Briefing on Ukraine Elections
This afternoon, the Security Council will hold a public meeting on the situation in Ukraine, at the request of the UK. Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, will brief the Council on the latest developments in Ukraine, particularly on the 25 May presidential elections. Aside from recent and election related developments Council members might be interested in hearing from Feltman on his 5-8 May visit to Kiev and Moscow as he has not yet briefed the Council on this visit. Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev (Ukraine) is expected to make a statement. This will be the Council’s third meeting this month on Ukraine.
Council members will be interested in hearing about the presidential elections in Ukraine and recent developments in the Donetsk region. The presidential election resulted in a decisive victory by Petro Poroshenko, who won 54 percent of the votes. (Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his main opponent, received only 13 percent of the votes.) The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitored the election with over 1000 short term observers deployed throughout Ukraine. Despite rising tensions and violence in the east of the country, the OSCE on 27 May declared the election, which registered a turnout of around 60%, legitimate. It is likely that in his statement Sergeyev will commend the citizens of Ukraine on the successful conduct of the elections.
Some members of the Council are likely to express concern that voting could not be held in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine due to security concerns, threats by separatists and a lack of territorial control by the central government. Unofficial reports indicate that voter turnout in these areas was low—10% in Donetsk, while Luhansk recorded a slightly higher turnout of around 17%. Elections were not held at all in Crimea and Sevastopol. Despite this, it is unlikely that the P3 and EU members of the Council will dispute the overall legitimacy of the elections. The elections have been welcomed by most Council members. Though Moscow has said that it will respect the outcome of the elections in Ukraine, Russia is likely to express concern about the ongoing military operations against the separatists in the east.
Council members are likely to be interested in how the election results will affect relations between Russia and Ukraine. Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, in a press conference in Moscow on 26 May, expressed his readiness to start a dialogue with the newly elected president of Ukraine. After declaring victory, Poroshenko also stated that Ukraine will engage in talks with Russia as well as leaders in south-eastern parts of the country who are demanding greater autonomy. With the election of a new president, Ukraine will likely begin to focus on diplomatic efforts towards resolution of the political crisis.
In general, the Council members are likely to commend the successful conduct of the presidential elections in Ukraine. Some Council members might also focus on the next steps in the process of de-escalating the crisis which would include parliamentary elections, and constitutional reform.
Council members may commend the OSCE for monitoring and facilitating the election process in Ukraine. Members are also expected to express their views on the role the OSCE could play following the elections. However, members are also likely to express concern about an OSCE monitoring team whose whereabouts are still unknown after they lost contact with the OSCE following heavy fighting in Donetsk.
Aside from the presidential elections, the Council will likely be interested in receiving more information on recent worrying developments in Donetsk. Heavy fighting erupted in and around Donetsk Airport on 26 May when Ukrainian forces tried to reclaim control of the airport, which had been under separatist control since earlier that day. The following day, the army managed to recapture the airport, inflicting heavy causalities on the separatist militia. The army reportedly used fighter jets and helicopters as well as paratroopers. At this afternoon’s meeting, Russia may suggest that Ukraine used excessive force against its own citizens and point to possible consequences of such action. In response, Sergeyev may raise the 22 May incident where Ukrainian forces were attacked at a checkpoint near Volnovakha, in Donetsk region. Other Council members are likely to express their concern about the highest levels of violence so far in the east.
Although today’s meeting was called with the aim of primarily discussing the elections and recent developments in Donetsk, other issues may be brought up. Sergeyev may raise the issue of illegal cross-border movements of armed groups from Russia into Ukraine. On 22 May, Ukraine sent a letter to the President of the Council in which it accused Russia of destabilising the situation in Ukraine and attempting to disrupt the elections. More specifically, the letter cited an attempt by several groups of armed militants escorting weapons and ammunition to cross the border of Ukraine from Russia. Ukraine accused Russia of not making any attempt to prevent the crossing and of violating Ukrainian airspace near Sumy Oblast, in north-eastern Ukraine.
These allegations by Ukraine were made as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on 19 May that he was moving Russian troops away from the border region with Ukraine. The Russian Defence Ministry has said that after being dismantled, the military equipment amassed near the border, will be transported to their bases of origin. On 22 May NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen confirmed that there was evidence of limited Russian troop movement near the border. However, Rasmussen stated that it is still too early to say whether this represents a genuine withdrawal effort.