Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC briefing on persecution of Orthodox Christianity by Ukrainian authorities
We followed closely the briefing of Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Ilze Brands-Kheris. Let me underscore that the Russian Federation still proceeds from the understanding that issues relating to human rights do not fall within the competence of the Security Council and need to be addressed at specialized UN bodies. What’s on the agenda of the Council today is not human rights as a standalone topic, but another set of provocative steps undertaken by the Kiev regime that put off prospects of a peaceful settlement in Ukraine. That is why we requested this meeting under agenda item “Threats to international peace and security”.
We thank Metropolitan Anthony, Head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, for providing a detailed account of Kiev’s repressive actions against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).
I bet many of you have been asking yourselves why we convened this meeting to focus on the domestic situation in Ukraine. I emphasize that it is not about interfering in the affairs of the church, and not about matters that are exclusively ecclesiastical. The thing is that the processes that are currently underway in Ukraine have a bearing on the international peace and security and directly influence the prospects for establishing peace in the country.
As we said during the meeting on 13 January, the formation of a truly authoritarian, despotic regime has noticeably accelerated in Ukraine lately. An all-encompassing campaign against dissidence is in progress – from a complete ban on opposition to arrest of public opinion leaders, cancelation of freedom of media and even freedom of religion as such.
We must realize that this crackdown in the Ukrainian public and cultural space manifested itself not today and not in February last year, but way before that. Since the current regime came to power in 2014 after an unconstitutional takeover, it has started to annihilate systematically anything that they believed had even a remotest connection to Russia. In a country where the Russian language is native to the majority of the population and that had spent centuries in cultural unity with Russia, to implement such policy literally meant to uproot the fundamental pillars of the society and to disseminate an unnatural concept of Ukraine as “anti-Russia”. Thereby it must be noted that Russians constitute the second-largest ethnic group in Ukraine, to which the Constitution of Ukraine guarantees the free development, use and protection of Russian, and other languages of national minorities of Ukraine (Article 10); that the State promotes the consolidation and development of the Ukrainian nation, its historical consciousness, traditions and culture, and also the development of the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of all indigenous peoples and national minorities of Ukraine (Article 11); that there shall be no privileges or restrictions based on race, color of skin, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, ethnic and social origin, property status, place of residence, linguistic or other characteristics (Article 24); that citizens who belong to national minorities are guaranteed the right to receive instruction in their native language, or to study their native language in state and communal educational establishments and through national cultural societies in accordance with the law (Article 53).
Measures taken by the Kiev regime run counter to Ukraine’s obligations to protect the rights of all ethnic groups that arise from a number of international documents. In particular, the ban on discrimination of national minorities and guarantees of the right to education, as well as the right to preserve culture and learn native languages is stipulated in such documents as the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the 1966 International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights; the 1960 UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education; the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child; Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights; Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities; 1992 UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities; the 1990 Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE. At least 13 laws and decisions that the Ukrainian regime passed in 2016-2022 contradict the mentioned obligations of Ukraine arising from its Constitution or international treaties.
This resulted in an unprecedented (even for Ukraine) surge of Russophobia that was instigated from the very top of Ukrainian establishment. In September 2021 President Zelensky offered to all residents of Ukraine who identified themselves as Russian to leave the country. Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council O.Danilov went as far as calling Russians “rats” and “swinedogs” and called to hunt them down and exterminate.
Once Russia began a special military operation in Ukraine, Zelensky’s dictatorship started to evolve really fast. On the pretext of combating separatism and “Kremlin propaganda”, there has been widespread persecution of political opponents, independent journalists and media, as well as members of public organizations blacklisted by the authorities.
In the course of but a few months, all opposition parties have been eliminated that stood for promoting normal relations with Russia. In the territories controlled by Zelensky’s regime, mass political repressions, detentions of civil activists and rights advocates are in full swing. Any expression of disagreement with the official position is extirpated.
Thus, Ukrainian rights activist E.Berezhnaya who had spent 8 years studying and documenting the evolvement of neo-Nazism in Ukraine and addressed the Security Council in March last year, was arrested by Ukrainian special services and still remains in custody on absurd charges of state treason. We repeatedly drew the attention of the Secretary-General and Security Council to this egregious case. We call on the UN leadership to step in and help set her free. We are aware of hundreds more cases when people become persecuted or arrested not only because of publications or statements that they made, but also because of denunciations. Or even because they listened to Russian music or read Russian media. Those people constitute the “exchange pool” that we are offered to exchange for Ukrainian PoWs. Since lots of Ukrainian military become prisoners, Kiev tries to expand its “exchange pool” by all possible means, including all-out arrests among civilian population.
The “war on occupants” served as the pretext for Ukrainian authorities to adopt a number of truly Draconian laws, including the legislation on “collaborators”, which allows to hold people accountable even for receiving humanitarian assistance from the Russian authorities or refusing to evacuate from places of residence.
Ukrainian media space has been completely cleansed from any alternative views. In December 2022 V.Zelensky signed the law “On media” which transferred all Ukrainian mass media under state control. The National Council of Television and Radio Broadcasting of Ukraine was enabled to ban online media, suspend license of printed media and enforce Internet service providers to block access to any publications. Even Western media and the International Federation of Journalists noticed the authoritarian and discriminatory nature of this law.
The war on canonical Orthodox Christianity is another track of Kiev’s repressive policies. Ukraine stands on the brink of a large-scale inter-confessional conflict, which has not had any precedents in the modern European history.
Supported by their Western sponsors, Ukrainian authorities have long adopted a course that seeks to undermine the Canonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine. As we heard from Metropolitan Anthony, now the schismatic church of Ukraine, which was artificially created in 2018 and made fully obedient to the authorities, is being forcibly imposed on the Ukrainian people. This is a joint venture of Kiev and the United States that has nothing to do with matters of confession.
Based on the discriminatory legislation, worship sites of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church become seized, and its communities subjected to unwarranted legal closure which is disguised as “voluntary transitions” to other denominations. Such measures go hand-in-hand with mass clashes, beatings of worshippers and clergy.
Thereby priests of the so-called Orthodox Church of Ukraine at their so-called “liturgical services” that look more like political campaigning, do not hesitate to use schismatic and hateful language, speak of “liberation of holy sites from the Russian captivity” and “purification”. We remember to what deadly and tragic events such calls to “purification” led earlier in human history. Ukraine is only one step away from a fratricidal internal religious catastrophe. However, the ruling regime adds more fuel to this fire. By the available information, a bunch of further initiatives are being prepared at the moment, which aim at discriminating the communes and parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, depriving this Church of its historical and legal name, and even completely eliminating it.
Further political and administrative pressure on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is supported by a defamatory campaign in Ukrainian media, where high-ranking politicians and officials take active part. Thus on 7 January Head of the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Policy and the Freedom of Conscience V.Yelensky called the existence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church an “anomaly” that should not take place in Ukraine. Chair of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine R.Stefanchuk announced a new draft law against the UOC that should help to decide “what we should do with some religious organization that poses a threat to the national security of Ukraine”.
In these circumstances, we do understand the statement made on social media, where the UOC claims that they never asked Russia to convene this meeting and never authorized us to speak on their behalf at the United Nations. This is true. No one from Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has approached us with such a request, which however proves again that that the UOC is not subordinate to Russia, no matter how hard the Kiev regime would try to assert the opposite. We understand that the mentioned statement was made because the UOC did not want to receive another absurd accusation of being a “collaborator” or be exposed to the obscurantism and provocations of the Ukrainian authorities.
Let me ask this to Kiev’s Western patrons who claim to be so concerned about human rights and freedom of conscience. For how long are you going to ignore what Kiev has been doing to incite an inter-confessional crisis in Ukraine? And more generally, for how long will you disregard the formation of a ruthless dictatorship in that country? The last one is rhetorical though. Not only did you ignore those processes, but you actually encouraged them in the recent decades, and more specifically in the past few years. But what would you say if such steps were taken in your countries that you call democrac? Writing off everything that Kiev does as the need to defend itself against Russia during hostilities is not an option. The trends that I mentioned, namely the evolvement of authoritarianism and dictatorship in Ukraine, started long before the special military operation. These steps of the Kiev regime threaten to have immediate implications for the peace and security. Russia, as we repeatedly stressed, does not have a goal to eliminate Ukraine as a state, and it never did. However we cannot and we will not tolerate the fact that a hateful Russophobic and anti-Christian dictatorship is emerging right at our doorstep.
Right of reply:
I will not comment on the usual mantra of some delegations that whatever it is that we raise at the Security Council with regard to Ukraine is misinformation. Many mentioned the tragedy in Dnepropetrovsk, where a missile destroyed a section of a residential building. Our Western colleagues tried to use this tragedy to overcast the topic that we proposed for this session while declaring it to be false and unworthy of discussion. But none of you spoke about the real background of those events, which had been provided i.a. by Ukrainian officials.
A Russian missile that targeted an energy infrastructural facility was downed by Ukrainian air defense. Since the air defense launcher was positioned in a residential quarter contrary to the norms of international humanitarian law that you care about so much, the missile fell onto a residential building. The rest you know. If the Ukrainian authorities had heeded the IHL, this tragedy would have never happened. And Russia would not have needed to target an infrastructure facility supporting Ukraine’s military capability if the Ukrainian leadership had demonstrated readiness to negotiate on realistic terms that would have allowed to lift the causes why the special military operation had been started.
We regret that none of you said a word of condemnation of almost unstopping air strikes by the Ukrainian armed forces against Donetsk that also kill people. In this case however the Kiev regime deliberately targets residential quarters where there are no military facilities. Residents of Donetsk will tell you more about it at an Arria meeting that we will convene on Friday.