Meeting on the situation in Ukraine
Tomorrow morning (11 December), the Council will hold a meeting on the situation in Ukraine at the request of Lithuania. At press time, briefings are expected from Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson; Chief Monitor of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission Ertugrul Apakan (via VTC); and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Ŝimonović. It seems that the UK has also requested that a representative from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs brief on the humanitarian situation. Ukraine, which will be a member of the Council from January 2016, may participate in accordance with Rule 37 of the Council’s Provisional Rules of Procedure. Russia—which wanted this meeting to focus on the political situation, particularly the implementation of the Minsk agreements— initially objected to a briefing on the human rights situation. However, at press time the political, humanitarian and human rights situations in Ukraine are all expected to be covered in tomorrow’s meeting.
This meeting will be the first one on the situation in Ukraine in six months. The last meeting held on 5 June focused on the political situation and implementation of the Minsk agreements (S/PV.7457). The lack of activity by the Council on Ukraine in recent months can be attributed to significant de-escalation of hostilities, as well as to the leading role being assumed by other international mechanisms, primarily the Normandy format (France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine) and the Trilateral Contact Group (Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE).
Issues related to the implementation of the Minsk agreements are likely to dominate the discussion tomorrow. Council members will want Feltman’s assessment of the political situation in Ukraine, especially in relation to the UN’s role in the process. Feltman is also expected to talk about the UN’s role in providing assistance to the local population through its various agencies.
With regard to the implementation of the Minsk agreement, numerous issues persist. In addition to a ceasefire and pullout of heavy weapons, the Minsk agreements require the restoration of Ukrainian control over its eastern border on successful completion of the local elections in rebel-held Donetsk and Lugansk, as well as constitutional reforms granting greater autonomy to these two regions. The original deadline set for this was the end of 2015. It is unlikely that this deadline will be met.
Feltman may provide some background to why local elections which were expected to be held on 25 October throughout the whole territory of Ukraine only took place in government-controlled areas. The elections in the rebel-controlled areas of Donetsk and Lugansk were postponed until February 2016. The authorities in rebel-held areas initially scheduled the elections for 18 October and 1 November under their own legislative framework, which was in violation of the Minsk agreements; these specify that the elections in rebel-held areas need to be conducted under Ukrainian law. Following a Normandy format high-level meeting in Paris on 2 October, the authorities in rebel-held areas agreed to postpone the elections until early 2016.
Considering that the OSCE is the primary organisation tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Minsk agreements, ceasefire and weapons withdrawal, Council members will be interested in more information from Apakan regarding the recent upsurge in ceasefire violations. Most of these violations have been the result of the use of small arms, rather than of heavy weapons. The latest ceasefire was agreed on 26 August and took effect on 1 September. The ceasefire initially held up well, but the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) has reported sporadic incidents of ceasefire violations in Donetsk and Lugansk areas over the last two weeks.
Apakan is also likely to brief the Council on any progress made in withdrawing heavy weapons from the ceasefire line. According to the 8 December OSCE report, the authorities in the rebel-held Donetsk region have yet to provide an inventory of heavy weapons and their storage locations, while authorities in Lugansk have done so. It seems the Ukrainian army has provided the list of weapons withdrawn, but has not provided the SMM with the exact locations where the weapons are stored.
In his briefing, Ŝimonović is likely to present the main findings of the latest report on the human rights situation issued by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine on 9 December. The report notes a significant decrease in hostilities which it attributes to withdrawal of heavy weapons and the ceasefire of 1 September. With the decrease in active fighting, most of the casualties in the reporting period came from incidents involving landmines and improvised explosive devices.
Although Russia might object, as it has in the past, to any discussion of Crimea which it now considers part of its own territory, some Council members might be particularly interested to hear Ŝimonović’s assessment of the human rights situation in Crimea which is also covered in the report. Since the start of the conflict in April last year, the total death toll has risen to around 9,000, while over 20,000 people have been injured. Furthermore, the report notes that there is still “an inflow of ammunition, weaponry and fighters from the Russian Federation into the territories controlled by the armed groups, leaving the situation highly flammable”. Some Council members may be interested in more details about these weapons and fighters. Russia denies any presence in the area.
Members of the Council are likely to find the briefing by the OCHA representative useful given the dire humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine which is expected to get worse during winter. Members may also want to know more about the difficulties in delivering humanitarian aid in rebel-held areas. In September the authorities in these areas imposed a ban on various humanitarian agencies (including UN agencies) citing failure to meet accreditation requirements as the reason. UN agencies resumed deliveries of humanitarian aid once the ban was lifted in October. However, additional aid to the area is needed given the number of people — OCHA estimates around 5 million — affected by conflict.