What's In Blue

Posted Mon 3 Mar 2014

Briefing on Developments in Ukraine

Following a request by Russia, this afternoon the Security Council will be briefed by Oscar Fernández-Taranco from the Department of Political Affairs in a public meeting on the situation in Ukraine. It seems that Ukraine will speak following statements from Council members. This will be the third meeting of the Council on Ukraine since Friday (28 February).

Events have moved swiftly following the 28 February takeover of the Crimean government buildings and airports in Simferopol and Sevastopol by armed militias loyal to Russia which led to a call by Ukraine for the issue to be considered bythe Security Council. The following day (1 March) the government of Crimea, which enjoys a substantial degree of autonomy within Ukraine, appealed for help from Russia due to the alleged threats to its majority Russian population and the deteriorating situation in Ukraine. Acting on a request by President Vladimir Putin, the Russian parliament (Upper House) approved the use of military forces in Ukraine. Russia has justified sending Russian troops into Crimea as necessary to protect Russian citizens in Crimea.

On Friday afternoon the Council was briefed by Fernández-Taranco in a private meeting in which Ukraine also spoke. This was followed by consultations. On Saturday (1 March) the UK called for a meeting which was eventually scheduled for 2 pm with Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefing. It took two hours for Council members to make a decision on whether the meeting would be open or closed. It seems that Russia wanted a closed meeting, while a number of other countries pressed for it to be open. Eventually it was agreed that it would be open with only Eliasson and the permanent representatives of Russia and Ukraine speaking. However, in the end France, the UK and the US also made statements. The open meeting was followed by consultations.

Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev (Ukraine) told the Council that the decision of Russia to send troops to Ukraine constituted an act of aggression. He called on the Council to prevent further aggression and attacks on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Eliasson updated the Council on developments in Ukraine since Friday afternoon and reiterated a call for direct dialogue between the parties. Russia defended its position and stressed that the local government in Crimea had formally requested Russian military assistance and that the possibility of the use of force would remain until the crisis is resolved. The US called for an end to Russia’s intervention and for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty to be respected. It also suggested that international monitors from the UN or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe be deployed in Crimea to report on the facts on the ground. The UK echoed the US’ sentiments about the violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and called for Russia to take steps to decrease tensions while France called for a political solution to the crisis.

The situation in Ukraine has led to a flurry of diplomatic activity for a number of Council members. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague travelled to Kiev on 2 March and held a series of meetings with the interim government. Speaking to the press Hague said Russia had a legitimate interest in the region but also pointed out that its actions are illegitimate and require a response by the international community, including possible economic sanctions and other forms of pressures aimed at isolating Russia. In media appearances this Sunday, the US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Russia to stop the aggression or face serious consequences such as economic sanctions, travel bans and asset freezes. The US and other members of the G8 have suspended their preparations for the G8 summit which is expected to take place in Sochi, Russia, this June. Kerry has also suggested that Russia could be expelled from the G8 as a result of its actions but this suggestion does not seem to have garnered much support from other G8 members. Kerry is due to arrive in Kiev tomorrow and will meet with the interim government.

A key consideration for Council members now is the role that the UN and more specifically the Council, can play in resolving this crisis. Among the suggestions made has been for UN mediation. The Secretary-General’s Senior Advisor, Robert Serry, was in Ukraine as the situation deteriorated in Crimea but was unable to travel there over the weekend and instead went to Geneva to brief the Secretary-General on the situation. In addition, the Secretary-General on 2 March sent Eliasson to Kiev to assess developments there following which he is expected to brief the Secretary-General on possible next steps to help de-escalate the situation.

Council members are likely to be thinking about what sort of role the Council would play if the OSCE or the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) got involved. It seems that during the consultations on Saturday one Council member suggested the idea of a Quartet made up of Russia, OSCE, the UN and the EU, to help mediate the situation. However, it seems that for many Council members it is too early for a clear position to have emerged on the role of the Council and its interaction with other regional or subregional organizations.

It may also be difficult for the Council to ignore the assurances given by the P5 as Guarantor States through the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 (S/1994/1399) as well as individual statements to refrain from the threat of or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine in exchange for nuclear disarmament if Ukraine makes a specific request for Council assistance. The impact of ignoring such assurances on future nuclear disarmament scenarios may be an issue of concern for some members.

Members are clearly aware that no Council decision on the situation in Ukraine, or for that matter in Crimea, will be possible without buy-in from Russia. If the Council becomes effectively deadlocked, due to the threat or use of the veto, Council members or others could explore other avenues, including a referral of the situation to the General Assembly under Uniting for Peace (General Assembly resolution 377 (V) of 3 November 1950). This was done in 1980 after Russia vetoed a draft resolution (S/13729) deploring its invasion of Afghanistan. On 9 January 1980, the Council adopted resolution 462 (Russia voted against, but because of the procedural nature of the question its non-concurring vote was not a veto) calling for an emergency session of the General Assembly. At that session the General Assembly adopted resolution ES-6/2 of 14 January 1980, which strongly deplored the armed intervention and called for the immediate, unconditional and total withdrawal of the foreign troops from Afghanistan.

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