Briefing on Ukraine by the Department of Political Affairs and OSCE
This afternoon (12 November), at the request of the US, the Council will have a public meeting on the situation in Ukraine. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jens Anders Toyberg-Frandzen is expected to brief. The Chief Monitor of the Special OSCE Monitoring Mission, Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan (Turkey), and the chair of the Trilateral Contact Group, Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini (Switzerland) will address the Security Council by video tele-conference. (The Trilateral Contact Group is made up of Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE.) The Council was last briefed on the human rights and political situation in Ukraine on 24 October. Discussions will likely focus on the 2 November unilateral elections in the east, the October parliamentary elections and reports that Russian forces and military materiel have entered rebel-held areas of Ukraine.
Council members are likely to be highly interested in the briefing by the OSCE representatives, given their direct involvement in the situation in Ukraine. The current Ukrainian crisis was first brought to the attention of the Council on 24 February during the annual briefing by the Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE. Since then, the OSCE has taken the lead on the issue and has a prominent presence on the ground. It also plays a crucial role in multilateral diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, including through its participation in the Trilateral Contact Group.
The most pressing issue for many Council members seems to be recurrent fighting in the east and the latest reports of an increased flow of military supplies, weapons and personnel from Russia to eastern Ukraine. Some Council members will be particularly interested in what the OSCE will say about Russia’s presence in Ukraine. On 8 November, the OSCE Monitoring Mission reported that it had observed a convoy of trucks, tanks and personnel baring no insignia in the Donetsk region. In addition, NATO also reported Russian troop buildup on the border with Ukraine, and expressed concern about the illegal flow of weapons and personnel from Russia to separatist-held areas of Ukraine. In the past week the OSCE Monitoring Mission reported heavy fighting and shelling in Donetsk. Fighting has also been reported near the city of Lugansk. While there has been continued sporadic fighting in Donetsk since the ceasefire agreement on 5 September, the fighting became more intense following the 2 November elections in separatist-controlled areas. According to media reports the fighting culminated in the early morning hours of 9 November when heavy artillery fire in Donetsk was observed.
Echoing recent reactions from their respective capitals, the P3 and Western members of the Council are likely to register serious concern over Russia’s reported support for the separatists and violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
Another important issue for Council members will be the current state of the implementation of the Minsk Agreement signed in September. Among other provisions, the agreement called for Ukraine to grant limited self-rule to the separatist-held areas and organise local elections in those areas in accordance with Ukrainian law. However, on 2 November separatists unilaterally held elections in the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. Immediately, Ukraine and the EU condemned the elections declaring them illegitimate and in violation of the Minsk Agreement. Following the election, Russia said that it respected the will of the people in southeastern Ukraine and called for dialogue between the central authorities and representatives of Donbas in accordance with the Minsk Agreement.
In October, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a law granting special status to Donetsk and Lugansk in an effort to de-escalate the crisis but proposed annulling the law the day after. He also decided to reinforce Ukraine’s military presence in the areas bordering rebel-held territory. In the meantime, the fighting between the Ukrainian armed forces and separatists has intensified, diminishing the chances of maintaining the ceasefire as part of the Minsk Agreement.
In addition to the immediate bilateral ceasefire, some of the other provisions of the Minsk Agreement include Russia-Ukraine border monitoring by the OSCE and withdrawal of illegal armed groups and military equipment from Ukraine. Most of the provisions of the agreement have not been implemented. Council members will likely have differing views as to who is responsible for these violations, with the West holding Russia and the separatists to account, while Russia will likely point the finger at Ukraine.
It is possible that some Council members will directly accuse Russia of playing a role in the deterioration of the situation, highlighting its position on the elections in the east and supply of weapons to separatists. On the other hand, Russia will likely call on Ukraine to adhere to the Minsk Agreement and stop its military operations in the east and engage in dialogue with the rebels. Considering her role in Trilateral Group, Tagliavini’s briefing will be of particular interest considering the fragile status of the Minsk Agreement facilitated by the Trilateral Contact Group.
On 26 October, Ukraine held parliamentary elections throughout most of its territory. However, the elections could not be conducted in the separatist-held districts of Donetsk and Lugansk or Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in March. As a result, 27 out of 450 parliamentary seats remain vacant. The OSCE monitored the elections in government-controlled areas and commended the Ukrainian authorities for conducting free and fair elections but expressed regret that the population of Crimea and rebel-held areas in the east could not exercise their right to vote. Some members may be looking for an indication of how the elections results might affect the possibility of a political solution to the situation in Ukraine. It seems likely that political parties with a pro-European orientation will hold the majority of seats in the Parliament.
Another issue that some Council members are tracking closely and that may come up later in the year is the investigation of the downing and recovery efforts of Malaysia Air flight 17 (MH17). The Council discussed the MH17 preliminary investigation report on 19 September and since then the discussion of the issue has been limited to brief references by some Council members. Though all passengers have been identified, nine bodies are still missing. Fighting in the area of the crash site has hindered further investigation efforts. During the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum held in Beijing this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin met separately with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Rezak and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot on the issue of flight MH17. All three leaders reiterated their support for a prompt, full and objective investigation of the disaster in accordance with the Council resolution 2166. Next year Malaysia will be assuming a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, which could prompt further discussion of this issue in the Council.
In addition, the seventh report of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine is due to be published later this month. As has been the case in the past, the Council may meet to be briefed on the humanitarian and human rights situation following the publication of the report.