Thank you, Mr. President. Time and again – at least 17 times since February – we have gathered here to discuss the situation in Ukraine. And time and again, we’ve had to dedicate significant amounts of time to reviewing the efforts of Russia to destabilize its neighbor and to refuting the bald misinformation and outright fiction about what is happening on the ground in Ukraine.
Russian rhetoric has been inaccurate, inflammatory and self-justifying. On June 17, just last week, Foreign Minister Lavrov accused Ukrainian military authorities of carrying out “ethnic cleansing.” Days earlier, a leader in the Duma accused Ukraine of committing “mass genocide.”
My government, this Council, and the United Nations take extremely seriously any reports of ethnic cleansing or genocide. But baseless claims like this have the effect of radicalizing Russian separatists, escalating this horrible crisis and further eviscerating the credibility of Russian reports from the region.
We should consider such claims alongside the facts on the ground, such as the situation of the ethnic Tatar community in Crimea following Russia’s purported annexation, which the international community will never recognize. The homes of Tatar leaders have been arbitrarily searched, and editors of its main newspaper threatened with prosecution. Tatars who have participated in peaceful protests have been locked up by the dozens, and many more insulted and harassed for speaking their language in public. And its members have been told that they – and all Crimeans – must give up their Ukrainian citizenship, or else be treated like foreigners in their own land.
Meanwhile, in areas controlled by illegal separatist groups in southeast Ukraine, we continue to see Russia’s extensive support for the campaign of violence and separatist terror.
The crimes committed by these groups are methodically documented in the UN Monitoring Mission’s reports, and follow a pattern set by Russia’s unlawful intervention in Crimea. They include the violent seizure and occupation of public and government buildings; unprovoked, lethal attacks against Ukrainian security forces; and arbitrary arrests, torture, beatings, death threats, disappearances, killings, and other serious abuses carried out by Russian fighters and the pro-Russian separatists.
We don’t need to look very far or very hard to find evidence of this campaign. We see it in the three T-64 Russian tanks which suddenly showed up in the hands of separatists in Eastern Ukraine. We see it in the burnt out BM-21 rocket launcher – one of many that suddenly appeared in Eastern Ukraine in the past weeks – which photographs shows recently belonged to Russia’s 18th Motorized Rifle Brigade, based in Chechnya. We see it in surface-to-air missiles that were recently seized by Ukrainian forces after a clash with separatists. They were still accompanied by their official paperwork, revealing that – as recently as two months ago – these missiles were held on a Russian Air Defense Base in the Krasnodar region. These are just the type of surface-to-air missiles, I would note, that were used to bring down a Ukrainian military transport plane last week, killing all 49 people onboard. And we see it in the alarming redeployment of thousands of Russian troops and military hardware along the border with Ukraine – at the closest proximity, since the invasion of Crimea in February.
Russia has attempted, erroneously, to characterize the events unfolding in eastern Ukraine as a humanitarian crisis. They falsely have cast themselves as the defender of rights and vindicator of the vulnerable; and the Russian army and its operatives as a humanitarian aid agency. But this Russian “aid” operation sends soldiers, not doctors; it mans armored personnel carriers, not relief tents; it provides surface-to-air missiles, not meals-ready-to-eat.
Russia claims that 100,000 people have fled Ukraine for Russia. Yet, Under-Secretary-General Amos informed this Council in a briefing last week, that the real number is around 4,600.
I do not for one moment intend to minimize the very real humanitarian consequences of the crises in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, including the tens of thousands of internally displaced people within Ukraine’s borders. But we have to be objective and fact-based in our claims and candid about what has brought about these dire humanitarian consequences: namely, the political and military support that Russia continues to provide to armed, violent separatists.
And yet, remarkably, even in the face of separatist attacks and inflammatory propaganda, the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian people have shown in word and in deed a sustained willingness to work toward a peaceful solution.
The Ukrainian people elected a leader – Petro Poroshenko – who campaigned on creating a democratic, unified, and peaceful Ukraine. And since taking office, President Poroshenko has persistently sought to achieve this goal through dialogue and reconciliation – even in the face of provocations and violence. He proposed, and then implemented a unilateral ceasefire to allow separatists to lay down their arms; he offered to create a safe passage for Russian fighters to return to their country; and he proposed amnesty to Russian-backed separatists who have not committed serious crimes. We welcome yesterday’s reports that representatives of the Ukrainian and Russian governments and separatist groups met together, leading to an announcement by some separatist leaders that they would respect the ceasefire. President Poroshenko and his government have taken steps to decentralize power, increase transparency, combat corruption, and protect the rights of minorities. And he has put on the table a comprehensive and just peace plan. In sum, he and the Ukrainian people have done everything that could be expected in an effort to make peace in accordance with international law and norms.
Over the last few days, we have seen more contradictory behavior on the part of Russia. On the one hand, President Putin expresses his support for President Poroshenko’s ceasefire and his intention to work towards a peaceful settlement. That is a welcomed development.
Yet, on the other hand, Russia has recently returned a significant number of its troops to the border, and has ramped up the flow of weapons and materiel to separatists, an increasing number of whom are Russian citizens with no personal connection to eastern Ukraine. President Putin has also placed Russian troops on combat alert and launched a new surprise military exercise.
President Putin’s recent statements are welcome. But it’s hard to take a little rhetoric of reconciliation seriously when it is accompanied by actions that are clearly aimed at stoking tension. And it is even harder to take seriously given that Russia’s track record of repeatedly breaking its commitments to dialogue and to peace – as it did after the Geneva Statement in April, and after the pledges that President Putin made to President Obama in Normandy earlier this month.
So while we welcome the more conciliatory rhetoric from President Putin in recent days, these words now need to be reflected in a genuine shift in the facts on the ground. And those facts are best gathered by unbiased reporting, like that conducted by international monitoring missions. But the Russians, and the armed separatists that they support, don’t seem comfortable with facts or with monitors. As we sit here, eight OSCE monitors are being held captive for the crime of bearing witness and gathering facts – actions that are dangerous only to those who would distort those facts. These monitors have been held captive for nearly a month – a month! – by separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, with no justification. For these crimes, there must be consequences.
There also must be continued consequences for Russia’s consistent violations of the fundamental principles of the UN Charter and for its ongoing failure to meet the commitments it has made. And there must be consequences for the widespread crimes and abuses committed by the armed separatists Russia supports. Both because the victims of these crimes merit justice; and because, as we have seen, unless Russia feels effective pressure to de-escalate, it will continue to choose to escalate this crisis.
We have urged Russia to be part of the political solution to the crisis in Ukraine. But if it persists with the same escalatory tactics – it must face additional costs. Thank you.
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