What's In Blue

Posted Mon 16 Jun 2014

Ukraine Briefing by Under Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator

This afternoon (16 June) at 3:00 pm the Council expects to hold consultations on Ukraine. Under Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos will brief the Council (via VTC) on the humanitarian situation in the country. This will mark the first time that Amos will brief the Council on Ukraine.

The Council met on Ukraine most recently on 28 May, shortly after the 25 May presidential elections. Despite hopes that the newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko would be able to engage diplomatically with the separatists and deescalate tensions in the east, the violence continued. Heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists continued in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, claiming increasing numbers of causalities on both sides.

Almost immediately after assuming the Council presidency this month, on 2 June, Russia proposed its first draft resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. The draft called for an immediate cessation of fire, humanitarian corridors for civilians “trapped in besieged areas” and respect of the 17 April Geneva statement, among other things. It seems that the initial draft did not receive wide support from Council members. While several Council members tried to engage with Russia on the draft, no significant suggestions were taken on board by Russia as a penholder.

There were a number of reasons for uneasiness about the draft among some Council members. Primarily, they share the view that the situation in Ukraine is a political rather than a humanitarian crisis. Also, most Council members wanted the draft to make a clear reference to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, which Russia appeared unwilling to do. With a lack of credible information on the humanitarian situation, the majority of the Council welcomed proposals to have additional assessments of the humanitarian situation by agencies such as the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Based on public statements by the Russian delegation, it was apparent that Russia wanted to put the resolution to the vote as soon as possible, citing the urgency of the situation. However, other Council members preferred to wait for additional information about the humanitarian situation before moving forward with the draft. It seems that Russia did not make any significant concessions on the language of the draft, which caused the negotiations to stall.

On 12 June, Russia presented a second draft resolution on Ukraine. In comparison with the first draft resolution, focused solely on humanitarian situation, the second draft focused on the political situation in Ukraine as well. The draft called for the implementation of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) Roadmap, based on the Geneva statement of 17 April. In addition, the draft condemned attacks on civilians and residential areas using prohibited weapons.

This draft resolution did not reflect suggestions expressed by most Council members during the negotiations on the first draft resolution proposed by Russia. In particular, some Council members were again concerned that the draft did not make any references to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, nor did it make reference to the need for credible assessments of the humanitarian situation on the ground. After negotiations at the deputy permanent representative level, the only changes on the draft seem to be the addition of a paragraph condemning all forms of terrorist activities and politically motivated attacks and killings.

At press time, negotiations, which had been scheduled for today, were cancelled due to the developments of the ground over the weekend. Violence continued to intensify in the south eastern parts of Ukraine. In the midst of heavy clashes between Ukrainian forces and separatists, a Ukrainian military plane was shot down by the separatists on 14 June, killing all 49 people on board. This incident provoked demonstrations in front of the Russian embassy in Kiev, which turned violent after the protestors vandalised the embassy and tore down the Russian flag. Russia immediately accused the Ukrainian government of inaction to prevent the attack and protect the embassy staff.

On the same day, for the third time since assuming the Council presidency, Russia attempted to take action on the situation in Ukraine at the Security Council by proposing a press statement denouncing the attack on its embassy in Kiev but not mentioning the downing of the Ukrainian aircraft. Silence procedure was broken on 14 June by Lithuania, which offered a counter-proposal that kept the Russian draft intact, but also requested the inclusion of a paragraph condemning the downing of a Ukrainian military plane in Lugansk. At press time, the status of this draft statement also remains unclear. Furthermore, it remained unclear if and when the Council would reengage in negotiations on the resolution text.

Some have questioned the timing of today’s consultations, which was requested by Russia. This sentiment will likely be echoed by some Council members at the consultations. While some Council members have noted the need for additional reporting on the humanitarian situation, it does not seem likely that OCHA and Amos will be able to provide a comprehensive assessment of the situation in Ukraine at this point. This is mainly due to OCHA’s lack of resources in Ukraine and its current minimal physical presence there, meaning that it will likely need more time and resources to conduct a full humanitarian assessment.

In spite of the political maneuvering that has occasioned the Council’s recent discussions on Ukraine, Council members will be very interested to hear Amos’ assessment of the humanitarian situation in the country. Some Council members remain amenable to discussing the issue, but believe that more comprehensive information is needed before they are able to accurately assess the humanitarian situation. Should a majority of the members find Amos’ assessment of the situation in Ukraine sufficient in proving Russian claims of humanitarian crisis in the country, Russia might be in a position to restart the negotiations on the draft resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. (To date, most Council members have found the reporting of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine [HRMMU] to be objective and comprehensive, although Russia has expressed its opinion that the reporting has been biased. The next HRMMU report is expected to be released on 17 June.)

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