Thank you. We’ve gotten used to living in an upside-down world with respect to Ukraine. Russia speaks of peace, and then fuels conflict. Russia signs agreements, and then does everything within its power to undermine them. Russia champions the sovereignty of nations, and then acts as if a neighbor’s borders do not exist. Yet even for those of us growing accustomed to living in an upside-down world, the idea that Russia – which manufactured and continues to escalate the violence in Ukraine – has tabled a resolution today calling for the conflict’s peaceful solution, is ironic, to say the least. Bitterly ironic, given that this Council has dedicated some thirty meetings to calling on Russia to stop escalating the very same conflict, and given the human consequences that are growing daily.
Even as Russia puts forward this resolution, separatists that Russia has trained, armed and that it fights alongside are laying ruthless and deadly siege to the Ukrainian-held city of Debaltseve, approximately 30 to 40 kilometers beyond lines established by the September Minsk agreements. Throughout the day, we’ve heard conflicting reports as to whether Debaltseve has fallen. According to press reports, the so-called “road of life” leading out of Debaltseve has become a “road of death,” littered with the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers. At just the time this Council is calling for the cease-fire that was supposed to take effect Saturday night at midnight, Russia is backing an all-out assault.
We do not know how many civilians are left in Debaltseve, because Russia and the separatists it supports have refused to guarantee the safety of impartial OSCE monitors who have been trying for days to enter the area – a commitment that, in this upside-down world, Russia and the separatists made on February 12th at Minsk.
But we know from credible press reports that thousands of civilians in Debaltseve and neighboring villages have been sheltering from heavy shelling in dank basements, often without running water, food, electricity, or basic medical supplies. We know that many of the civilians left, who are enduring the terror of this relentless assault, are the elderly and small children – people who could not evacuate on their own.
And even with such limited information, we know with certainty that at the same time that Russia signs onto yet another agreement committing itself to de-escalation and peace, forces that Russia trains, equips, and joins on the battlefield have only escalated this fighting, grabbing more territory and killing the Ukrainian soldiers who stand in their way.
We are caught in a deadly feedback loop. International leaders engage in rigorous, exhaustive negotiations to get Russia to commit to peace – in Geneva, in Normandy, in September in Minsk, in Berlin in February, and then again in Minsk on February 12th when the implementations were signed; and now in New York. Yet Russia’s commitments have no bearing on the actions of its soldiers and the separatists they back on the ground.
Mr. President, the United States has maintained the same position across thirty meetings before this Council with respect to Ukraine. Let me reiterate that position. We are for peace in Ukraine. We are for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity. We are for ending the violence in eastern Ukraine that has taken more than 5,600 lives since last April, and displaced already approximately one million people. We are for all of the signatories to the agreements signed in Minsk in September 2014 – particularly Russia and the separatists they back – fulfilling the commitments that they have made. And we are for the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements” of September 5 and September 19th, the package of measures endorsed last week by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. To be clear, the February 12th implementation package is a roadmap to fulfilling commitments made by these same signatories in the September Minsk Agreements.
President Hollande, President Poroschenko, Chancellor Merkel, and President Putin each made this clear when they endorsed the implementation package on February 12th and issued their joint declaration that they “remain committed to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.” The “Minsk Agreements” in the title – plural – refer to those signed on September 5 and September 19 by the same signatories, while the “measures for implementation” in the title make clear that the February 12th package was designed to begin carrying out the September agreements, and not to supplant them, as Russia has now begun to argue.
The United States rejects any interpretation of this resolution that would abrogate the parties’ earlier commitments. All parties must implement all of the commitments made in the September Minsk agreements. The implementation steps agreed upon in the February 12th package include a comprehensive cease-fire; the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the September line of contact; the release of all hostages; and the eventual restoration of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and control of its international border.
Too often, debates in this Council occur in a vacuum, removed from the real world. In the real world, a man named Aleksei Kravchenko, a 73-year-old in the Ukrainian held-town of Svitlodarsk, near Debaltseve, recently told a reporter that he had spent nights huddled together with his grandchildren in a bomb shelter on his property as shelling continued through the night. Aleksei told the reporter that his grandchildren said to him in the shelter, “Grandpa, I don’t want to die young.” He said, “I held my grandchildren, and they were shaking, and I looked in their eyes, and they were afraid.” With the February 12th agreement, Aleksei said, “Now we are hoping.” The fighting, unfortunately, has in fact increased dramatically near Aleksei’s home.
But we call on Russia to translate hope into real action; to translate hope into real results, and to do so urgently.
Today’s Council session is an effort to throw the Council’s weight behind an agreement already jeopardized by statements by the separatists dismissing the full cease-fire, by their continued attacks on Debaltseve, and by the separatists’ refusal – together with Russia’s – to allow access to the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission. We are looking to Russia, which manufactured and fueled this conflict, to leave the upside-down world it has created and to honor the resolution it tabled today supporting efforts to end it. Thank you.