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Briefing on Ukraine by UN Head of Political Affairs and the Prime Minister of Ukraine

Tomorrow (13 March) the Council will hold a public meeting on Ukraine which will be chaired by Jean Asselborn, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Luxembourg. Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, will brief the Council on the latest developments in Ukraine, after which the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is expected to address the Council.

This meeting of the Council comes at a time of growing tensions in Ukraine as Crimea moves towards a referendum on its secession scheduled for this Sunday (16 March). During its last meeting on Ukraine held on 10 March, the majority of the Council members expressed concern about the possible consequences of the Crimean referendum and inability of international observers to enter Crimea and make an assessment of the situation on the ground. The referendum in Crimea is also likely to be a focus of the meeting tomorrow. Yatsenyuk is expected to condemn the referendum and reiterate that it would be illegal under both the Ukrainian and Crimean constitutions. This is a view that is shared by a number of Council members. Yatsenyuk is also likely to convey Ukraine’s position on the developments in Crimea since late February.

Criticism for the referendum has also come from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which has stated that the Crimean referendum is in contradiction with the Ukrainian Constitution and therefore illegal. The OSCE rejected an invitation from Crimean authorities to monitor the referendum as it does not see Crimea as separate country or a member of the organisation.

The Group of Seven industrialised nations issued a statement on 12 March condemning Russia for a clear violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and called on Russia to address any security and human rights concerns in direct negotiations with Ukraine or through international mediation under the auspices of the UN or the OSCE. It also said that it would not recognise the results of the referendum.

There have been a number of diplomatic attempts to bring Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table but so far they have not succeeded. Council members are following these efforts closely and will be interested in getting Yatsenyuk’s views on the steps taken so far. Members are also likely to be interested in the statement by Asselborn as he was in Kiev on 10 March, together with the foreign ministers of Belgium and the Netherlands. The three foreign ministers reiterated their support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and called for authorities in Kiev to ensure democratic elections and an inclusive government.

On 12 March, US Secretary of State, John Kerry and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov talked once again about the possible solutions to the crisis in Ukraine. However, no agreement has been reached so far and there is still no clear response from the Russian side regarding the proposal for a contact group or calls for Russia to withdraw its troops from Crimea. According to the US State Department, Kerry and Lavrov are set to meet again this Friday in London.

The need for monitoring of the situation in Crimea continues to be a concern for Council members, and the last week has shown how difficult this may be to carry out. The OSCE military observer mission has not managed to gain access to Crimea after being denied entry three times by the armed forces controlling the administrative borders. According to the OSCE spokesperson the observer mission will try to visit eastern parts of Ukraine and make the assessment of the situation there while also continuing to attempt to enter Crimea in the coming days.

Earlier this week the Secretary-General dispatched Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, to assess the situation in Ukraine. However, Šimonović was unable to get into Crimea as Simferopol airport was closed to flights coming from other parts of Ukraine Šimonović was able to meet with authorities in Kharkiv in eastern Ukrainean well as members of civil society to discuss the allegations of human rights abuses in the country. Last week, Robert Serry, the Secretary-General’s senior envoy, was forced to leave Crimea soon after his arrival there on 5 March. Without any international presence in Crimea, it has been difficult for Council members to receive information on the situation on the ground, particularly in the lead-up to the referendum.

Since 28 February, the Council has met five times to discuss Ukraine in various formats. Some Council members appear to be getting frustrated by Russia’s unchanging position on the situation. So far it seems Russia has not been willing to engage in any real discussion which has made some Council members question the value of having consultations. However, there is still little appetite to push for an outcome tomorrow. Even though P3 and the EU members of the Council hold a firm position on the illegality of the referendum, it is less clear if they are ready to do anything more than reiterate earlier statements related to the actions by Crimean authorities and Russia.

With the referendum scheduled for this Sunday, Council members are likely to want to follow the situation on the ground closely and wait to see if diplomatic efforts, specifically between Russia and the US, will result in any viable solution for de-escalating the crisis. It seems likely that there will be another meeting next week soon after the referendum. Depending on developments, it is possible that at that time some members of the Council might be more assertive in pushing for action by the Council.

In the meantime, there are some indications that there will be an informal meeting of the General Assembly on Ukraine next week requested by Ukraine. In light of lack of action by the Council, a General Assembly resolution cannot be ruled out. However, at this stage, it is unclear how much support there would be for action in the General Assembly and what effect such a resolution could have on the situation.

Earlier today, Yatsenyuk met with Kerry and later on with US President Barack Obama at the White House. By meeting with Yatsenyuk, Obama was sending a clear message of support for the new Ukrainian authorities and for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. Following the meeting Obama warned that there would be “a cost to Russia’s violation of international law”. Among the topics discussed were strategies for a peaceful resolution to the situation, the Crimean referendum and financial aid for Ukraine.

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