posted on Thu 27 Mar 2014 7:34 PM
Briefing by the Secretary-General on Ukraine

Tomorrow (28 March), Security Council members will hold closed consultations on the situation in Ukraine, with a briefing by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The Secretary-General travelled to Moscow and Kiev, on 19 March, three days after Crimea and Sevastopol held a referendum which favoured annexation by Russia. Council members are likely to be interested in a forthright assessment of the situation in Ukraine from the Secretary-General.

Following a 20 March meeting in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Ban expressed concern about the latest developments in Ukraine and emphasised “that all parties refrain from any hasty or provocative actions that could further exacerbate an already tense and volatile situation”. Council members may be interested in more concrete suggestions for how tensions can be lessened. In addition to meeting with Putin, Ban also met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The following day (21 March), Ban met in Kiev with acting President of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov, as well as with interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. At these meetings, Ban repeated his call for a diplomatic solution to the crisis and reiterated the need for an inclusive political process. He also briefed Turchynov and Yatsenyuk on his meetings with Putin and Lavrov in Moscow.

After the Security Council failed to adopt a draft resolution on Ukraine on 15 March due to a Russian veto (S/2014/189), action on this issue moved to the General Assembly. On 27 March, a resolution entitled “Territorial integrity of Ukraine” (A/RES/68/262) was adopted with 100 votes in favour, 11 against and 58 abstentions (24 member states were either absent or present and not voting). Council members voted as follows: Russia voted against, Argentina, China and Rwanda abstained, while the remaining Council members voted in favour. Like the vetoed draft resolution in the Council, the General Assembly resolution reaffirms the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, declares the referendum in Crimea illegal, and calls for political dialogue. In contrast to the Security Council draft, which only cited the referendum in Crimea, the General Assembly resolution makes a clear reference to the illegality of the referendum in both Crimea and Sevastopol.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission began arriving in Ukraine this week. The OSCE mission was approved by the OSCE on 21 March and consists of some 100 observers whose main goal will be gathering information on the security and human rights situation in Ukraine. Although the mission is mandated to assess the situation in Ukraine it remains unclear whether the observers will be able to access Crimea and Sevastopol, as Russia now considers both entities to be part of Russia and therefore out of bounds for observers. Council members may be interested in getting greater clarity on this issue.

Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović arrived in Crimea on 21 March on a two day visit aimed at laying the groundwork for a UN human rights monitoring mission. During an earlier visit to Ukraine from 8-17 March, Šimonović was denied access to Crimea due to the closure of Simferopol airport for flights coming from Ukraine and the inability of the local authorities to guarantee his safety. The Council will be interested in hearing more about Šimonović’s visit from Ban, as he has been the only UN high ranking official to gain access to Crimea after Special Envoy Robert Serry cut short a 5 March visit due to security concerns.

The formal process of annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia was finalised on 21 March when Putin signed a law amending the Russian constitution to reflect the addition of the two entities into the Russian Federation. (The law had been previously approved by the Constitutional Court and ratified by Parliament.) Even though legally complete, the full incorporation of Crimea and Sevastopol into the Russian Federation will take some time as it involves changing laws and regulations in the two entities as well as granting citizenship to the local population.

In the meantime, the takeover of the remaining Ukrainian military bases in Crimea by Russia continued with one of the last bases in Feodosia falling on 24 March. Citing increased threats to its soldiers stationed there, Ukraine ordered the withdrawal of all armed forces and their families from Crimea.

Other recent developments which may be of interest to Council members include the 25 March killing in a special forces operation of Oleksandr Muzychko, leader of the far right Right Sector, which was very active in anti-government protests that led to the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych. Also of interest in light of its economic impact on Ukraine, is the announcement by Russia that the discounted prices at which it previously sold gas to Ukraine in exchange for the stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol would be discontinued.

At the international level, the fallout from the Ukraine crisis continued. The Group of Seven (G7) leaders met on 25 March on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague where they unanimously decided to suspend Russia from the Group of Eight (G8) due to its actions in Crimea. They also discussed the possibility of further sanctions and called on Russia to engage in diplomatic dialogue in order to deescalate the crisis. On the sidelines of the summit, Lavrov held meetings with acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Andrii Deshchytsia and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

On Monday (31 March), Lithuania will hold an “Arria formula” meeting open to all members of the UN, with a focus on the situation in Crimea and Sevastopol with respect to human rights, press freedom, and ethnic minorities. There will be two main speakers. Mustafa Dzhemilev, a human rights activist and former Chairman of Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, will speak about the general human rights situation in Crimea. Speaking on freedom of the media will be Valentyna Samar,Crimean journalist and Director of the Information Press Center in Simferopol.