Expected Council Action
In February, Russia is expected to convene a briefing on the situation in Ukraine to mark the anniversary of the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”, also known as the Minsk II agreement, and to discuss its implementation. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief. Special Representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) Mikko Kinnunen and OSCE Special Monitoring Mission Chief Monitor Halit Çevik may also brief.
The Minsk II agreement, which was adopted on 12 February 2015, outlined steps for ending the conflict in Ukraine through a political settlement. The agreement has failed to achieve tangible progress to date, as fighting continues between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists in the two breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The conflict, which erupted shortly after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, has claimed the lives of more than 14,000 people, including approximately 3,000 civilians, and injured more than 7,000 civilians, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In addition, some 1.5 million people have been internally displaced since the outbreak of the conflict, according to Ukrainian government figures.
The Security Council endorsed the Minsk II agreement in resolution 2202 of 17 February 2015. In a presidential statement adopted in June 2018, the Council reiterated the need for strict compliance with resolution 2202 and encouraged parties to implement the measures set out in the Minsk agreements, as well as other agreements reached within the Normandy format—a group comprised of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine that was created in 2014 to address the conflict in Ukraine—and the TCG, which consists of the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine.
Since 2019, Russia has convened annual Council briefings in February to mark the anniversary of the Minsk II agreement and discuss the status of its implementation. These meetings have taken place ahead of the annual debate in the General Assembly on the agenda item “The situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”, which is scheduled for 23 February this year. These Council meetings have displayed the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, with Moscow consistently blaming Kyiv for the lack of implementation of the Minsk agreements. On the other hand, Ukraine has accused Russia of interfering in its internal affairs by supporting the separatists in its eastern regions and violating international law in connection with the annexation of Crimea—a position which has been supported by the US and European members of the Security Council.
Key Recent Developments
Since November 2021, the situation of Ukraine has again garnered increased international attention following reports that Russia has been transporting an irregularly high quantity of troops and military hardware to Ukraine’s borders. According to US and NATO officials, Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops and military equipment, including tanks and rocket launchers, along Ukraine’s borders with Russia, Belarus and Moldova.
US officials have been warning in recent months that Russia’s moves may portend a significant military action, such as an incursion into Ukraine. Moscow, for its part, has repeatedly denied plans to invade Ukraine, with Russian officials publicly maintaining that their country does not want war. According to media reports, Ukrainian officials say that while the threat posed by Russia is concerning, it is uncertain whether Moscow will undertake military action. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reportedly argues that the stark public warnings by US and European allies might complicate diplomatic efforts towards a solution to the crisis and harm his country’s economy, advocating instead for “quiet military preparation and quiet diplomacy”.
Analysts have differed in their assessment of the probability of a Russian military operation against Ukraine, its possible form, and its ramifications on both countries and on Europe’s stability. Some have suggested that Russia is bolstering its presence along Ukraine’s border to extract broader concessions from the US and NATO regarding security arrangements in Europe, which are a matter of concern for Moscow. Those analysts have noted that Russia’s current military build-up near Ukraine’s border constitutes the second such major build-up in the past year; in April 2021, Russia transported some 80,000 troops to its border with Ukraine in response to a two-month joint US-NATO exercise, which took place in Albania and parts of eastern Europe. Media sources have quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin as telling a gathering of Russian security officials in December 2021 that Moscow might resort to “military-technical” means if Western nations “continue the[ir] obviously aggressive stance”.
On 17 December 2021, Russia publicly presented a list of demands in two draft treaties, one with the US and another with NATO. The draft treaties codified several demands made by Russian officials in various meetings with western counterparts in the preceding weeks, including during a 7 December 2021 videoconference (VTC) meeting between Putin and US President Joe Biden. In addition to seeking guarantees that Ukraine would not be offered NATO membership, many of Moscow’s demands go beyond the immediate conflict in eastern Ukraine; these include a call for NATO to withdraw its troops and weapons from former Soviet countries that joined the alliance after 1997, and for the US to remove nuclear weapons positioned in Europe.
The US and NATO delivered their written responses to Russia’s demands on 26 January. The responses, which were not made public, reportedly rejected barring Ukraine from NATO membership. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that the US response includes proposals for “reciprocal transparency measures” regarding force posture in Ukraine, measures to increase confidence regarding military exercises and manoeuvres in Europe and measures relating to arms control in Europe. The New York Times reported that NATO’s response similarly outlined proposals for “areas of negotiation about arms control and transparency of military exercises” and suggested the reopening of liaison offices between NATO and Moscow. In a 28 January VTC meeting between Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, the former said that the US response does not address “Russia’s principal concerns” regarding NATO expansion and the deployment of strike-weapons systems near Russia’s borders, among other things, according to an official transcript of the call issued by the Kremlin.
Throughout the tense stand-off with Russia, the US and NATO have taken a “dual-track approach”, as characterised by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, which involves pursuing a diplomatic solution to the crisis while preparing for possible military confrontation. Several diplomatic initiatives have been pursued in recent months in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. These include a 13 January meeting under OSCE auspices in Vienna and a 21 January meeting between Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. On 26 January, a meeting of the Normandy format was held in Paris, marking the first time the group has met since December 2019. Zelenskyy described the Paris meeting as a positive step, while emphasising the importance of upholding the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine stipulated by the Minsk II agreement. Another meeting of the format is scheduled to take place in Berlin during the second week of February. A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson reportedly said that the next meeting could identify “solutions to problems that have been piling up for seven years”. In his 28 January videoconference meeting with Macron, Putin called for Kyiv’s compliance with the Minsk II agreement’s terms, “primarily on establishing a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Lugansk and legalising the special status of Donbas”.
On 27 January, the US requested an open Council meeting on Ukraine, citing the threat to international peace and security caused by the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders. Russia requested a procedural vote in an effort to block the meeting. The meeting was held on 31 January, following the procedural vote in which ten members voted in favour of holding a meeting, while China and Russia voted against and Gabon, India and Kenya cast abstentions on the vote. (A procedural motion requires at least nine affirmative votes to pass, and the veto does not apply.) During the meeting, which featured a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, many Council members urged dialogue to resolve the current crisis and expressed support for the Normandy format talks. Some members characterised the situation as a threat to international peace and security, while Russia stated that it had no intention of invading Ukraine.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Security Council is how to support the full implementation of the Minsk II agreement to achieve a sustainable solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Council members may consider a press statement calling on the parties to pursue dialogue to resolve outstanding issues through the TCG and the Normandy format. They may wish to encourage the group to maintain a steady momentum of meetings. (The Normandy format was dormant between 2016 and 2019 and only convened once in December 2019 prior to the recent tensions.)
While the current military build-up on Ukraine’s border is not the focus of February’s briefing, developments on the issue are likely to colour the discussions. Some members may advocate for a preventive approach by the Council to de-escalate the situation and may wish to convene Council meetings on the matter to remain informed of recent developments and to demonstrate to actors on the ground that the issue has the Council’s attention. Other members may feel that open Council meetings on the issue can be counterproductive and amplify the divisions in the Council. They may therefore consider discussing the broader situation in Ukraine in a closed format, such as consultations or an informal interactive dialogue.
Agreement on Council products on Ukraine is difficult because of members’ sharply diverging positions on the conflict. Nonetheless, Council members could encourage the Secretary-General to consider the appointment of a personal envoy—a position that does not require Security Council approval—to support existing diplomatic initiatives.
Deep divisions, particularly between Russia, on the one hand, and the US and European members of the Council, on the other, colour Council dynamics on Ukraine. The US and European members have accused Russia of interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs by supporting the separatists in eastern Ukraine and claim that the annexation of Crimea is a violation of international law. Russia, for its part, blames Western countries for trying to “pull Ukraine into their orbit”, accusing them of fomenting the 2014 Maidan protests, among other things. The difficult dynamics around Ukraine have been reflected in the frequent convening of Arria-formula meetings in which members present competing narratives about various aspects of the conflict, including the situation in Crimea.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Resolutions|
|17 February 2015S/RES/2202||This was a resolution that endorsed the “Package of measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements” signed on 12 February 2015.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|6 June 2018S/PRST/2018/12||This presidential statement expressed concern over the worsening security situation in eastern Ukraine and condemned continuous violations of the ceasefire, including the use of heavy weapons.|