posted on Fri 28 Feb 2014 2:14 PM
Private Meeting and Consultations on Ukraine

At press time, a private meeting of the Council, followed by consultations, on the situation in Ukraine, had been called for at 3 pm. It seems that Oscar Fernández-Tarranco from the Department of Political Affairs will brief and a representative from Ukraine will participate and make a statement at the private meeting.

This morning the President of the Council, Lithuania, received a letter (S/2014/136) from Ukraine requesting an urgent meeting of the Security Council under Articles 34 and 35 of the UN Charter citing the situation in Crimea as a threat to the territorial integrity of Ukraine. This will be the first discussion by Council members focused just on Ukraine. (On 24 February Ukraine was covered during the briefing by the OSCE Chairperson -in-Office, Didier Burkhalter (Switzerland), but largely from the perspective of the OSCE’s activities in Ukraine.) A press statement is possible following the consultations. Apparently there is a draft that had not yet been circulated.

Events have moved rapidly in Ukraine over the last week. On 22 February, after signing a deal with the opposition to end the political crisis, President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev to an undisclosed location. The parliament (Verkhovna Rada) voted to remove Yanukovych and on 23 February it granted expanded powers to its interim speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, to carry out the duties of the president of Ukraine. On 26 February Russia carried out a large-scale military exercise in regions bordering Ukraine.

On 27 February the parliament building in the autonomous region of Crimea was seized by gunmen vowing loyalty to Russia. Today armed men took control of the Simferopol and Belbek airports in the Crimea in what Ukraine described as an invasion and occupation by Moscow. Ousted President Yanukovich reappeared in a press conference from Russia today claiming that he was still the president and vowing to fight his removal.

This meeting is being held under the agenda item “Letter dated 28 February 2014 from the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council”. While Ukraine was previously considered at the 3256th Security Council meeting held on 20 July 1993 under the agenda item “Complaint by Ukraine regarding the Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation concerning Sevastopol”, the item is no longer on the seizure list.

The 20 July 1993 meeting on Ukraine came about following a request from Ukraine after Russia proclaimed that the city of Sevastopol, which serves as the headquarters for the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy, belonged to Russia (S/26075 and S/26100). Following the meeting, the President of the Council issued a note (S/26118) in which it recalled that “in the Treaty between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, signed in Kiev on 19 November 1990, the High Contracting Parties committed themselves to respect each other’s territorial integrity within their currently existing frontiers.” The conclusion from that meeting was that the Decree of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation was incompatible with that commitment as well as with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.

In his address to the Verkhovna Rada today, Turchinov requested the Council to convene a meeting on Ukraine, citing the security assurances it was given in exchange for its nuclear disarmament. He specifically cited the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 (S/1994/1399) in which Russia, the UK and the US agreed to refrain from the threat of or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons would be used against Ukraine. (Similar assurances were given by France and China later in individual statements.) Among the specific requests from the Verkhovna Rada was that these Guarantor States reaffirm with practical actions this commitment. In relation to the Budapest Memorandum it also asks the Guarantor States to support the monitoring of the situation by the Council in regions of Ukraine which could jeopardize international peace and security. It also asks Guarantor States to seek immediate Council action to provide assistance to the Ukraine if there is an escalation and cites the 20 July 1993 note from the President of the Council.

Council members will be aware that an escalation of the conflict, particularly in Crimea, could have serious ramifications within Ukraine and between Russia and Ukraine, leading to a serious rift in relations between Russia and the West. Instability in Crimea is a cause for concern as it is the only autonomous republic within Ukraine with about 60 percent of its population being ethnically Russian. Although located on the Crimean peninsula, the municipality of Sevastopol is not part of Crimea as it enjoys a separate administrative status within the Ukraine as one of two special municipalities, alongside Kiev. While Council members are currently working on keeping abreast of developments on the ground and developing their positions on this situation, Russia has stated that it will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine while making it clear that it does not see the government in power as legitimate. Other members may also have concerns related to the legality of the current government as well as over the importance of respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity. Some members may be keen to emphasise the importance of those responsible for the violence being held accountable as well as the need for free and fair elections to be held soon.