Ukraine Briefing by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs
Tomorrow afternoon (21 January) the Security Council will hold a public briefing on Ukraine at the request of Lithuania. Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, will brief the Council on the latest developments and political situation in Ukraine. Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, the permanent representative of Ukraine to the UN, is also expected to participate in the meeting.
With this meeting, the Council will end the longest period of inactivity on Ukraine since it started the discussion of the issue in February 2014. The last meeting on Ukraine took place on 12 November when the Council was briefed by the representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the UN Department of Political Affairs. The situation on the ground in Ukraine has continued to evolve during the period of over two months since Council’s last meeting on the matter. Tomorrow’s session will likely afford the Council an opportunity to consider these developments.
Notwithstanding the Minsk agreement mandating a ceasefire and the 9 December truce imposed by the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the fighting has continued in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, with a reported upsurge in violence in the past two weeks especially. On 13 January, the shelling of a passenger bus in Volnovakha, Donetsk resulted in the deaths of 11 civilians and injuries to another 17, and prompted the Council to adopt a press statement (SC/11733) later that day condemning the act and underlining the need to conduct an objective investigation of the incident.
Fighting has been particularly intense in Donetsk as the government forces and rebels have continued to battle for control of the Donetsk airport. Both sides have sustained casualties, and there are reports of civilian deaths due to shelling of civilian areas surrounding the airport. At press time, both Ukrainian forces and the rebels are claiming to control the airport. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk asserted on 19 January that Ukrainian intelligence has confirmed that Russia continues to send weapons to the separatists.
Council members are likely to call on both the rebels and Ukraine to uphold the principles of the Minsk Agreement. However, as was the case in previous meetings on Ukraine, sharply different narratives about accountability for non-adherence to the agreement will be on display. Some members, mainly the P3 and other western countries, are likely to accuse Russia of violating the agreement by providing the rebels with military assistance. On the other hand, Russia is likely to blame the Ukrainian side for lack of implementation of the agreement and for its continued military operations in the east. Considering that this is the first time the Council is meeting on Ukraine this year, this will be an opportunity for incoming Council members to express their views on the issue.
Feltman is likely to discuss recent diplomatic efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. On 29 December 2014, President Poroshenko announced that a summit-level meeting would be held on 15 January in Astana, Kazakhstan, with the participation of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. Representatives of the foreign ministries of these four countries met several times in an effort to find sufficient common ground for holding such a summit. On 12 January, the prospects for holding the summit vanished after the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine failed to reach an agreement on settling the crisis in Ukraine. Council members may be interested in discussing how to reenergise the prospects for these talks.
Council members will also be keen to hear Feltman’s impressions of his visit to Ukraine on 16 and 17 December. While in Ukraine, Feltman held a range of meetings with Ukrainian officials including President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and reiterated “the need for a comprehensive political solution to the conflict in south-eastern Ukraine, in line with the Minsk process and President Poroshenko’s peace plan”.
Though the political situation is likely to dominate the discussion in the Council, some members could also chose to highlight the continually worsening human rights and humanitarian situation. According to the latest estimates, the death toll since the beginning of conflict has reached 4,800. Although the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) published its last report on the situation in Ukraine on 15 December, the Council did not meet to discuss the report as had been established practice following the publication of each previous HRMMU report. Some members may suggest that a meeting be held following the publication of the next HRMMU report due later this month.