the revitalization of the Normandy format and achieving disengagement of forces in Donbas.

Thus, the Ukrainian side demonstrated in deed its constructive approach in search of the conflict’s resolution. What did we receive in return?

Despite the agreement reached by the Trilateral Contact Group on ceasefire, starting from 8 March 2019, the Russian occupation forces in Donetsk and Luhansk regions violated it almost 2000 times.

Heavy weapons, prohibited by the Minsk Agreements, including tanks, heavy artillery and mortars, were used almost 800 times.

These provocations resulted in the death of 36 Ukrainian servicemen, around 200 servicemen were wounded. In June only, Ukraine lost 9 military personnel due to the unprovoked enemy fire.

Since the new President took office, the Russian forces and their proxies almost doubled ceasefire violations. Is this how Russian peace proposals look like?

The Russian forces intentionally target civil infrastructure facilities all over the area. Is this an invitation to direct talks, the Russian Federation persistently calls for? Detailed information on all such violations is being regularly reported by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission for the fifth year already. But the Russian delegation prefers to talk here about the language law.

The situation on the ground appears very bleak, as Russia shows no indication of the readiness to abandon its aggressive goals in Ukraine. Implementation of the Minsk Agreements by Kremlin, first and foremost in the security sphere, remains stalled.

The illegal “passportization” continues. Security situation in Donbas continues to deteriorate. De-occupation of Crimea has not started. Ukrainian citizens continue to be used by Moscow as hostages in its hybrid war against my country.

The UN Charter, norms of international law and binding orders of international courts and tribunals remain dead letters for the Russian Federation, which keeps denying that it is a party to the conflict it masterminded, initiated and continues to fuel.

Mr. President,

Let’s revert back to the Minsk Agreements, namely to the Package of Measures of February 12, 2015.

Para 1 — Immediate and full ceasefire.

Recently, the Russian forces intensified shelling of Ukrainian military positions and residential areas, using the heavy artillery of 122 and 152 mm. On 1 July, the ambulance vehicle, bearing all the marks of a medical transport, was targeted by the Russian occupation forces with an anti-tank rocket. As a result, two Ukrainian medics evacuating a wounded soldier near the village of Vodiane were killed and one died later at the hospital. Did not the militants know that shelling a medical vehicle is a violation of the norms of international humanitarian law? Of course, they knew! And the Russian delegation still wants to discuss use of Ukrainian language in public life of my country?

For those who forgot, I’ll quote OP1 of Security Council resolution 2286: Security Council “strongly condemns acts of violence, attacks and threats against the wounded and sick, medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their means of transport and equipment”.

Mr. President,

The Russian delegation persistently asserts that Moscow has no obligations under the Minsk Agreements and that it is only an impartial observer and mediator.

Let’s inject a dose of reality in these delirious claims. The 1st and 2nd army corps that constitute the main fighting force in the occupied territories of Donbas are part and parcel of Russia’s 8th Army, which has its headquarters in Novocherkask in the Russian Rostov region. All weapons, arms, ammunition, equipment, fuel are supplied to the occupied Donbas courtesy of the 8th Army. All command posts of any significance are occupied by Russian officers.

Thus, responsibility for upholding any ceasefire agreements rests with the Russian military leadership and not some fictitious local militias. The Russian military presence and active participation in the war is an established fact, no matter how strenuously Russia may try to deny it.

Para 2 — Withdrawal of all heavy weapons with the aim of creation of a security zone. OSCE SMM continues to report weapons in violation of the respective withdrawal lines and outside of designated storage sites in the Russia-occupied territories of Donbas, a constant replenishment of fuel, lubricants and ammunition. Hundreds of pieces of Russian heavy weapons continue to pose direct and serious military threat to Ukraine and its defenders. Much more remains hidden from the SMM’s eyes.

Para 3 — Effective monitoring and verification of ceasefire regime and pullout of heavy weapons by OSCE. As reported by the OSCE SMM, Russian occupation authorities restrict activities of the monitors including denying access of the SMM to the border crossing points in the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Para 10 — Withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, as well as mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under monitoring of the OSCE. Reports from Donbas confirm that there is no withdrawal whatsoever. Instead, we see a systematic and incessant flow of Russian made weapons, including the newest types, and ammunitions through the uncontrolled segment of the Ukrainian-Russian state border.

Which of the security provisions of the Minsk Agreements can be considered implemented by Russia? None. Not a single one.

Despite the progress made on disengagement in Stanytsia Luhanska, the OSCE SMM still observes Russian military presence in the areas where there should be none. The OSCE SMM reported men in military-style clothing, who were illegally wearing blue armbands with “Joint Command and Control Center — JCCC” written on them. We consider such actions by the Russian side as yet another provocation since from the end of 2017 only the Ukrainian part of the JCCC still discharges its duties on site. It all begs the question: who are these people and why are they trying to pretend that they have legitimate reasons to be there?

As it was already mentioned in this Council at previous meetings, the Russian Federation has unilaterally and groundlessly withdrawn its officers from this bilateral structure. No one is authorized to replace them.

Mr. President,

Despite numerous proofs of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in Donbass it remains in denial. This is usual Moscow’s tactics: to deny the obvious, despite any evidence. The same way they denied the presence of its troops in Crimea and their role in seizure of the peninsula. The same way they denied their role in downing the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 that killed 298 passengers.

Tomorrow will be five years since that tragedy. I would like once again convey Ukraine’s deepest condolences to the families of all victims and reassure them that the perpetrators must and will be held to account, in compliance with the Council’s resolution 2166. Ukraine fully supports the efforts by the Joint Investigation Team that incudes investigators and prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine. The start of criminal prosecution is an important milestone in uncovering the full truth and ensuring that justice will be done.

We welcome the decision by the Netherlands and Australia to hold the Russian Federation responsible under international law for its role in the downing of flight MH17.

Let me also remind you an event of 25 November 2018 when Russia attacked and captured the Ukrainian navy ships “Berdyansk”, “Nikopol” and the tug boat “Yana Kapu”, as well as 
24 Ukrainian servicemen. It is nothing else but another act of aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. This is a blatant violation of the core principle of customary international law and international law of the sea — immunities of warships. Russia overtly neglects warship immunity and creates a dangerous precedent that irreparably harms the whole system of freedom of navigation in the seas.

Russia continues to deny this international wrongful act. But today it goes even further — it denies the jurisdiction of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and ignores its binding orders. On 25 May 2019, ITLOS ruled in Ukraine’s case against Russia by 19 votes to 1 that Russia should immediately release 3 Ukrainian naval vessels and ensure their return to the custody of Ukraine, and release and let return to Ukraine its 24 servicemen. Russia has not implemented it.

We don’t know in what conditions those military vessels are. What we do know is the situation with 24 servicemen of those vessels. They are in a Russian jail — the infamous Lefortovo. They are very rarely allowed to be visited by a Ukrainian consul and have not seen their families for more than 7 months.

Tomorrow Russian court will consider the continuation of detention of 24 Ukrainian servicemen. We call on the Russian Federation at last to comply with the ITLOS binding order and release Ukrainian sailors and let them return to Ukraine.

Russia’s general disregard for international law is obvious as the Russian occupation administration intensified repressions against residents of the Crimea under the pretext of “fight against terrorism”. This is how Russia reacts to hearings, which now take place at the UN International Court of Justice on Application of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Arbitral Tribunal in the matter of a dispute concerning the coastal state rights in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.

The Russian occupation authorities continue denying proper medical assistance to Ukrainian citizens in detention. They ignore the decision of the European Court of Human Rights of 11 June, and refuse to transfer a disabled Crimean Tatar Edem Bekirov to a hospital. Russia must immediately and unconditionally release all Ukrainian citizens, illegally held in Kremlin’s captivity, including in Russia-occupied parts of Ukraine. Until that moment, they must be given all necessary medical assistance and legal protection.

Russia’s flouting disrespect of international jurisdictional bodies should receive an appropriate response. We call on strengthening the political and economic sanctions on the aggressor state until Russia stops violating human rights in the temporarily occupied Crimea, releases all illegally detained citizens of Ukraine and deoccupies the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.

Mr. President,

I do not have a recipe for the political settlement of this conflict.

Various ideas and initiatives were introduced to provide additional impetus. None of them worked so far. People are still being killed, ceasefires do not hold, and the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. And the best the Council can do today is to express concern or to call on the parties to do something. This is very unfortunate, particularly as the parties are present in this Chamber, even though one of them is pretending it’s not a party.

Let’s be practical. I would like to suggest very specific, simple and doable measures Russia can implement, if Moscow really wishes to contribute to the resolution of the conflict and make life of civilians in the conflict zone at least a little bit easier:

— to ensure sustainable “harvest ceasefire” which was agreed by Normandy four and withdraw heavy weapons;

— unblock the process of prisoners’ exchange, including the Ukrainian citizens detained by the Russian occupation authorities, to provide access, including by the International Committee of the Red Cross, to them and to allow search for missing persons;

— unconditionally release 24 Ukrainian servicemen as ordered by the ITLOS;

— withdraw its military from the disengagement area and dismantle its fortification structures there;

— agree on the opening additional crossing checkpoints.

Of course, this is a very short list and I can go on and on naming relevant measures. But let’s start from something. Let’s make the difference. As Lao Tzu said centuries ago: “A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I thank you