What's In Blue

Posted Wed 10 Feb 2021

Ukraine Briefing

Tomorrow morning (11 February), the Security Council will hold a briefing via videoconference (VTC) on the situation in Ukraine. Russia requested the meeting to mark the 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 agreement laid out steps for ending the conflict and for its political settlement. 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; and OSCE Special Monitoring Mission Chief Monitor Halit Çevik.

The Council endorsed the agreement in resolution 2202 adopted on 17 February 2015. In a presidential statement adopted in June 2018, the Council reiterated the need for strict compliance with resolution 2202 and encouraged parties to implement the measures set out in the Minsk agreements, as well as other agreements reached within the Normandy format—a group consisting of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine that was created in 2014 to resolve the conflict in Ukraine—and the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), which consists of the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine.

In her briefing, DiCarlo is expected to provide a more general overview of the situation in Ukraine, including the humanitarian situation in the east, effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and developments related to the political settlement of the conflict. She is likely to reiterate the importance of the Minsk agreements as the sole framework for a negotiated settlement, and may express concern over their lack of implementation.

The last high-level meeting of the Normandy format took place in Paris in December 2019. At that 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. Briefers, as well as Council members, are likely to call on the parties to fulfil the commitments they made at the Paris meeting, on which there has been no substantial progress in implementation.

Some members might draw attention to the dire humanitarian situation in Ukraine, where 3.4 million people are projected to need humanitarian assistance in 2021, according to OCHA. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the humanitarian situation. In her 5 February briefing to UN member states, Reena Ghelani, OCHA’s Director of Operations and Advocacy, said that humanitarian needs are most severe in areas beyond government control where access continues to be limited.

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 specific information on the situation in the eastern part of the country. OSCE continues to play a crucial role in facilitating the political process through its participation in the TCG. In July 2020, the TCG reached an agreement on additional measures to strengthen the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. In his 4 February briefing to the OSCE Permanent Council, Çevik noted that lower levels of violence were observed after the ceasefire agreement. He emphasised that despite this positive development, no meaningful progress has been made on the political front. Council members are likely to reiterate their widespread support for the work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission during the meeting. Some members might emphasise the need to allow the mission unhindered access to all areas in eastern Ukraine to fulfil its mandate.

This will be the third time Russia has requested a meeting to mark the anniversary of the Minsk II agreement and discuss the status of its implementation. Previous meetings were held in February of 2020 and 2019. These Council meetings have taken place ahead of the annual debate in the General Assembly on the agenda item “The situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”. This year, the General Assembly meeting will take place on 23 February.

Deep divisions, particularly between Russia, on the one hand, and the US and European members of the Council, on the other, colour Council dynamics on Ukraine. Russia has consistently blamed Ukraine for the lack of implementation of the Minsk agreements. Countries such as France, the UK and the US have accused Russia of interfering in eastern Ukraine and violating international law in connection with the annexation of Crimea.

The meeting will provide an opportunity for new Council members (India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway) to present their positions on the issue. Although there has been a change in the US administration following the inauguration of Joe Biden as president in January, no significant shift is expected in the US position on Ukraine in the Council.