Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at the UN Security Council Meeting on Ukrainian Law “On ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the national language”
We are thankful to the Peruvian Presidency for convening this meeting.
For a start, we absolutely agree that to protect the language of the titular nation is a duty of any State, including Ukraine. What we are saying is aimed not to undermine the Ukrainian language, which people in Russia understand, love, and respect; but to protect the Russian language, that the biased Ukrainian authorities took to eradicate using draconian ignorant methods, which is ban on the use of Russian in the major part of Ukrainian public space. I do not even say that this runs counter to any convention on protection of national minorities and basic human rights. What I say is that it runs counter to any common sense and basic norms of civilized behavior.
Here is a small example taken from an interview by Advisor of the President of Ukraine on political issues and a candidate to the Verkhovna Rada N.Poturaev. In that interview he suggested changing names: the ‘Rossian’ language (i.e. the language of “Rossiya”) instead of ‘Russian’, ‘Moscovia’ instead of ‘Russia’, besides he suggested using the Russian language as a ‘weapon’ against our country.
I anticipate a question that is likely to come today as to what all of it has to do with the Security Council agenda and whether it is rather a Ukraine’s domestic affair. Let me say that it does have to do with the UNSC agenda. It has a direct bearing on it. The document that P.Poroshenko signed on 15 May, explicitly violates the letter and spirit of the Minsk Package that was endorsed by UNSC resolution 2202. That is why all of us have to give a fundamental and unbiased assessment to the newly minted Ukrainian law. I hope all our colleagues today will be able to resist the temptation to remove Kiev from the equation of deserved criticism for this Law and fill our meeting with other narrative.
Let me remind that the main provisions of the document that authorizes harsh, forceful Ukrainization of all aspects of life and gradually introduces fines for failure to speak Ukrainian enter into force today. Russian-speaking Ukrainians will be almost deprived of any opportunity to be educated (i.a. at schools and universities) in their native language.
I will not be repetitive and provide concrete examples from the text of the Law – I already did this on 20 of May. Since then, neither us nor Russian-speaking Ukrainians received any new reason to change attitude towards the Law.
This issue is not a Ukraine’s domestic affair. We absolutely reject such an interpretation. It is quite evident for everyone who has a knowledge of the modern history of Ukraine, that the issue of language and cultural identity stands at the very core of the tragic ‘schism’ that the country had to live through after the ‘Maidan’ coup of 2014. In the very first days after the Maidan authorities came to power, they started to threaten the people of the Crimea and the South-East of Ukraine that they would ban the use of Russian as an official language. It was exactly this threat that triggered the internal disintegration and confrontation in Ukraine that led the country to the present-day lasting crisis and territorial split. Therefore, unless this problem is solved in the spirit of harmony and public consensus, no true progress in consolidating the Ukrainian society and, as a result, no end to the internal Ukrainian fratricidal conflict in the East is possible
Those who try to cover up for any steps of the “Maidan authorities”, echo their allegations that this only be about standard action to promote the State language in respect to the languages of national minorities. Thereby Russian-speaking Ukrainians are also listed among national minorities. This might sound logical; however, any impartial expert on Ukraine would prove that this template hardly be applicable to this country. Russian-speaking Ukrainians do not constitute a national minority in the classic sense of this term.
But for the official “Maidan” statistics, according to which almost no one speaks Russian in Ukraine today, all other sources and polls confirm that Russian remains native or preferred language for the majority of the population. Gallup – American sociological institution – stated that at the end of 2000s, 83% of respondents in Ukraine called Russian their preferred language and said it was an important course their children took at school. Google – American search engine – stated in 2014 that over 90% of search requests coming from Ukraine were articulated in Russian. Even the most “hard-core” “Maidan” propagandists have to admit that Russian is native for at least one quarter of Ukrainians. Doesn’t this statistics show that restrictive and punitive measures regarding the Russian language in Ukraine are likely to entail disconnection and social confrontation, to say the least?
By the way, the new Ukrainian authority that during the recent elections found support of 75% of Ukrainians, from the very start doubted that course at forceful Ukrainization of the country and at creating “language inquisition”. Incumbent President V.Zelensky and his team indicated time and again that after the new Parliament was set up, they would address the ineligibility of the State Language Law.
Parliament of Ukraine – the Verkhovna Rada – also has many issues with this Law. On 21 July, Ukrainian MPs filed an address with the Constitutional Court of Ukraine regarding the Law’s non-conformity with the Constitution. They also pointed out that the Law violated the right of the citizens to speak their mother tongue and, as a result, created the environment of zero-tolerance in the society. Earlier today a draft law was introduced to the Verkhovna Rada that suggested revoking the Law on State Language, because it violated the Framework Convention of the Council of Europe for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional Languages.
Against this backdrop, much depends on us today. You can either ‘play along’ with the “Maidan politicians” under ex-President P.Poroshenko who have discredited themselves and pretend that the Law on State Language should be taken calmly and without criticism; or you can send a clear signal that action to preserve national and cultural identity should not be confined to defying rights of the Russian-speaking population. In particular, P.Poroshenko has proclaimed recently that as long as V.Zelensky spoke Russian, the country would be imperiled. V.Zelensky also received threats in this regard from other nationalist activists of Maidan.
There is no consensus on language issues inside Ukraine. Adoption of the Law on State Language was a purely political decision that did not account for the opinion of the people of Ukraine, the current developments in the country and the specific features of the multi-ethnic society of Ukraine.
We believe we should not encourage the perverse and extremely dangerous logic of Ukraine, therefore we suggest sending a clear signal indicating that Members of the Security Council be in support of the course to unify and consolidate Ukrainians instead of dividing them. This is the only way we will be able to prove in deeds rather than in words our shared commitment to the Minsk Agreements, the implementation of which Ukraine does its best to avoid.
In response to the statement by the Representative of Ukraine:
Thank you, Mr. President,
Indeed, I would like to comment on the words of some of my colleagues.
Let me begin with my friend Christoph. I do not now who briefed him on the essence of my statement, but judging by the way he interpreted it, I can say for sure that the summary he received was completely wrong. I can repeat my speech ‘encore’ if he likes, but in a bilateral format.
I will not grant answers to the questions of my British colleague, and this is not because I lack respect for him, but because he does not need those answers. He lives in a paradigm of his own, and the questions he puts are all of rhetoric nature – all of them contain the answers that he likes. As for any alternative answers – he does not want them at all. By the way, I have already suggested that my British colleague should visit the Crimea personally and have a look at the “sufferings” of the Crimeans, including the Crimean Tatars. I also suggest him making his own conclusions rather than reading out the narrative he receives from the British Foreign Office.
By the way, in the Crimea one can see a system of education in the three national languages: Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar. The latter is what our American colleague was so bothered about that he forgot to say a single word on the topic of today’s meeting or comment on the words of the OSCE High Representatives on National Minorities who provided much interesting information in his statement.
We could guess that a number of Security Council Members would do their best to escape discussing the subject matter of the meeting. They talked about whatever they could, but for the issue that we raised. Basically, it was little surprising to us.
We have long tried to explain that the image you have in your mind and that the Kiev authorities try to present – the image of a freedom-loving and democratic Ukraine that is amidst an unequal struggle against a bloodthirsty aggressor, does not have anything to do with the reality. You do not hear us say that the situation in Ukraine is far from your idea of it, from the myth that you created. Or rather, you do not want to hear this. You do not want to understand that your condescension to Kiev breeds its feeling of impunity and all-permissiveness. You do not want to listen, when you are told what is going on in Ukraine, what level of hatred and fragmentation is cultivated within Ukraine and towards Russia. Let me give you three short examples.
Ukrainian TV-Channel NewsOne that announced a TV linkup to be held with Russian “Rossiya-1” with participation of ordinary people (not politicians) on both sides, was subject to an unprecedented bullying by nationalists with the acquiescence of authorities. Yesterday there was an update, saying that NewsOne Chief Producer had been interrogated by SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) in the framework of “criminal proceedings on suspicion of an attempt to commit treason”. This is just because NewsOne wanted to organize a TV linkup!
Headquarters of another channel – “112 Ukraine” situated in the very center of Kiev suffered a mortar shelling for plans do demonstrate a documentary movie “Revealing Ukraine” by a famous American director Oliver Stone. The National Union of Journalists of Ukraine condemned this shelling and proclaimed that Ukraine was amidst a “war against journalists and Media”. Former head of Ukraine’s Right Sector, MP of the outgoing Verkhovna Rada Dmytro Yarosh advised that NewsOne employees should quit, and those “concerned about human rights and freedom of speech violations – shut up”.
Head of “RIA Novosti Ukraine” Kirill Vyshinsky has been in detention for a year already on charges of high treason for news coverage he carried out.
This list knows no limit, but you do not want to listen to this. Many of you.
We regret that some could not resist using this meeting to speculate on a very sensitive topic: crash of Malaysian Boeing MH-17 in the skies above Ukraine in July 2014.
As we approach the 5th anniversary of this tragedy, we once again express our heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased. We are firmly convinced that every family deserves to know the truth about what really happened on that ill-fated day. That is why from the very start we called for a thorough and impartial international investigation in compliance with resolution 2166. On many occasions, we have reiterated our readiness to join the investigation and provide the required assistance.
Unfortunately, we cannot say the action of the Joint Investigative Team (Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Ukraine itself) was unbiased. First questions to this Team appeared right after 4 out of 5 States on 7 August, 2014, signed a confidential agreement that made it possible to filter any information. As for Malaysia, for a long time it had no opportunity to be a full-fledged participant of the investigation. I do not know if you heard of it or not, but Malaysia’s Prime-Minister Mahathir Mohamad challenged the results of the Team’s work as he met with journalists on 30 May. We share his view: it seems that the investigation aims not to clarify the circumstances of the disaster, but to blame Russia for everything.
I am somewhat surprised at the words of my friend Christoph who referred to the international law and demonstrated amazing legal nihilism when urging Russia to pay compensations to the victims, though there has not been yet any trial and what we have is only suspects. Nobody has been pronounced guilty.
Let me remind that in October 2016 we transferred primary unprocessed radar data and remain the only one to have done this. By the way, let me put a question to my U.S. colleague who also addressed MH-17 today: Where are the images from crash site taken by American satellites that the U.S. has long talked about but refused to provide? During the recent press conference on 19 June, JIT representatives failed to answer the question why the Russian data was not considered, and why data from other countries was never even presented. Similarly, they failed to answer another one: Why did they ignore the fact that the missile that allegedly downed MH-17 belonged to the Ukrainian Armed Forces – the fact established by the Russian side once the JIT demonstrated fragments of that missile? To us, the politicized nature of JIT is self-evident.
I will not take long to speak about the Kerch Strait incident. I do not know if you are aware of this or not, but Russia offered to set free those naval officers and return them to Ukraine, should they agree to participate in Russia-based criminal proceedings. This proposal was totally rejected by the Ukrainian side represented by its Foreign Minister. By the way, it was the decision that President V.Zelensky later doubted and called into question. However, I will not dwell upon it. I will only read out one quote by Andriy Portnov, former Deputy Head of the Administration of the President. Mr.Portnov returned to Ukraine one day prior to Mr.Zelensky’s inauguration and filed an action at the National Bureau of Investigation against acts of ex-President Poroshenko regarding the incident in question. I quote: “The aforementioned events were the result of planned and unlawful acts by the person who at the moment was holding Office of Ukraine’s President and was the Commander in Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. P.Poroshenko, acting purposefully, being part of an organized group, possessing the entire body of information about tension in the Kerch Strait and recognizing high probability of aggressive action by the Russian Armed Forces, fully understanding the risks of such action that might come in form of a threat to life, health or freedom of Ukrainian servicemen, damage inflicted on the military equipment and weaponry; ordered or cleared an order for a group of vessels of Ukrainian Armed Forces to reposition from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait, that at the moment was under full control of the Naval Forces of the Russian Federation, that were clearly and significantly superior in power”.
In conclusion, let me address my Ukrainian colleague who once again resorted to the practice of substitution of notions that the Ukrainian side has favored for quite a time. I am getting an impression that he was absent from the meeting dedicated to the 5th anniversary of the Minsk Agreements, when his question about presence of Russian troops in Donbass was answered not by us, but by the representatives of the OSCE. We remember too well what they said back then. However, the Ukrainian side still prefers to use the term “Russian militians”. Of course, they may be Russian, because there are many Russian people in Ukraine, but they are representatives of Donbass, not of our country. By the way, he forgot to mention how many peaceful people of Donbass – Luhansk and Donetsk, who died under fire of the noble and knightly Ukrainian Armed Forces. I stress – peaceful people.
Let me bring it up once again, for your understanding: it was not Donbass that marched on Kiev, it was Kiev that marched on Donbass. I will not go on talking about how the Ukrainian side sabotages the Minsk Agreements. The distinguished Permanent Representative of Ukraine proposed steps to be taken to start settlement of the conflict, however as he spoke, he addressed the Russian side, once again performing a substitution of notions. We used to say and we will say this again: unless Ukraine comes into direct dialogue with representatives of Donbass, not Russia, there will be no progress in this conflict. When discussing other conflicts that to our deep regret surged the world: Syria, Yemen, Libya, you name it, why do we call upon parties to conflict to sit down at the negotiations table? We do not make up that external stakeholders should substitute for parties to conflict, do we? It is only with Ukraine that many of you attempt to make this substitution and have Ukraine talk to Russia rather than those people in Donbass – in Luhansk and Donetsk – who are direct participants of this confrontation.
And one last thing: the Permanent Representative of Ukraine said that we tell Ukraine what language to speak. It is not us who tell Ukraine what language to speak. It is your law that defines what language you people can speak and what language they cannot.