posted on Tue 29 Apr 2014 2:01 PM
Briefing on Ukraine by Head of Political Affairs

This afternoon (29 April), following a request by the UK, the Council will hold a public meeting on Ukraine. Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman will brief on recent developments with Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev expected to participate under Rule 37 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure. This will be the third meeting of the Council on the situation in Ukraine in April.

This meeting of the Council comes at a time of intensified political unrest in eastern Ukraine. Yesterday, the mayor of Kharkiv was shot and seriously wounded, and participants at a pro-Ukrainian rally in Donetsk were attacked by a group of pro-Russian activists, leaving many injured. Today pro-Russian separatists stormed the regional administration’s headquarters in Luhansk. Council members are likely to be looking for an update on these recent developments from Feltman.

It is likely that Sergeyev will urge pro-Russian separatists and Russia to uphold the 17 April Geneva Agreement in which Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU agreed to de-escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine. He is also expected to call upon Russia to withdraw its massed troops from the border of Ukraine and exercise its influence on pro-Russian separatists and special agents to give up occupied buildings and stop media propaganda. He may also reinforce points made by Deputy Foreign Minister Danylo Lubkivsky during a press conference at the UN on 25 April. While talking about “anti-terrorist” operations Lubkivsky said that the main goal of the Ukrainian military is to regain control over occupied areas while avoiding causalities.

In mid-April it appeared that diplomatic efforts might help de-escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine. Four party talks between of Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU resulted in the 17 April Geneva Agreement calling on both sides to refrain from violence, for armed groups to surrender their weapons and to vacate occupied buildings and public spaces. In addition to these immediate measures, the parties agreed on the need for constitutional reform and broad national dialogue. In the immediate aftermath of the Geneva Agreement, the situation on the ground was relatively stable, without major incidents. The government of Ukraine, which had started a military operation to take control of cities occupied by pro-Russian activists in the east, declared a truce on 19 April for the Easter weekend. However, by 20 April the truce was broken with media reports indicating that at least three pro-Russian activists were gunned down at a checkpoint near Slovyansk. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused a Ukrainian nationalist group of the attack, while Ukraine accused Russian Special Forces of provoking the attack in order to inflame tensions in the region. Council members may be interested in more details from Feltman on this incident as well as the murder of Voldymyr Rybak, the Horlivka city deputy, which appears to have taken place during the truce period. On 23 April, Ukraine announced it was formally ending the Easter truce.

Amid failed diplomatic efforts to tame the crisis and noncompliance with the Geneva Agreement, the EU and US moved on to impose additional sanctions on Russia. On 28 April, the US targeted seven Russian government officials and 17 companies. It also imposed restrictions on high technology trade with Russia that could be directly used by the defence companies. The EU today named another 15 individuals subject to EU sanctions. (The US and EU together have now imposed asset freezes and travel bans on 66 individuals and the US has sanctioned 18 companies.)

Another issue of high interest for Council members will be the detained OSCE military observers which have been held by the pro-Russian separatists in Slovyansk since 25 April. At press time, one OSCE observer had been released on medical grounds but the other seven were still being held. It is likely that P3 and EU members of the Council will condemn this act as well as try to pressure Russia into exerting its influence on separatists to free the OSCE observers. Some members may also seek greater clarity on the reasons for the detention of the OSCE observers.

The Council last met on Ukraine on 16 April to hear a briefing by Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights. At the meeting, the Council was briefed on the state of the human rights situation in Ukraine based on a report of Šimonović’s findings from his two visits to Ukraine on 6-18 and 21-22 March published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Although the meeting was intended to focus on human rights issues, the tense security situation in the eastern Ukraine dominated the discussion.

Council members may want to hear if there have been new violations in recent weeks and of any recent findings by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) stationed in Ukraine. It seems that the possibility of having more frequent reports on the human rights situation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights may be on some Council members’ minds.

Looking ahead, another issue that may be discussed is the general election scheduled for 25 May. Considering current developments and instability, particularly in the east, there are concerns about whether the conditions for fair and free elections will be met. Some Council members may want to hear more from both Feltman and Sergeyev on this issue.

Some Council members may highlight their concerns over increased military activity on Ukraine’s eastern borders following the breakdown of the Easter truce. After Ukrainian military forces surrounded Slovyansk, a city in the Donetsk region held by pro-Russian separatists, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu warned that continued action by Ukrainian forces would only lead to greater numbers of causalities. Tensions were heightened after Ukrainian forces killed five pro-Russian separatist near Slovyansk on 24 April. In response to the Ukrainian military operation in the Donetsk region, Russia announced new military exercises along the eastern borders. The same day the US reaffirmed its commitment to NATO’s collective defence and started deploying troops to Poland and the three Baltic states-Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania-for the purpose of joint military exercises.

Also on 24 April in light of the growing tensions, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement stressing the necessity for all parties to honour commitments under the Geneva Agreement and to avoid any military action. These sentiments were also echoed in a statement issued the same day by Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Besides calling on parties to respect the Geneva Agreement, Ashton also expressed concern about the latest reported cases of kidnappings, torture and killings and called for a proper investigation of these crimes.

The main and immediate issue for the Council remains how to de-escalate the tensions and encourage dialogue among the parties. Some members are increasingly frustrated with the Council’s inability to take any action on this issue, so long as Russia is not challenged as a party to the dispute under Article 27(3) of the UN Charter, but it is unlikely that any concrete decision will be made at this meeting. (For more on mandatory abstentions under Article 27(3) please see the In Hindsight and Supplement in our April 2014 Monthly Forecast). Rather, given the diplomatic blame game happening at the highest levels, it is likely that P3 and EU members and Russia are likely to engage in similar rhetoric, particularly around who is to blame for violating the Geneva Agreement.