Ukraine Meeting on MH17 Investigation Report
Following a request from Russia, the Security Council will have a briefing tomorrow morning (19 September) on the Dutch Safety Board’s (DSB) preliminary investigation report (S/2014/657) on the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which was circulated to the Council on 9 September. Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, is expected to brief. It seems that some Council members might be represented at the level of foreign minister. Ukraine and other concerned countries are expected to take part in the meeting. (Rule 37 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council allows a member to participate in discussions when its interests are affected, contingent on Council members’ consent.)
Four days after the 17 July downing of flight MH17, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2166 condemning the downing of a civilian airline on an international flight and expressing full support for efforts to establish a thorough and independent international investigation into the incident. The resolution also demanded cessation of all hostilities in the area of the crash in order not to compromise the evidence and the investigation as a whole, as well as to allow for the safety and security of the international investigation. Finally the resolution requested “the Secretary-General to identify possible options for United Nations support to the investigation and to report to the Security Council on relevant developments”.
The international investigation team was coordinated by the DSB and was made up of representatives of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the European Aviation Safety Agency, as well as experts from Australia, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Russia, Ukraine, the UK and the US.
The report found that the damage on the forward fuselage and cockpit section indicated that “there were impacts from a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft”, and that the distribution of the aircraft structure over a large area indicates that it “broke up in the air”. The report however does not provide information about the origins of the objects that hit the airplane. Another important finding of the report is that that the pilots did not make any distress calls prior to the crash suggesting that the downing was caused by a sudden incident. The final report, which is likely to contain more information, is expected to be published within one year.
Previously, on 18 August Russia asked for a briefing on the MH17 investigation under “any other business” following a meeting on the Middle East. Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, provided a short briefing on the ongoing efforts and stated that more information will be available following the publication of the report. It is unclear if Feltman will be able tomorrow to provide any more information than that contained in the DSB report. However, Council members might take the opportunity to ask about Feltman’s visit to Kiev earlier this month as well as his assessment of the political situation in Ukraine.
At tomorrow’s meeting Russia is likely to reiterate concerns raised by Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia in interviews to the press about the MH17 report and the investigation itself. Lavrov has stated that the report does not contain any new findings, but rather repeats the already known facts and he has questioned the independence of the report. He also said that Russian experts are preparing questions that need to be urgently considered. It is unclear if Russia might raise some of these questions during the briefing tomorrow.
Russia is also likely to emphasise the importance of fully implementing resolution 2166, which called for cessation of hostilities in the immediate area surrounding the crash site area. On 14 September, the six members of the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) came under fire in close proximity to the flight MH17 crash site after conducting an onsite assessment of the site. This and other reports still point to continued sporadic fighting in the area.
Russia could also question the comprehensiveness of the report. The investigation had to be stopped in early August due to intense fighting in the area of the crash site, preventing investigators from gaining full access to the evidence material. Other members of the Council, particularly the P3 and the Western countries, will likely commend the report and the investigation itself. Some of these members, as was the case in previous meetings, could once again blame pro-Russian separatists—and indirectly Russia—for the downing of the plane. Russia will likely point out again that the incident should not be politicised, especially when there is no clear evidence of who is responsible. In general, the majority of Council members do not appear to have any major issues with how the investigation has been conducted. However, the inability of the investigators to continue their work on the crash site due to continued fighting may be a cause of concern for the members of the Council.
The meeting is likely to be of particular interest to those members of the Council that lost their nationals in the crash, particularly Australia, the UK and the US. These members seem to be content with the preliminary report and are likely to extend their support to DSB. At press time it was unclear which other concerned countries who are not members of the Council would be participating.
Even though the main purpose of the meeting will be the discussion of the report and the investigation into the MH17 downing, it is possible that Feltman and some members of the Council will also use this opportunity to address the political situation in Ukraine. On 5 September, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a ceasefire agreement with the representatives of the pro-Russian separatists. The deal was brokered under the auspices of the trilateral contact group on Ukraine, consisting of representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE. Despite the sporadic violations and continued fighting between the Ukrainian government forces and separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk, the agreement still holds. Some members of the Council are likely to use tomorrow’s meeting to show their support for the agreement while urging both sides to uphold their commitments. As was the case on previous occasions, Russia might point out violations of the ceasefire by Ukrainian forces, while the P3 and Western countries could urge Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine and end its support for the separatists.
This will be the first Council meeting on Ukraine in September. The last meeting took place on 28 August following reports of Russian troops entering the territory of Ukraine. That same day, the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine published its fifth report on the human rights situation in Ukraine. The Council has been briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović following the publication of each of the first four reports. Therefore, there is a possibility that there may be interest in discussing this report later, after the conclusion of the high-level General Assembly Plenary period.