Statement and right of reply by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at an open VTC of UNSC dedicated to the 6th anniversary of Minsk Package of Measures and UNSC resolution 2202
We thank Ms.DiCarlo, Ms.Grau, and Mr.Cevik for their briefings. We welcome the participation in this VTC of Leonid Kravchuk – the first president of independent Ukraine and the representative of this country at the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG). We also welcome the participation of Germany – a member of the “Normandy Quartet”. I cannot see Christoph [Heusgen] on the screen, but I am sure he is here with us. Welcome back, Christoph.
Tomorrow turns six years since the adoption of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements on settlement in Ukraine. It is well-known that this document was signed not on the first day of the internal conflict that flared up after the notorious Maidan events, but only after nine months of tense work and uneasy concessions that Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk had to go for.
Those six years have given no answer to the two important questions: How exactly is Ukraine going to resolve the conflict peacefully? What is Kiev’s vision of the future special status of Donbass within Ukraine? However, all prospects of settlement directly depend on answers to these two questions, because once Kiev started to use force in 2014 and the Ukrainian military began to shoot at residential areas, the people of Donbass ceased to feel any connection to Ukraine.
We regularly draw attention to this situation, because in 2015 the Security Council by its resolution 2202 expeditiously endorsed the hard-won Minsk compromise, thus making this document part of the international law. The Trilateral Contact Group was supposed to become a unique platform for direct dialogue of the three Ukrainian sides in the presence of the OSCE and Russia. As Ms.DiCarlo justly mentioned today, the Maidan-provoked internal conflict in Ukraine has no other internationally-recognized format of settlement.
At the same time, Kiev and our Western partners present our legitimate and understandable wish to draw attention to the need for Ukraine to implement the Minsk Package as “Russian propaganda” and “spreading fake information”. Unfortunately, I am sure that we will hear similar accusations today, as well as mantras that it is Russia that allegedly fails to implement the Minsk Agreements.
I would like to avail of the fact that Ms.Grau is present at this meeting and kindly ask her to give a direct answer to the question: Is there any mentioning of Russia in the text of the Minsk Package apart from the signature of our representative who attested to the document alongside with a OSCE representative? Could you please tell us what obligations they lay upon Russia? It would be good i.a. for the new members of the Council who have had no opportunity so far to dig into the Ukraine case.
I would also like to use this opportunity to ask our esteemed briefers to give direct, non-evasive answers to our questions regarding alleged implementation of the Minsk Package by Ukraine that our Western and Ukrainian colleagues will be telling us about.
- Has Ukraine ensured pardon and amnesty by enacting the law prohibiting the prosecution and punishment of persons in connection with the events that took place in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine (para.5 of the Minsk Package)? In this context, what can be said about the fact that Kiev has not closed criminal files even against those subject to detainee exchange, and that there have been instances of second-time detentions?
- Has Ukraine reinstated control of the segment of its banking system in the conflict-affected areas (para.8 of the Minsk Package)?
- Is there dialogue on modalities of local elections and the future regime in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions as stipulated in para.4 of the Minsk Package?
- And finally, has Ukraine carried out a constitutional reform? Has a new Constitution been enacted that includes decentralization as a key element?
- According to para.11 of the Package, this should have happened by the end of 2015. Has permanent legislation been adopted with regard to the special status of certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in line with measures as set out in the footnote to para.11? I remind that these two steps must precede the reinstatement of full control of the state border by Ukraine.
- For that matter, could you please also tell us if the so-called “Steinmeier formula” has been incorporated in the Ukrainian legislation? It was articulated in the Normandy Format as early as in October 2015 to help Ukraine implement para.11 of the Minsk Package.
- We would be interested to hear comments of our briefers with regard to a draft law that was recently published by the Ukrainian Ministry for reintegration of Donbass and is dedicated to Kiev reinstating control over this region. The authors of the document think in strategic terms. They have figured out ways to keep violating the Minsk Agreements for the next 25 years. The document does not say a word either about direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk or about negotiating special status for Donbass with them. Instead, it contains fantasies about creating some kind of “international administration” and holding elections only two years thereafter. Do you think the people of Donbass will agree to this form of international occupation of their homeland? Most importantly, how does it reconcile with provisions of resolution 2202?
In parallel to this, we have to state that Kiev’s desperate unwillingness to observe its obligations under the Minsk Package is not concealed even at the level of Ukraine’s leadership.
For example, in May and December 2020 President Zelensky claimed, I quote: “The Minsk Agreements are needed not to settle the conflict, but to preserve sanctions against Russia”.
First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine and Head of Ukrainian delegation in the Contact Group O.Reznikov said in an article he issued in January that Kiev would work to reform the Minsk Agreements. He believes this document is “rather a political and diplomatic arrangement than an international treaty”. Besides, O.Reznikov is convinced that its term expired on 31 December 2015.
At the same time, Mr.Reznikov asks a question “if Russia can be persuaded to go for amending the Minsk Agreements or completely changing the settlement format?” He seems to forget that not only Russia supports the Minsk Agreements as the only basis for internal Ukrainian settlement: in its Presidential statement S/PRST/2018/12 of 6 June 2018, the Security Council reminded of a need to strictly observe resolution 2202 and the Minsk Package.
However, without batting an eye he would claim that “Ukraine has implemented almost all agreements made at the Paris summit of the Normandy Quartet”. The fact that Kiev has not thoroughly implemented any of its Minsk obligations does not seem to confuse him.
Instead of implementing the Minsk Agreements, Kiev keeps telling stories about ongoing Russian aggression – Ukraine blames everything on it. This given, no one cared to provide any proof of this “aggression”, which is actually no wonder. Besides, Mr.Apakan, the predecessor of Ms.Grau, at a similar meeting two years ago unambiguously stated that the Special Monitoring Mission had not and did not establish any presence of Russian military units in Donbass. I expect to hear from you, Ms.Grau, confirmation of this fact today too.
We know too well that Kiev only pretends to be implementing the Minsk Agreements. Donbass representatives informed the Council about it at an informal “Arria-formula” meeting that we organized on 2 December 2020. By the way, Ukrainian delegation and its Western sponsors, including Normandy Quartet members, France and Germany, evaded the event. It would be good if today we could also listen to representatives of Donbass, because they are sides of the settlement process.
Interestingly, members of the Normandy Format, namely France, Germany, and others, do not reject direct dialogue with “Ansar Allah” (Houthis) in Yemen, or with the Syrian or Venezuelan opposition, or non-recognized state formations of the Mediterranean for that matter. However, they get nervous when it comes to initiatives suggesting direct communication of Kiev with the real inhabitants of Donbass, as it is envisaged by the Minsk Agreements. Isn’t it you who keep stressing the importance of finding political and diplomatic solutions through an inclusive dialogue? Where are your principles in this case?
We thank the delegations who did not shy away from participating in our “Arria-formula” event. To those who did I must say that actors who side with only one party to the internal Ukrainian conflict and, counter to established facts, connive at their sickly fantasies about “the Russian aggression” cannot be called mediators. You are rather accomplices in Kiev’s crimes against the Donbass population.
In conclusion, if Ukraine wants to normalize the situation in Donbass, Kiev needs to take every effort to ensure that the people living in certain areas of Donetsk and Lugansk are not afraid of getting back and are willing to do so. Whereas so far, as we learned from Donbass representatives, “Ukraine is absolutely indifferent to the people of Donbass and interested only in territories, or demonstrates aggressive intentions … there is already an enormous chasm between Donbass and Ukraine”.
Judge for yourselves: Ukraine’s laws and legal initiatives in the area of language policy that have been adopted over the recent six years undermine the legitimate right of people to speak their native language, besides they restrict and cleanse media space. The education reform was also discriminative by nature – the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe confirms this. As recently as in September 2019 V.Zelensky swore he would not shut down any TV channels or infringe the freedom of speech, however his recent anti-constitutional decision led to closure of three oppositional TV channels, which caused a surge of public discontent all the way to raising a question of impeachment. The reaction of our Western colleagues to this is startling. While advocating for the freedom of speech, they still collectively welcomed this step.
What about the draft law on internment (forced resettlement) of Russia’s nationals that in fact seeks to legalize concentration camps on the territory of Ukraine? What about the initiative that suggests liability for concealing citizenship of other states? How is it supposed to work when the people in Donbass have no opportunity to extend their Ukrainian passports?
All these initiatives infringe the rights of those living in Donbass, take away from them any motivation to reconnect with Ukraine. Russia has nothing to do with this.
Let alone ubiquitous glorification of Nazi henchmen in Ukraine. In the run-up to the Holocaust Remembrance Day, we circulated document S/2021/81 in the Security Council. It contains a long list of cases of glorification of Nazi accomplices, based on Twitter publications of Head of Ukrainian Jewish Committee Eduard Dolinsky. The scale of this “cancerous tumor” that has hit Ukraine is astounding! But neither the OSCE nor our Western partners show signs of due concern. It is blatant double standards!
Ukraine’d rather not waste time on excuses and dubious geopolitical games, but start changing, ensure due respect for human rights, rights of ethnic and language minorities, and the freedom of Media, as was the case in pre-Maidan Ukraine, by the way. Kiev should get down to faithful implementation of its obligations under the Minsk Package of measures in close coordination with Donetsk and Lugansk, rather than keep repeating and hiding behind the lies about a war with Russia. Is Ukraine ready to move to peace and observe its obligations? Are our Western colleagues ready to unambiguously demand that it should do so? Unfortunately, there are ever fewer signs of this. I count on your principled position today. And I hope our Ukrainian colleague, Leonid Kravchuk will give us at least some causes for optimism.
Right of reply:
I would like to comment on some words said today and some questions asked. Actually, this VTC could not surprise us in any way. We know who says what about this conflict and in what way. Ms.Grau today answered not the question that we had asked. She said the discussion about the sides to the conflict was in progress. But my question was not about the discussion. My question was if Russia was mentioned as a side to the Minsk Agreements? I can answer this one, if Ms.Grau was not able to. Russia is not mentioned as a side to the Minsk Agreements.
I listened to the statement by my friend Christoph with great pleasure. I truly miss him here at the Council. He mentioned the Budapest Memorandum. I said I was ready to have separate bilateral consultations in a group if his choice – to discuss the Budapest Memorandum, its history and its sponsors. This is worth a separate conversation, but I can briefly cover it to satisfy curiosity as to our position. When we commented on this in due course, we said that Russia had not obliged under the Budapest Memorandum to force a part of Ukraine to stay within it against the will of the local population of this part, and that provisions of the Budapest Memorandum did not cover circumstances that resulted from internal political or socio-economic factors. But let us put the Budapest Memorandum aside for the time being.
Christoph played with notions, speculating who had been occupied by whom. Had it been Russia that occupied Ukraine? Or, Christoph would query sarcastically, had it been Ukraine that occupied Russia? There is a simple answer to that – Ukraine occupied Ukraine, and it is warring on its own territory.
I listened carefully to Mr.Kravchuk, Ukraine’s representative at the TCG. By the way, he had been announced for this meeting as Ukraine’s envoy to the Contact Group rather than just a representative of Ukraine. A question then begs itself: where are the other representatives to the TCG, including the representatives of certain areas of Donetsk and Lugansk?
Mr.Kravchuk spoke a lot about Ukraine’s efforts to implement the Minsk Agreements, comply with the decisions of the Normandy Summit. In words it sounded like active targeted efforts of Ukraine in implementing the agreements. He mentioned that Ukraine put forward a proposal, a roadmap on the Minsk Agreements. Unfortunately, what he forgot to mention is that three quarters of this roadmap contradict the Minsk Agreements that Ukraine allegedly abides by.
To my regret, I did not hear answers to questions that we had asked in our statement: How to assess claims of Ukrainian officials regarding the Minsk Agreements? How to assess what you, Mr.Kravchuk, said in numerous interviews that you gave recently? You are an experienced and respected man, and it feels rather awkward to me to cite what you said regarding the Minsk Agreements, the people of Donbass and what you think should happen on this territory.
You said Ukraine was ready to de-mine a location at the contact line mentioning that the Russian side refused to de-mine the territory on its side. Well, Russia takes part in mine action in many places – Syria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh. We are ready to help should Ukrainian authorities ask us to. But we cannot de-mine anything on a territory where we are not present, which fact Mr.Cevik confirmed today yet again.
Speaking about Mr.Cevik’s comments, I heard him addressing the death toll among civilians. But it is not the only figure cited today. I think it was the Permanent Representative of the UK who said that 3,500 civilians had fallen victim to the conflict since its beginning. I would like to request Mr.Cevik to elaborate on this statistics and share the percentage ratio of how many civilians had died on each side.
I did not quite understand the question of my French colleague as to the elections-related obligations resulting from the December 2019 summit that Russia had not implemented. As far as I understand, these agreements reiterated the “formula” of the Minsk Agreements and mentioned the “Steinmeier formula”. So it is us who call upon Ukraine to comply with these provisions.
I could say a lot more, but I am not sure the format of this meeting would let us do so. Let me just reiterate how important it is to continue addressing this issue at the Security Council. As for those Council members who keep repeating memorized phrases about what Russia must do to end the conflict, we will keep making the following point to them. Their mediation will only be successful once they start to work seriously and insistently with the Ukrainian side to have it implement the Minsk obligations.