I last briefed this Council on the situation in Ukraine as it relates to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements on 11 February 2021.
At that time, I drew attention to the fragile security situation that prevailed despite the nominal ceasefire in place.
Today, a year since that briefing, tensions in and around Ukraine are running higher than at any point since 2014. Speculation and accusations around a potential military conflict are rife. Whatever one believes about the prospect of such a confrontation, the reality is that the current situation is extremely dangerous.
The issues underpinning the current crisis are complex and longstanding. They tie together the eight-year conflict in eastern Ukraine with the larger issues relating to the European security architecture.
Although seemingly intractable, given the stakes involved for our collective security and European stability, these issues can and must be solved through diplomacy and the full use of the many available regional and other mechanisms and frameworks. We support all such efforts, including through the Secretary-General’s good offices.
Regrettably, there has been little, if any, meaningful progress in the implementation of the various provisions of the Minsk Agreements. Despite repeated efforts, the talks both in the Normandy Four format and the discussions led by the Trilateral Contact Group remain deadlocked. We welcome the efforts of France and Germany to host the recent N4 discussions to break the current impasse and hope that these will continue.
The Minsk Agreements remain the only framework endorsed by this Council, in resolution 2202, for a negotiated, peaceful settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. In this regard, we note with concern the reports of fresh ceasefire violations across the contact line over the past several hours. If verified, these must not be allowed to escalate further. We call on all sides to exercise maximum restraint at this time.
We also call on all concerned to refrain from any unilateral measures that may go against the letter and spirit of the Minsk Agreements, or undermine their implementation and result in further tensions including related to the certain areas of Luhansk and Donetsk.
We commend the important work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Council will hear shortly from Ambassador Mikko Kinnunen, Special Representative of the OSCE’s Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine, and Ambassador Halit Cevik, Chief Monitor of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission. It is essential that we support their work, particularly at this critical time.
The Special Monitoring Mission, which carries out its crucial functions despite considerable challenges, must enjoy safe and secure conditions.
On 14 February, the Secretary-General expressed his deep worry regarding a potential military conflict in Europe.
He reminded the international community that the price of human suffering, destruction and damage to European and global security is too high to contemplate.
The Secretary-General has remained fully engaged with key actors, including the governments of the Russian Federation and Ukraine, and has reiterated the same unambiguous message:
There is no alternative to diplomacy.
It is incumbent on all Member States to fully respect the key principles of the United Nations Charter, to settle disputes by peaceful means and to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.
In this regard, let me restate the commitment of the United Nations to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders as called for in General Assembly resolutions.
The recent diplomatic contacts, including between Heads of State, are welcome. But more needs to be done, urgently, including tangible, verifiable steps on the ground and an end to inflammatory rhetoric to defuse tensions.
As we have done throughout eight years of the conflict, the United Nations continues to stand with the people of Ukraine. The UN Country Team in Ukraine remains fully operational. Our humanitarian colleagues are committed to providing assistance in accordance with the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence.
This includes, for example, three humanitarian convoys that delivered over 140 metric tons of life-saving assistance across the contact line since the start of 2022, benefiting thousands of people in need.
It is imperative that safe and unimpeded access by humanitarian actors is respected by all sides, under any circumstances.
Amid the current tensions, we should not lose sight of the existing dire humanitarian needs impacting 2.9 million people, with the majority living in non-Government controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.
Donor support has allowed us to provide aid to over 1.5 million people during the first nine months of 2021 – the highest level since 2017. This critical achievement must be sustained amid the increasing severity of humanitarian needs.
Early and adequate funding of the $190 million 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan is needed to continue to meet the urgent needs of 1.8 million vulnerable people, including over one million in government-controlled areas and 750,000 in non-government-controlled areas.
For the war-wary people of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the impact of COVID-19 on top of the conflict has caused even more grave disruption and suffering.
Millions of people who prior to the pandemic could still maintain family and community connectivity, have been unable to travel freely across the contact line due to COVID-19 related restrictions.
As a consequence of their increased isolation and abrupt loss of access to basic services and livelihoods, the needs of this already vulnerable population have been exacerbated.
At the same time, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continues to document civilian casualties and the impact of hostilities, monitor freedom of movement, and receive and report on allegations of human rights violations.
Despite the persistent tensions, last year saw the lowest number of civilian casualties documented by OHCHR since the beginning of the conflict. Overall adherence to the ceasefire has been an important factor in this trend. It must continue.
Over 14,000 people have already lost their lives in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
As the Secretary-General said this week, we simply cannot accept even the possibility of a new conflict in Ukraine. Indeed, we are facing a test.
The world is looking to the collective security mechanisms in Europe but also to this Council to help ensure that the only skirmishes will be diplomatic.
We cannot afford to fail.
Thank you, Mr. President.