Thank you, Mr. President, thank you Under-Secretary-General Feltman, and thank you Mr. Prime Minister, for your timely briefing.
This meeting comes at a time when every day we are seeing an ever-more stark contrast between the conduct of the authorities in Kiev and the conduct of the authorities in Moscow. Let me consider each in turn.
Ukraine’s government is placing a priority on internal reconciliation, plans for free and fair elections, and political inclusivity. It proposed the creation of a task force to consider the possibility of enhanced autonomy for Crimea within Ukraine. Ukrainian leaders have made clear the future they wish for their people – a future of pluralism, prosperity and dignity, a future free of corruption and cronyism, a future in which the Ukrainian people do not have to choose between east and west.
The government of Ukraine has been unwavering in its pledge to honor all of its international agreements, including those covering Russian military bases. Ukraine has also shown remarkable restraint over the last few weeks with respect to the use of its armed forces. As evidenced today by the statement of Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s voice throughout this crisis has been one of reason, support for the rule of law, and restraint in the face of provocation. It was voted in nearly unanimously by the Rada, and has since enjoyed broad support across the political spectrum, including from former President Yanukovych’s former party. The government also includes representatives from across the country -- east and west, north and south.
Ukraine’s leadership is properly focused on the needs of its people. Yesterday, in Washington, the prime minister met with President Obama and other leaders of my government, and also with top officials of the International Monetary Fund. The prime minister’s goal is to stabilize his country’s finances, curb corruption, and lay the groundwork for progress under a new government to be elected peacefully, freely and fairly by all the people of Ukraine on May 25th. These elections, which are just over two months away, will give any citizen who has a different vision for Ukraine the chance to be heard. It will give those who wish to shape Ukraine’s future the chance to be elected. Ukraine’s efforts to stabilize its economy and the coming elections merit the wholehearted support of every member of this Council and of the broader international community.
In Moscow, we see a different kind of leadership. Russia has pursued a course of military action from the outset. At the very start of the crisis, Russia massed its forces along Ukraine’s border for “military exercises” while supporting efforts inside Crimea to take control of Ukrainian border posts, surround Ukrainian military facilities, seize control of public facilities, and replace Ukrainian media with Russian stations. President Putin asked for and received authorization from the Federation Council to use military force in Crimea, and today there are reportedly more than 20,000 troops in the region. Although Moscow justified its actions in the name of protecting ethnic Russians, Russian troops have repeatedly obstructed international monitors and mediators and denied them access, even though their task is to ensure that the rights of minorities are not violated. This is not the behavior of people who believe that they have truth and law on their side.
The self-anointed Crimean leaders set a referendum date with full backing from Russia. That date was to be May 25th. Then they reset the date for March 16th, allowing less than two weeks to prepare for and carry out a vote. Two weeks – on an issue of monumental importance, risking grave destabilizing consequences, in defiance of the Ukrainian Constitution and in defiance of international law. The referendum ballot that will be put to voters contains no option to vote for the status quo. Ballots with nothing checked will reportedly be ruled invalid. As the vote approaches this weekend, the Russian military intervention continues, and we learned this morning of new military operations by Russian troops involving artillery batteries, assault helicopters, and at least 10,000 additional soldiers near the Ukrainian border.
The proposed March 16 referendum on the status of Crimea is everything that the scheduled May 25th election is not. If the May 25th election offers an opportunity under the law for all Ukrainians to participate in charting their shared future, Sunday’s referendum in Crimea is hastily-planned, unjustified, and divisive. Ukraine’s constitution requires that any change to its territory can only be achieved through a national referendum. Because the government has not authorized such a measure, the proposed balloting on March 16th would violate Ukraine's sovereignty. Any referendum on Crimea must be conducted within the bounds of Ukrainian law. Accordingly, the United States joins with others in calling for the suspension of this ill-conceived initiative, which cannot be recognized as legitimate, especially when carried out against the backdrop of a foreign military incursion. We also call on the Russian Federation to refrain from further actions in support of this dangerous undertaking.
Mr. President, the only true solution to the current crisis is through diplomacy. My government strongly supports direct talks between the Russian Federation and the Government of Ukraine, to be conducted – if necessary – with appropriate help from the international community. Secretary Kerry will meet Foreign Minister Lavrov tomorrow in the hopes of finding a way off this path of confrontation. Given the risk of conflict, none of us can afford to leave any stone unturned – but Russia has to want a diplomatic solution.
The diplomatic path remains both viable and desirable because the way forward is clear. Russian forces must return to their bases and Russia must honor its agreements with Ukraine. All countries must respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and seek to resolve disputes through peaceful means. Every country must fulfill its obligations under the UN Charter, and its commitments under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the Helsinki Final Act. Ukraine and the Russian Federation must abide fully by their bilateral agreements, including the 1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership, and the 1997 basing agreement. These steps, each in accordance with prior agreements -- each consistent with international law, each in keeping with the best interests of the people of Ukraine – are all that is needed to end this crisis in a way that respects the rights and interests of everyone involved.
In accordance with these principles, the United States is proposing a resolution for Council consideration that would endorse a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis based on international law and the Council’s mandate to act when necessary to ensure global security and peace.
In closing, Mr. President, I would like to reiterate my government’s belief that to resolve this crisis, what is needed now is for a climate of restraint to replace confrontation; openness to replace obstructionism; and peaceful dialogue to replace coercion. This is the moment to show that laws matter, rules matter, territorial integrity matters. If we don't come together, if we don’t send a clear signal of our shared commitments, we will live with the consequences in Crimea, and well beyond. We will look back on this moment and wish we had come together with a unified voice before the consequences became dire and innocent lives were lost.
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