I thank the three briefers for their briefings this afternoon. As others have pointed out, the Council has met many times on Ukraine over the last six months. There is a reason for this. The situation in Ukraine continues to be a severe threat, indeed an escalating threat, to international peace and security.
And there is a reason why that is so. Since the start of the crisis, Russian actions have been consistently designed to undermine, interfere with and transgress Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in a way which flouts international norms, including the UN Charter.
Since this Council last met on 24 October to discuss Ukraine, Russia and the separatists it supports have repeatedly undermined and ignored the Minsk agreements. Russian leaders have told us one thing and then ordered their military, their special forces and their separatist rebel proxies to do another. The ceasefire has been breached. Attempts to monitor and verify the ceasefire and the border have been blocked. Russia continues to supply its soldiers in Ukraine and the separatists they fight alongside with heavy weaponry, artillery, tanks and armoured vehicles in flagrant breach of the Minsk protocols.
OSCE reporting in recent days lays bare the extent of this Russian support. On several separate occasions, the OSCE monitoring mission has witnessed significant numbers of troops and military equipment moving in convoy in separatist-held areas. I will mention just one such report.
On 8 November, the mission observed a convoy of more than forty unmarked military vehicles moving west on the outskirts of Donetsk. This included: nineteen unmarked Kamaz trucks each towing a howitzer artillery piece and carrying personnel in green uniforms without insignia; fifteen Kraz troop carriers; six fuel tankers; and an unmarked BTR armoured personnel carrier.
We have seen this pattern before: unmarked columns of military vehicles entering Ukraine to support continued fighting by separatists.
Efforts to remove markings and insignia from these vehicles cannot disguise that they come from Russia. What other credible explanation is there?
Yet Russia continues to deny this fact despite the fact that its attempts at deception turned to farce yesterday when Russian television station NTV broadcast footage of an armoured personnel carrier at the head of a column in Donetsk bearing markings from the Russian city of Ryazan.
If Russia is not supplying separatists across the border, then why does it continue to block any expansion of OSCE border monitoring? Russia must implement the commitment it made at Minsk to allow monitoring of its border with Ukraine - along which only 2 km is currently observed by the OSCE.
Flights of the OSCE’s unmanned aerial vehicles above Donetsk must also be allowed to proceed unhindered. OSCE reports that UAVs are being jammed electronically by military grade equipment call into question the credibility of the commitment towards the Minsk agreements of those who control that territory and their Russian supporters.
The United Kingdom deeply regrets that illegal elections took place in separatist-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk on 2 November.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations could not have been clearer in his public message that these elections were both illegal under Ukrainian law and seriously undermined the Minsk Protocol.
The Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE was equally clear that these elections ran counter to the letter and spirit of the Minsk Protocol and would further complicate its implementation.
When the leaderships of international organisations to which Russia belongs issue such statements, one would expect Russia to listen. Instead Russia has offered support to these elections.
Russia has said that it will “respect the will of the citizens” of the Donbas despite the fact that, as President Poroshenko has made clear, the so called elections were, and I quote, “ a farce at gunpoint…that had nothing in common with the real expression of the people’s will”, unquote.
Russia’s refusal to disavow the elections is a continuation of a pattern of Russian behaviour that flouts the Minsk agreements and is designed to de-stabilise the situation in Ukraine.
Although the focus of today’s discussion is the increase in fighting and the illegal elections held in Eastern Ukraine, this Council must not lose sight of the deteriorating human rights situation in areas under separatist control in eastern Ukraine and, particularly, in the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula - which the OHCHR mission is still unable to visit. We continue to receive disturbing reports of intimidation and harassment of Crimean Tatars as well as ethnic Ukrainians and all those who have refused Russian citizenship.
The de facto Crimean authorities have undertaken a campaign to rid the Crimean Peninsula of its Ukrainian and Tatar identity. Citizenship provisions, the educational syllabus and the media are all being ruthlessly engineered to this end. Crimean Tatars are being targeted by security forces – 18 prominent Tatars remain missing and one body has been found. This is an issue that we will need to come back to discuss when the OHCHR mission produces its next report.
We have said in the past that Russia must be judged by actions not words; what we see is that Russia’s actions continue to escalate tensions rather than contribute to a peaceful resolution of this crisis.
The Minsk Agreements offer a framework which can take the situation away from the current crisis and towards stability based upon de-escalation and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. But that requires genuine commitment of a kind we have not yet seen from Russia. Instead Russia is taking a cynical and selective approach towards the agreements while it continues its destabilisation of Ukraine. That must change.
And so we call again on Russia to withdraw its equipment, weapons, and troops from Ukrainian territory, as it undertook to do in September, and to use its influence to secure a lasting ceasefire. Its continued support for the armed separatists serves only to escalate an already perilous situation and will only lead to a further deterioration in Russia’s relations with the international community.
I thank you.