Meeting on the Situation in Ukraine
Tomorrow afternoon (2 February), the Security Council will hold an open meeting on the situation in Ukraine. Briefings are expected by: Jeffrey Feltman, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs; John Ging, Director of the Operational Division at OCHA; and Ertugrul Apakan, the Chief Monitor of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) (via VTC). Ukraine requested the meeting following the latest hostilities in eastern Ukraine.
On Tuesday (31 January), Council members discussed under “any other business” the deteriorating situation in Donetsk region, particularly in the government-controlled town of Avdiyivka. By initiating this meeting, Ukraine wanted to draw the Council’s attention to the latest round of violence in Avdiyivka and the dire humanitarian consequences there. At the meeting, Ukraine proposed a draft press statement which was later adopted without any changes to the text. In the statement, Council members condemned the use of heavy weapons prohibited by the Minsk Agreements, while expressing support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. In addition, the statement called for an immediate return to a ceasefire as well as the adherence to resolution 2202 which endorsed and called for full implementation of the package of measures for the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
The shelling in Avdiyivka has damaged critical infrastructure and deprived the residents of heating, electricity and water supplies, amid below freezing temperatures. According to some estimates, around 20,000 people have been directly affected. At one point, the government of Ukraine even considered the possibility of evacuating the residents. However, it seems that the government has restored minimal levels of heating and electricity services, therefore avoiding the prospect of mass evacuation. In his briefing, Ging is likely to provide information on more specific humanitarian needs in eastern Ukraine. According to the latest reports by OCHA, around 3.8 million people in Ukraine are in need of humanitarian assistance while there are over one million displaced. The humanitarian situation is further complicated by harsh winter conditions and shortage of basic services, especially in the areas along the contact line.
Though mostly sporadic, the fighting in Ukraine has continued throughout 2016 despite several ceasefire agreements reached between the sides. A major escalation of violence was observed at the end of January, intensifying in the past four days. According to the Ukrainian government, at least nine soldiers have been killed and dozens injured since the fighting began on Sunday. There are reports of significant civilian casualties on both sides. In a statement issued on 31 January, Apakan called for the immediate cessation of hostilities, expressing grave concern regarding the effects of fighting on the local civilian population. He noted that the SMM has, over the past couple of days, observed “thousands of ceasefire violations on a daily basis, including the use of prohibited weapons in violation of the Minsk Agreements”.
Council members will be interested in hearing more details from Apakan regarding the latest surge of violence, as the OSCE remains the leading organisation on the ground and is charged with monitoring the implementation of the provisions of the Minsk Agreements. In addition, the OSCE plays an important role in facilitating the political process, through its participation in the Trilateral Contact Group, which also includes representatives of Russia and Ukraine.
On 1 February, the Trilateral Contact Group held an emergency session, during which it called for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons from the contact line. In addition, the Group called for safe passage for the OSCE monitors and enabling of humanitarian assistance in the affected areas.
Given that the UN plays a limited role in Ukraine, it is likely that Feltman will not be able to provide the Council will more detailed information on the situation on the ground or the political situation. However, Feltman is likely to reiterate support for the Minsk Agreements and for diplomatic efforts within the Normandy format involving France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. In addressing the media this Tuesday, Ukrainian ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko emphasised the importance of having some sort of UN presence on the ground. According to Yelchenko, this would help provide better information to the Council, so that it would not need to rely on briefings by the OSCE, which already has many tasks to perform.
In the initial phases of the conflict, especially in 2014 and 2015, the Council discussed the situation in Ukraine regularly. Over the course of 2016, the Council addressed issues related to Ukraine less frequently and mainly within closed or informal meetings such as consultations, under “any other business” and Arria-formula meetings. The last time the Council held an open meeting was on 28 April 2016, also at the request of Ukraine. The meeting will provide an opportunity for incoming Council members (Bolivia, Ethiopia, Italy, Kazakhstan and Sweden) to present their positions on the issue. Given the change of administration in the US, members will be particularly interested in whether there will be any change in the US position.