Ukraine: Meeting under the “Threats to International Peace and Security” Agenda Item
Tomorrow morning (17 February), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on Ukraine under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item. Russia requested the meeting to mark the eighth 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. The expected briefers are Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas Miroslav Jenča and Martin Sajdik, former Special Representative of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group. Germany and Ukraine are expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Since 2019, Russia has organised a meeting annually on the occasion of the anniversary of the Minsk II agreement. This year’s meeting will take place in the altered context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. The last annual Council meeting on the Minsk II agreement took place on 17 February 2022, a week before Russia started its military incursion. Council members’ sharply opposing views on the implementation of the Minsk II agreement and whether it has played a role in fuelling large-scale conflict in Ukraine are likely to colour the discussions at tomorrow’s briefing.
This year’s proceedings at the General Assembly around the anniversary of the Minsk II agreement will depart from past practice. In previous years, the Council meeting on the Minsk II agreement has preceded the annual General Assembly debate on the agenda item “The situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”, typically scheduled for 23 February. This year, however, Ukraine has requested the resumption of the 11th Emergency Special Session (ESS) on 22 February, during which UN member states will vote on a draft resolution underlining the principles of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in Ukraine. The draft text underscores the need to reach, as soon as possible, a peaceful settlement consistent with the UN Charter, including the principles of sovereign equality and territorial integrity. In this regard, the text reiterates the General Assembly’s demand that Russia withdraw all its forces from Ukraine.
The Minsk agreements—Minsk I (signed on 5 September 2014) and Minsk II—outlined steps for ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine through a political settlement. The conflict, which erupted shortly after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, involved fighting between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists in the two regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The Minsk II agreement—signed by Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE, and former separatist leaders Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitski—was endorsed by the Security Council in resolution 2202 of 17 February 2015. It stipulated a ceasefire in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and the withdrawal of military equipment by both sides. The agreement included a commitment by Kyiv to organise local elections and grant special status to the separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine. It also called for the withdrawal of “all foreign armed formations, military equipment, as well as mercenaries” from Ukraine and the reinstatement of Ukraine’s full control over its border.
The agreement failed to achieve tangible progress. From the outset of the conflict until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, fighting claimed the lives of more than 14,000 people, including approximately 3,000 civilians, and injured more than 7,000 civilians, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Russia and Ukraine have held divergent interpretations of the Minsk II agreement, particularly regarding the sequencing of steps for its implementation. Moscow insisted that Kyiv must first implement the political commitments and enact constitutional amendments recognising the special status of Donetsk and Luhansk. Kyiv maintained that security measures took precedence, and that a ceasefire had to be established with Ukraine regaining control of its territory.
Moscow’s decision to recognise the independence of the two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine on 21 February 2022 was seen by many countries as a violation of Russia’s commitments under the Minsk II agreement. At a 21 February 2022 Council briefing on Ukraine, for example, the US argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin had effectively “torn the Minsk agreements to shreds”. In contrast, Russia has claimed that the Minsk II agreement was a ploy by Ukraine and its allies to buy time to rearm Ukraine for an eventual confrontation with Russia. It has blamed Western countries for encouraging Kyiv to flout the Minsk agreements, justifying its invasion as a reaction to Ukraine’s failure to engage in dialogue with the breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.
Tomorrow’s briefing will take place against the backdrop of a renewed Russian military offensive in the eastern Donbas region. Russia has also continued to launch air and missile assaults targeting civilian infrastructure across Ukraine, carrying out six large-scale missile campaigns against energy facilities this year. The attacks have triggered massive blackouts and a reduction in water supplies throughout the country.
Jenča is expected to provide an overview of the security situation in Ukraine. He is likely to emphasise that hostilities and heavy fighting in the country’s east continue to significantly affect civilians, particularly those on the front lines and those who have lost access to heat, water, and essential services.
Some Council members may be interested to hear from Sajdik about his experience serving as the OSCE’s special representative for the Minsk negotiations from 2015 to 2019. In a 25 April 2022 interview following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sajdik claimed that Russia “wanted to exert a lasting influence on Ukraine’s foreign policy and weaken the country politically”. He noted that Russia often misinterpreted the provisions of the agreement, such as advocating for the autonomy of the Donbas region and Ukraine’s federalisation, although the Minsk II agreement only mentions special status and decentralisation. While Sajdik may remark on the shortcomings of the Minsk agreements’ implementation, he is likely to advocate continued mediation efforts in search for a peaceful solution to the war. While an imperfect settlement, the Minsk agreements and the OSCE’s continued mediation efforts contributed to reducing civilian casualties, according to Sajdik.
Several Council members—including Albania, France, the UK, and the US—are likely to accuse Russia of reneging on its commitments under the Minsk II agreement. Many Council members are expected to recall General Assembly resolution A/RES/ES-11/1 of 2 March 2022, which urged the immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict through political dialogue, negotiations, mediation, and other peaceful means. The resolution also called on the parties to abide by the Minsk agreements and to work constructively towards their full implementation.
Some members may express support for efforts to establish an immediate ceasefire and to seek a diplomatic solution under the provisions of the Minsk agreements and in line with Security Council resolution 2202. Others may insist on a peaceful settlement in line with the UN Charter principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, demanding that any settlement be conditioned on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine’s internationally-recognised borders.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has emphasised that Kyiv is not willing to accept a ceasefire that would freeze the frontlines of the war. In a 23 August 2022 address, Zelenskyy said that “there will be no Minsk-3, Minsk-5, or Minsk-7” agreements, suggesting that the Minsk II agreement had been “a trap” that saw Ukraine lose “part of [its] territory”.
Russia is expected to reiterate its view that the war in Ukraine is a proxy war being waged by Western governments with the ultimate aim of weakening Russia. It may criticise the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine, which it perceives as contributing to the escalation of hostilities. Citing Russia’s security concerns, some members—including Brazil, China, and Ghana—may urge a broader discussion between Russia and NATO members on the European security architecture, which they perceive as a root cause of the conflict.
Looking ahead, Russia has requested another Council meeting under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item to be held on 22 February, citing new information regarding the Nord Stream gas pipeline incident in September 2022. Today (16 February), the Russian Duma (parliament) issued an appeal to the UN Security Council with a “proposal to initiate a thorough investigation” into the incident. At the time of writing, it was unclear whether Russia intends to pursue an outcome at the 22 February meeting.