Assistant-Secretary-General Simonovic, thank you and your team for the thorough research contained in this report.
This is an extremely challenging time for the people of Ukraine. No one should be driven from their home, and we are committed to doing everything possible to assist the displaced, regardless of where they have fled. No one should be forced to live without access to essential medicine, or with only an hour of access to water a day. As we have consistently made clear throughout this conflict, and as we reiterate today, all sides must take every precaution to prevent the loss of civilian life.
The humanitarian situation needs addressing, but not by those who have caused it. That’s why we welcome the fact that the Ukrainian government has created humanitarian corridors, which are allowing critical aid to get into – and civilians to get out of – separatist-controlled areas. And Ukraine is making a concerted effort to address the complex needs of approximately 117,000 people who have been internally displaced. In doing so, Ukraine is working effectively with international humanitarian organizations to provide assistance.
Russia has proposed this week creating humanitarian corridors to assist the affected populations in Ukraine. But in Ukraine, urgent humanitarian assistance should be delivered by the international humanitarian organizations that have the expertise, experience, and independence to provide it. It should not be delivered by Russia. And given that Ukraine has allowed international humanitarian groups to deliver aid within its territory, there is no logical reason why Russia should seek to deliver it. Therefore, any further unilateral intervention by Russia into Ukrainian territory – including one under the guise of providing humanitarian aid – would be completely unacceptable and deeply alarming. And it would be viewed as an invasion of Ukraine.
We welcome today’s statement by the ICRC that they are exploring the possibility of the ICRC providing more support in conflict areas. Something they can do once they have worked out the modalities with the Ukrainian authorities and, critically, once they have the security guarantees they need from the armed separatists – something Russia has not yet helped secure.
And if Russia wishes to channel aid to those populations, I am certain that my colleagues at the Council can take swift steps to ensure that an impartial international aid organization like the ICRC can deliver the aid on Russia’s behalf.
Last week, the Russians again floated the idea of sending Russian quote “peacekeepers” to eastern Ukraine. A “Russian peacekeeper” in Ukraine is an oxymoron: at every step in this crisis, Russians have sabotaged peace, not built it. And it is particularly worrisome given Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea, which was predicated on calls by an illegitimate, puppet government, for Russia to send troops to restore “peace.” Peacekeepers are impartial – yet Russia fully supports Russian armed separatists in this conflict.
We have seen the “peace” that Russian occupation has brought to Crimea since that time. As the UN’s most recent report makes clear, freedom of speech and assembly have been violently repressed, ethnic minorities systematically persecuted, and civilians abducted with impunity, 350 of whom are still unaccounted for. The UN also said that no progress has been made on any of the 17 previous recommendations it has made to Russia regarding serious human rights problems in Crimea.
Russia has repeatedly accused members of this council of politicizing a humanitarian situation. But Russia has it backwards. In fact, it is Russia that is trying to disguise a political crisis – one manufactured and exported by Moscow – as a humanitarian one. The very humanitarian problems that Russia is decrying in eastern Ukraine, and turning a blind eye to in Crimea, are directly traceable to violence it has facilitated or supported.
Why have thousands of people been displaced? Look no further than the – quote “egregious human rights abuses” end quote – in separatist-controlled areas documented in the UN report.
Why do civilians lack access to basic services? The UN report documents the – quote “deliberate targeting by the armed groups of critical public utilities like water, electricity, and sewerage plants,” end quote.
In recent weeks, Russian cross-border military assistance to illegal separatists has actually increased substantially. Russian tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, multiple rocket launcher systems, and truck-loads of munitions continue to flow to separatists, while new fighters are trained on Russian soil. And Russia continues to take actions that escalate the conflict; amassing more and more troops and hardware near the border; launching extensive military exercises this week; and shelling across the border into sovereign Ukrainian territory.
Perhaps most shocking is that Russia has doubled down on its support for rebels and provocative actions after witnessing the horrific carnage that resulted from the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17.
On Wednesday, international investigators were once again forced to suspend their work at the MH-17 crash site, due to risks of being taken hostage by illegal armed groups and the threat felt by the increased concentration of Russian troops nearby. This is deplorable. It is yet another insult to the dignity of the victims and their loved ones, who have already endured more than any families should ever have to endure. It flies in the face of the resolution passed by this Council, and the unified commitment to justice that that resolution embodied. And it obstructs efforts to punish those responsible for this abhorrent crime.
In closing, let me read from a statement given by a senior Russian official:
Quote: “The population is panicking, and there are a growing number of refugees, who are attempting to flee in order to save their lives...A humanitarian catastrophe is in the making…Over the past week, the Russian Federation has continued to receive refugees. However, tens of thousands of innocent civilians remain in the conflict zone. Those circumstances dictate the logic of the steps to be taken by us now...” End quote.
These remarks were delivered by a senior Russian official in this Security Council, about a region where Russian-backed separatists were sowing violence.
Only the remarks were delivered on this day August 8, 2008 – six years ago to the day. And the country that the Russian senior official was speaking about was not Ukraine, but Georgia. Playing the role of Luhansk and Donetsk was the province of South Ossetia. We all know what followed.
South Ossetia. Crimea. Now eastern Ukraine. Similar words have presaged military action. The onus is on this Council and the entire international community to meet legitimate humanitarian needs and do so urgently, but in so doing, to make sure that history does not repeat itself.
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