Thank you, Mr. President. We continue to believe that compliance with the September Minsk Agreements and the February Implementation Package provides a roadmap to peace in Ukraine.
For the first time since the Minsk Implementation Package was signed on February 12th, we have seen a reduction in violence. Of course no one forgets that Russia and the separatists they trained, armed, directed, and fought alongside, started violating their commitments in the Package from the first minutes and hours after the deal was signed – by laying siege to Debaltseve, a city dozens of kilometers beyond the contact line, with their deadly and indiscriminate pummeling. Violations started on day one, and violations of the ceasefire continue in a number of places, particularly outside Mariupol, where Russian-backed separatists have engaged in intense fighting attacking the village of Shirokyne in recent days.
Unfortunately, although the violence has decreased, there has been only partial compliance with the Minsk Implementation Package. As members of this Council know, the package calls for, “an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire,” not a gradual and partial reduction in fire. It does not say that Russian-backed separatists can continue to shell, engage in sniper fire, or use barrel and rocket artillery – yet they have carried out all of these attacks in recent days. Since, February 20th, Russian separatist attacks like these have killed 15 Ukrainian military personnel and wounded nearly one hundred more.
A second condition in the Minsk Implementation Package is full, unfettered access for OSCE monitors to the entire conflict zone. While there have been occasional instances when the SMM has been stopped at Ukrainian checkpoints, the restrictions on the SMM by Russia and the separatists are documented as widespread.
Just as Russia and Russian-backed separatists prevented the SMM from going to Debaltseve while these forces carried out their vicious attack, recent SMM reports chronicle repeated, persistent obstruction by Russian-backed separatists, obstructions that include even threatening to kill OSCE monitors.
To date, the separatists have granted OSCE monitors sporadic access limited to certain roads, when and where it suits them. As we have asked before, it bears asking again: Who obstructs an objective observer other than someone who has something to hide from an unbiased eye?
The Minsk Implementation Package also calls for the full pullback of all heavy weapons. That, too, has not happened. Shortly after the package was signed, the OSCE’s Chief Monitor sent a letter to all of the signatories requesting that they provide information on what heavy weapons were present in eastern Ukraine, where they are, which routes will be used to withdraw them, and where they will be located after being withdrawn. Russia has not replied, as though by pretending it has no heavy weapons in Ukraine, we will forget all of the tanks, Grad missiles, and other heavy weapons we watched Russia send across the border.
All signatories to the Minsk Agreements and the Implementation Package – Ukraine on the one side, and Russia, and the so-called “DPR” and “LPR” on the other – are responsible for pulling back heavy weapons. The OSCE must have unfettered, unconditional access to verify the withdrawal.
Two days ago, Russia sent its 17th so-called humanitarian convoy into Ukraine, once again denying international observers and Ukrainian border guards the right to conduct a full and complete inspection of its contents. Russian convoys that should be coming out of Ukraine are instead going in. If these convoys are carrying humanitarian assistance, why not allow a full inspection?
Colleagues, the ceasefire, weapons pullback, and OSCE verification – none of which are complete – are all among just the immediate steps in the Implementation Package. Further, all of the Minsk Agreements to date have called for the release of all hostages by all sides. Nadiya Savchenko and other Ukrainians being held in Russia are hostages, just as surely as those being kept in basements in Donetsk and Luhansk. Again, we call on Russia to release Nadiya Savchenko, who has been on hunger strike for over 80 days, and her Ukrainian counterparts. This is something Russia can do today.
As we’ve seen before, the separatists have an established track record of using a lull in the fighting to regroup, rearm, and resupply. Russia supports this process by providing an unlimited supply of guns and weaponry. The United States and the rest of the world hopes that that is not the case this time. We are carefully watching what happens in Shyrokyne, a town just east of the strategic port city of Mariupol, which many fear will be the next target of the separatists and Russian military.
The devastating consequences of this conflict are brought into sharp relief by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ most recent report. More than 1.7 million people displaced. More than 5,800 people killed – a casualty count that does not include the hundreds of bodies found once Russian-backed separatists finished their deadly siege of Debaltseve.
An OCHA report from the end of last month said that 500 bodies had been found in houses and basements at the end of the siege – 500 bodies. Homes and basements where people took shelter from the endless barrage of Russian-made mortars and rockets as they rained down on the city’s residents – residents who could not escape. Weeks into the siege, at the end of January, the self-declared leader of the Russian-backed separatists had announced, “Anybody who leaves…will be in the interlocking field of fire of our artillery. From today, the road is under fire.” And so those inside were left with a choice: risk your life by staying, or risk your life by leaving. Civilians were killed doing both, and again, 500 hundred bodies found in homes and basements where people took shelter.
And the casualties and the displaced are one of the devastating consequences of this conflict. Another – and one we rarely speak about in this Council anymore – is the ongoing illegal occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea by a permanent member of this Council.
Crimea is important not only because it constitutes the continuing violation of the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation – a violation orchestrated in Moscow, and dressed up in a sham referendum – but also because it offers a preview of the kind of rule that we can expect in the other parts of Ukraine seized by those who see themselves as part of Novorossiya.
Let me give just one example of what it’s like to live in that world, from the long list of repressive practices documented in the UN’s February human rights report – part of the relentless persecution of the Crimean Muslim Tatar minority. According to the report, on January 29th, 2015, the de facto authorities arrested Akhtem Chiigoz, the Deputy Chairman of the Tatar Mejlis, the Tatars’ representative council. He was charged under the Russian criminal code with having participated in a “mass disturbance,” for protesting against what was then the imminent Russian occupation, which ended in a clash with pro-Russian demonstrators. On February 7th, another Crimean Tatar was detained on the same charges.
Both men are charged with violating Russian law – even though Russian law had not even taken effect at the time that they participated in the protest. Yesterday the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media released a statement saying that media freedom in Crimea was at an all-time low.
Among other violations, she reported that, “Journalists from at least thirteen independent media outlets, freelance journalists, and bloggers have been threatened, assaulted, physically attacked, banned from entry, interrogated, and kidnapped; their equipment confiscated or damaged.”
So, occupy territory, unilaterally attempt to annex it, and then retroactively and arbitrarily apply your laws to those who dared to question your takeover as it was occurring. It does not get much more Orwellian than that. And as anyone who has read the human rights report knows, this is just one in a long list of repressive tactics – including torture, enforced disappearances, and targeted political killings – that have defined Russia’s occupation.
It is to avoid an Orwellian world like this – where we talk of peace while undermining it – that we must ensure that Minsk is implemented. The Council members around this table must confront the situation on the ground as it exists rather than as we wish it were. Peace will not come from more words – and there have been so many words in this Chamber. It will come from the long-awaited and faithful implementation of the many agreements that have been entered into, and renewed respect for the territorial integrity of a Member State of the United Nations.