Thank you, Mr. President.
I join others in welcoming Assistant Secretary-General Zerihoun, Ambassador Apakan and Ambassador Sajdik back to the Council and I thank them for their sobering briefings today.
As those briefings told us so clearly, the word ‘ceasefire’ is losing its meaning in eastern Ukraine. Since the start of 2016, it has been broken thousands of times. These violations are causing almost daily casualties. Weapons banned under the ceasefire are being put to deadly use on the battlefield. The OSCE teams charged with monitoring the ceasefire are being harassed, and threatened and worse. People are dying and those in need are going hungry.
To illustrate how empty the word ceasefire has become, just yesterday, tragically, four civilians were killed. And in response to these harrowing deaths in Olenivka all we have seen is just claim and counter-claim. That isn’t good enough. All sides have an obligation to uphold the ceasefire; they all have a duty to protect civilians, especially the vulnerable.
So what we need to see is a real, meaningful commitment to the ceasefire by all sides. That’s the only way to stop the killing; it’s the only way for Minsk to succeed. A ceasefire is the bedrock for Minsk; without it all the other measures will falter.
Yes, all sides have a role to play. But we should be under no illusions where the vast majority of responsibility lies. It falls squarely at the door of the Russian backed separatists. The Special Monitoring Mission has repeatedly made this clear. It is the separatists who are harassing OSCE monitors. It is separatists who risk escalating this febrile situation, and it is the separatists who are receiving troops, equipment and weapons from their Russian allies.
This continued support from the Russian Federation has sustained the instability in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s so called ‘humanitarian convoys’ cross the border with no regard for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity or independence. They do so without any inspection. So we call on Russia to prove that they have nothing to hide; and allow international access to these convoys.
While Russia’s support for the separatists fuelled this crisis, Russia’s influence can also bring about a conclusion to this madness. We call on Russia to use its influence for good; to bring the separatists to heal so that they respect the ceasefire and withdraw banned weapons; so that they allow unhindered access to the Special Monitoring Mission; and so that international humanitarian agencies can finally access all areas of separatist held territory.
It is almost meaningless to discuss any other aspect of Minsk until this has happened.
What we’re discussing today - the deaths, the suffering – these are all the bloody consequence of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea two years ago. This act of aggression went against every treaty, every international commitment that Russia has ever made. It went against all the rules and norms of international behaviour in the modern world. Our position on this act of aggression will never waver; Russia must return Crimea to Ukraine. Until it does, it will continue to face the consequences of its illegal actions.
Over the past two years, the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated. For minorities and political opponents, life under the de facto authorities is now characterised by arrests, ill-treatment, torture and intimidation.
The Crimean Tatar community has been particularly affected. The banning of their representative institution this week is just the latest in a series of attacks on their community, their organisations, their way of life. In light of the evidence found in UN and OSCE human rights reporting, it is perhaps unsurprising that Russia has consistently denied access to international human rights organisations, save for the solitary Council of Europe mission in January.
One of the recommendations from that mission, which reported back to the Council of Europe Secretary-General this month, called on Russia to open up Crimea to international human rights monitoring mechanisms. We repeat this call today. Russia must grant this access to enable a proper assessment of the situation.
Let me conclude with this final point. Through its actions in Crimea and through its support to the separatists, Russia has brought chaos to Ukraine. In that chaos, thousands of lives have been lost, including those four civilians only yesterday. And no matter who fired those shells that killed those poor people, it is clear that without Russia’s actions, they would not have been exposed to the horrific violence that claimed their lives. So I close by once again calling on Russia to fulfil its commitments under the Minsk agreements and to allow Ukraine to regain control of its sovereign territory. And this in turn, can only happen if there is a stable ceasefire.