Tomorrow afternoon (18 February), the Security Council will hold a briefing on the situation in Ukraine. Russia requested the meeting to mark the fifth anniversary of the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”, also known as the Minsk II agreement, adopted on 12 February 2015, and to discuss its implementation. The Council endorsed the agreement in resolution 2202 adopted on 17 February 2015. The efforts of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine are also expected to be an important aspect of the meeting. Briefings are expected from Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo; Heidi Grau, Special Representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Chairperson-in-Office (via VTC); and OSCE Special Monitoring Mission Chief Monitor Halit Çevik (via VTC).
This is the second time Russia has requested the meeting on the occasion of the anniversary of the Minsk II agreement. The first such meeting was held last year on 12 February. As was the case last year, the meeting will take place just days before the (20 February) debate in the General Assembly on the agenda item “The situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”. It appears that some members questioned the motivation behind the timing of the Russian request, given their view that the situation on the ground has not changed dramatically and that the Council meeting might be used to draw attention away from the meeting in the General Assembly.
In her briefing, DiCarlo is likely to provide a more general overview of the situation in the country, including the humanitarian situation in the east, and make some observations on recent developments on the diplomatic front. She may emphasise the lack of meaningful progress on the implementation of the Minsk agreements, particularly in achieving a permanent ceasefire on the ground. DiCarlo will probably welcome the 9 December 2019 meeting of the Normandy format—a group consisting of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine that was created in 2014 to resolve the conflict in Ukraine—that took place in Paris. At the meeting, Russia and Ukraine agreed on several confidence-building measures, including prisoner exchanges, the creation of new disengagement areas, and the opening of new crossing points along the contact line. This was the first meeting of the Normandy format since 2016 and the first time newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Following up on the agreement on confidence-building measures in Paris, Russia and Ukraine exchanged 200 prisoners on 29 December 2019.
Given the OSCE’s formal role in observing and facilitating the implementation of the Minsk agreements and its presence on the ground in Ukraine, Çevik and Grau are likely to provide more specific information on the situation in the eastern part of the country. In his 7 February remarks to the OSCE Permanent Council, Çevik noted that there have been some positive developments regarding disengagement in certain agreed areas. He emphasised, however, that achieving a permanent ceasefire remains crucial for further progress. During 2019, OSCE SMM recorded a decrease in the number of ceasefire violations and casualty numbers in comparison with previous years. The mission still faces restrictions on its freedom of movement, which hamper its ability to fully implement its mandate.
This will be the first meeting of the Council specifically on the situation in Ukraine this year, although Council members had the opportunity to discuss Ukraine, among other issues, earlier this month in the context of the briefing by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office. Deep divisions, particularly between Russia and P3 members (France, the UK and the US), mark Council dynamics on Ukraine. Russia has consistently blamed Ukraine for the lack of implementation of the Minsk agreements. On the other hand, P3 members have accused Russia of interfering in eastern Ukraine and violating international law in connection with the annexation of Crimea.