Ambassador Power: Hi everybody. Thanks for joining us today. I’d like to start by welcoming Prime Minister Yatsenyuk – who I know has just departed – and thanking him for joining the Security Council today and for his timely and moving briefing. We just heard the prime minister speak to the future Ukraine wishes for itself and for its people – a future in which they do not have to choose between east and west.
Importantly, we heard the prime minister prioritize internal reconciliation, plans for free and fair elections and political inclusivity, including the proposal to create a task force to consider the possibility of enhanced autonomy for Crimea within Ukraine. These are the actions and dispositions of a government committed to the rule of law and focused on finding a peaceful way forward.
We also heard another country’s vision for Ukraine. If the May 25th elections offer an opportunity under the law for all Ukrainians to participate in charting their shared future, Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, by contrast, is illegal, unjustified, and divisive. It will be administered under the barrel of a gun rather than under the eyes of international observers. And it presents a laughably cynical false choice between joining Russia now or joining Russia later.
Any referendum on Crimea must be conducted within the bounds of Ukrainian law and the United States joins with others in calling for its suspension. We also call on the Russian Federation to halt its military intervention and refrain from any further actions in support of this illegitimate and destabilizing effort.
We are at a critical moment, as you heard from all Council members. The way forward is clear. Russian forces must return to their bases. International human rights monitors must be allowed into Crimea. And all countries must respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It is not too late, but we are running out of time.
Thank you. I will take your questions.
Reporter: Madam ambassador, do you think at this point in time, this situation, as it is, is a no-win situation? Until…unless the Russians completely withdraw, as you have said that they should, this crisis will not continue to precipitate?
Ambassador Power: Not sure – the question was: is there hope to get out of this crisis?
Reporter: Yeah. Yes.
Ambassador Power: Well, it is Thursday. This illegitimate referendum has been scheduled for Sunday. So, by definition, there is time. Secretary Kerry is getting on a plane – if he hasn’t already – to go and meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov. And I’m hopeful that Russia has heard the voices, not only of the prime minister of Ukraine and the kind of future that he wishes -- one that respects the Russian language, enshrines the Russian language in the constitution, keeps it there, respects the rights of Russian minorities, wants a future, again, where Ukraine doesn’t choose between east and west, but lives side by side in the way that the Ukrainian prime minister has described and in the way that so many Ukrainian people have said they wish. I’m hopeful that Russia heard that, but also heard the voices of 14 Council members talking about the essential importance of territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence. And you heard the prime minster say that he himself was heartened by the fact that 14 of the 15 countries – with one notable exception – had hailed those principles.
I think there was remarkable unity expressed on the Council today, and a remarkable…a remarkably unified, also, sense of the window closing. So I think there was not a lot in the Russian presentation today to seize upon, in terms of giving us hope as a way out of this crisis. It seemed as if much of the presentation was about validating the referendum and legitimating annexation. So that of course causes us grave alarm, which is one of the reasons that we have circulated this resolution in the hopes of finding a vehicle for showing the extent of Russia’s isolation as it pursues a non-peaceful path.
Reporter: Do you think it’s important for the resolution to specifically condemn Russian military aggression? And if so, do you think 14 out of 15 Council members would support that language?
Ambassador Power: I think what’s important is that the resolution enshrine key elements that would, in turn, potentially affect the calculation of Russia before innocent lives are lost. Those elements are, many of which you heard today: support and respect for territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence of Ukraine; a recognition that this referendum has not been authorized by Ukraine and that it is not legitimate; and a pledge and a call for the international community not to recognize the results of an illegal referendum of this nature. The function of the referendum* is, again, to change the calculus of people who still have it within their power to choose peace over conflict and to choose dialogue over confrontation. That’s the function of the resolution.
Reporter: How do you respond to the argument of the Russian ambassador about the principle of self-determination in the context of the events of the last couple of months that changed the composition of the Ukrainian government, and the fact that there is, you know, cultural and historical connection of the Crimean people to Russia? How do you deal with that principle – which is enshrined in international law – of self- determination?
Ambassador Power: I guess what I’d say is while I appreciated my Russian colleague’s lesson and lecture in geography and history, I missed the day in law school where self-determination was defined as Russia-determination, which is in effect what this set of measures, both, again, surrounding – surrounding Ukrainian bases, not allowing Ukrainians in Crimea to move, sending additional forces in, working with some self-anointed Crimean authorities who had no popular support prior to this crisis, and conjuring up a phony and illegitimate process that is in the stark violation of the Ukrainian constitution, but also by virtue of the coercive means that Russia is using, in stark violation of international law.
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