Expected Council Action
As in previous months, the Council is likely to follow the events in Ukraine closely. At press time no specific meetings were planned but, depending on the developments on the ground, it is possible Council members may decide to hold briefings or other types of meetings.
Key Recent Developments
Despite the Minsk agreements of September 2014 mandating a ceasefire and the 9 December 2014 truce imposed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the fighting in eastern Ukraine has continued with greater intensity in 2015. On 13 January, after the shelling of a passenger bus in Volnovakha, Donetsk, in which 11 civilians were killed and 17 injured, Council members issued a press statement condemning the act and calling for an investigation of the incident.
In Donetsk, the fighting between the government forces and rebels for the control of the Donetsk airport has been particularly intense. For several months the Ukrainian army held the airport and resisted continuous attacks by the rebels. The airport fell under rebel control on 21 January. The same day the Council held its first meeting in 2015 on the situation in Ukraine. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed, reporting that Ukraine was experiencing the worst upsurge of violence since the signing of the Minsk agreement on 5 September 2014.
In the deadliest attack in Ukraine since the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in which 298 lives were claimed, on 24 January, 30 people were killed and more than 100 were injured in a rocket attack on the city of Mariupol. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack while noting that appearing to launch rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas could constitute a violation of international humanitarian law. After crater analysis, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission reported that rockets came from rebel-held areas in the Donetsk region. Lithuania, the UK and the US drafted a press statement condemning the attack on Mariupol. However, the Council failed to adopt the statement because of Russia’s disagreement with the proposed language.
On 26 January, Feltman briefed the Council on the situation in Ukraine following reports of continuous violations of the Minsk agreements and the increasing number of civilian casualties. On 31 January, in an attempt to revive diplomatic efforts, the trilateral contact group—comprised of Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE—was scheduled to meet with the signatories of the Minsk agreements. However, according to the OSCE, representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk rebels did not appear and the meeting was cancelled.
In February, there was a renewed push by France and Germany for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine. On 5 February, French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel travelled to Kiev, where they met with Poroshenko and presented him with a peace plan for Ukraine. The following day in Moscow, Hollande and Merkel met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the peace proposal for Ukraine.
On 12 February, Hollande, Merkel, Poroshenko and Putin met in Minsk, where after extended negotiations they agreed on the “Package of measures for the implementation of the Minsk accords”. The main points of the agreement include a ceasefire starting 15 February, withdrawal of heavy weapons, prisoner release and amnesty for those involved in fighting, as well as a constitutional reform aimed at greater autonomy of Donetsk and Lugansk.
This agreement resembles the September Minsk agreements but leaves out numerous issues that will have to be addressed in further negotiations. Most significantly, the 12 February agreement leaves control of the Ukraine-Russia border unresolved, which is conditioned on complete political settlement in Donetsk and Lugansk. The September Minsk agreements had envisaged that the OSCE would take control of the border between Ukraine and Russia.
On 17 February, the Council unanimously adopted the Russian-drafted resolution 2202, endorsing the 12 February “measures for the implementation of the Minsk agreements” and calling on all parties to implement these measures. In addition, the draft reaffirmed resolution 2166 regarding the downing of flight MH17 and made references to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, while not mentioning Crimea and Sevastopol.
Just before the vote on resolution 2202, Council members issued a press statement expressing concern over ceasefire violations and continued fighting in the town of Debaltseve. The statement also called on all parties to adhere to the commitment made in Minsk and allow the OSCE to monitor and verify compliance with the Minsk agreements.
On 18 February, after weeks of intense fighting, rebel forces took control of Debaltseve after Ukrainian troops withdrew from the town. Though small, Debaltseve has significant strategic importance because it serves as a railway and highway hub connecting rebel-held Donetsk and Lugansk.
At press time, the ceasefire continues to be violated throughout eastern Ukraine.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a statement issued on 3 February, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged all sides to halt the dangerous escalation in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which is proving catastrophic for civilians. Bus stops and public transport, marketplaces, schools and kindergartens, hospitals and residential areas have become battlegrounds in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in clear breach of international humanitarian law. There has been indiscriminate shelling of residential areas in both government-controlled territory and in areas controlled by the armed groups, said the High Commissioner. He also expressed concern about the implications of the harsh winter months on civilians in conflict-affected areas, with shortages of food and water and power cuts and the plight of these civilians being compounded by government decisions that have resulted in further restrictions on the freedom of movement and in socio-economic isolation. The prolongation of the conflict would make the humanitarian situation untenable for millions of people.
The statement also highlighted worrying developments in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, particularly multiple violations of the rights of Crimean Tatars. On 26 January, the premises of ATR in Simferopol, the only television channel broadcasting in the Crimean Tatar language, were raided by armed, masked men in unmarked military clothing. On 29 January, the deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Ahtem Ciygoz, was detained by the Russian occupying authorities. He faces up to ten years in prison for creating “mass disturbances”.
The Human Rights Council will consider the report of the Human Rights Mission to Ukraine on the situation in the country, including Crimea, during its 28th session in March (A/HRC/28/64/Add.1).
Defining the role the Council could play in responding to the crisis in Ukraine remains the key issue, including in what way the Council can reinforce the implementation of the ceasefire and remaining provisions of the Minsk agreements.
The role of the UN in investigating the downing of flight MH17 in accordance with resolution 2166 remains an ongoing issue for the Council.
Finally, dealing with the humanitarian situation in Ukraine is an increasingly important issue for the Council, specifically the way the UN and its agencies can address the issue in light of the harsh winter conditions and the large number of affected civilians in eastern Ukraine.
The Council could consider getting more information on the implementation of the Minsk agreements, requesting a briefing by the OSCE, which remains the organisation with the leading role in Ukraine, especially through its role in the trilateral contact group.
An option for the Council would be to explore possible ways of establishing a political mission and monitoring mechanism for Ukraine which would work closely with other organisations on the ground, primarily the OSCE.
Another option for the Council would be to request a briefing by the UN Department of Political Affairs on the latest political developments in Ukraine.
In addition, the Council could consider a briefing on human rights and the humanitarian situation in Ukraine by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, given that it received its last briefing addressing the humanitarian situation in October 2014.
Should the ceasefire collapse and the Minsk agreements not be implemented, the Council could consider addressing the situation in Ukraine through a Chapter VI resolution by either working with Russia or insisting on its obligation to abstain from voting, in line with article 27(3) of the UN Charter, which requires a party to a dispute to abstain from voting.
Towards the end of 2014, the Council seemed to be less involved in the situation in Ukraine, which led to a gradual decrease in the frequency of Council meetings on the issue. This trend could be attributed to Council members’ exhaustion with Ukraine and the inability to take action due to the wide rift between permanent members on the issue. In addition, most Council members share the view that the solution to the crisis does not lie in the Council but rather through other diplomatic avenues that facilitate high-level talks between Russia and Ukraine. However, in the first two months of 2015 the Council seems to be more active on the issue. At press time, the Council had held three meetings on Ukraine, issued two press statements and adopted resolution 2202 since the beginning of 2015.
Despite the adoptions of resolutions 2166 and 2202, the Council failed to adopt any resolution that would focus on the wider political context of the situation in Ukraine due to a rift between Russia and the P3. Russia tried to introduce three draft resolutions on the wider political and humanitarian situation in Ukraine during its presidency of the Council in June 2014. Due to disagreements, these drafts were never voted on. This rift was also manifested on 17 February when resolution 2202 was adopted. Prior to the vote, the Council issued a press statement that contained the main elements the P3 and Lithuania had tried to include in the resolution but which Russia declined to include as amendments during the negotiations.
The Council has been deeply divided on the issue of Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis in early 2014. Russia will not accept any Council outcome that would question the legal status of Crimea and Sevastopol, now de facto part of the Russian Federation, while the P3 and Western countries continue to insist on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine in line with General Assembly resolution 68/262.
|Security Council Resolutions|
|17 February 2015 S/RES/2202||This was resolution that endorsed the “Package of measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements” signed on 12 February 2015.|
|21 July 2014 S/RES/2166||This resolution condemned the downing of Malaysia Airline flight 17 and called for an investigation of the crash.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|17 February 2015 SC/11784||This was a press statement that expressed concern over ceasefire violations and continued fighting in Debaltseve.|
|13 January 2015 SC/11733||This was a press statement condemning the killing of 11 civilians as a result of the shelling of a passenger bus in Volnovakha.|
|Security Council Letters|
|13 April 2014 S/2014/264||This was a letter from Russia requesting urgent consultations on the situation in Ukraine on 13 April 2014.|
|28 February 2014 S/2014/136||This was a letter from Ukraine that requested an urgent meeting of the Security Council citing the situation in Crimea as a threat to the territorial integrity of Ukraine.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|17 February 2015 S/PV.7384||This was the vote on resolution 2202.|
|26 January 2015 S/PV.7368||This was a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on the further deterioration of the situation in the east and the growing number of civilian causalities in the Ukraine conflict.|