FROM: U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
June 5, 2015
Thank you, Mr. President, for organizing today’s meeting to speak to the recent developments in eastern Ukraine. And I join others in thanking our briefers, Under Secretary-General Feltman and OSCE Deputy Chief Monitor Hug, for providing the Security Council and the international community with the facts underlying the escalation in violence, which are critical in a conflict where some continue to try to obscure the truth.
On June 3rd, combined Russian-separatist forces launched multiple, coordinated attacks west of the Minsk line of contact in Donetsk. The attacks were concentrated on the towns of Marinka and Krasnohorivka.
The Russian Federation and its separatist allies have offered multiple – often conflicting – explanations for these attacks.
In some instances, Russia and the separatists have blamed Ukraine for inciting the attacks. For example, a Russian presidential spokesman attributed the violations of the ceasefire to the “provocative actions by the Ukrainian armed forces,” claiming, “the Ukrainian side has repeatedly taken similar efforts to escalate tensions against the backdrop of international operations.” Similarly, the so-called “Defense Minister” of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic blamed Ukraine for “provocations” and, what he called, “a breach in the Minsk agreements,” which led to the fighting. Exactly what the so-called provocations are was never explained.
This argument, this set of arguments, have been undermined by some of the separatists themselves, who seem to have forgotten to run their tweets and their blog posts by Moscow. During the attacks, one tweeted, “Marinka is ours!” – posting a photo of armed soldiers atop a tank flying the separatists’ flag. A post on a separatist website said, “As a result of a massive attack by [DPR] armed forces, Marinka has been liberated.”
In other instances, Russia has argued that the attacks were justified because the areas that are actually part of the separatist-controlled territory under the Minsk agreements are these areas. They are not. This was the case Russia made about Marinka and Krasnohorivka yesterday, at a meeting of the OSCE. We’ve seen this tactic before; when combined Russian-separatist forces encircled and attacked Debaltseve immediately after signing the package of measures at Minsk on February 12th, 2015. As a separatist commander Eduard Basurin told Reuters on February 15th, “Of course we can open fire [on Debaltseve]…The territory is internal: ours. And internal is internal. But along the line of confrontation there is no shooting.”
The problem with this line of argument is, quite simply, that it is false. At no point did the Minsk Agreements recognize Marinka and Krasnohorivka as separatist-controlled territory. Nor did they grant the separatists control over Debaltseve or other areas combined Russian-separatist forces have seized, or tried to seize. Yet for Russia and the separatists, it seems the contact line can shift to include the territories that they feel they deserve.
The Kyiv-born surrealist master Mikhail Bulgakov put this problem a different way: “The tongue can conceal the truth, but the eyes, never!” In this case, the objective eyes in eastern Ukraine belong to the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission, the SMM. And what they tell us is that, on the evening of June 2nd and early morning of June 3rd, “SMM observed the movement of a large amount of heavy weapons in DPR-controlled areas – generally in a westerly direction toward the contact line – close to Marinka, preceding and during the fighting.” So, to repeat: according to the SMM, heavy weapons from the Russian-backed separatist side moved westward “preceding as well as during the fighting.”
The SMM tried to contact high-ranking DPR personnel over an hour-and-a-half period on the morning of June 3rd, but reported, “Either they were unavailable or did not wish to speak to the SMM.” The eyes do not conceal the truth. And the truth here is that the recent violence was rooted in a combined Russian-separatist assault.
These and other joint attacks by Russian-separatist forces have deadly consequences. At least 5 Ukrainian soldiers were killed, and 38 wounded, in the assault on the towns. The number of casualties is surely higher, but we do not, unfortunately, have reliable reports from the separatists’ side. That is because, as the UN’s Human Rights Monitoring Unit noted in its May 15th report, independent media have been prosecuted, threatened, and otherwise muzzled in separatist-controlled territory.
We also do not know how many Russian soldiers were killed in recent attacks – or in any of their operations in eastern Ukraine, for that matter. Russia continues – despite incidents such as the recent capture of two special operations Russian soldiers in Schastya last month – to deny any military involvement in eastern Ukraine.
And just last week, President Putin signed a decree classifying any death of Russian soldiers in “special operations” in peacetime a state secret, a policy which previously was limited to wartime only. Not content with denying their military service in life, Russia now denies their loved ones the respect and closure – not to mention social services – for their service in death. And it denies the Russian people knowledge to which they are entitled – of a conflict their government has been fueling with weapons, training, and soldiers. No matter what your opinion of the open secret that is Russia’s military involvement in eastern Ukraine and occupied Crimea, the dignified recognition of one’s dead should have primacy.
Of course, suffering is hardly limited to those involved in the fighting. Civilians living near and along the front lines continue to endure profound hardship. Approximately 1.3 million Ukrainians have been displaced by the fighting. Small children on the front lines have gotten used to going to school and sleeping in basements. Families live underground for months at a time. The elderly and disabled are trapped with little access to vital medicine and other forms of assistance. A health professional working in Debaltseve said, “I’ve met elderly people who say that they would just like to die. They don’t have depression; they just don’t want to be 80 years old and living in a basement.”
By now, the international community is quite familiar with Russia’s playbook when it comes to efforts to occupy the territory of its sovereign neighbors – as it did in Crimea, and before that in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. The consensus here, and in the international community, remains that Minsk’s implementation is the only viable way out of this deadly conflict.
The Ukrainian government has made good faith efforts to honor that consensus – notwithstanding the seemingly endless violations by Russia and the separatists – and deliver on the commitments made at Minsk. Ukraine is holding direct dialogue with the separatists, a bitter pill to swallow, but one they have swallowed for the sake of peace and for the sake of the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. At the same time, Ukraine has undertaken critical efforts, with the participation of Ukrainian civil society, to address pervasive problems it inherited from its predecessors, like widespread corruption, as well as to pursue crucial reforms such as decentralization. Ukraine cooperates with the international monitors and bodies, and has committed to address identified areas of concern. The United States will continue to raise tough issues and these areas of concern, including some raised here today by the briefers, with the Government of Ukraine, and we will support the government and Ukrainian people as they continue their efforts toward meaningful reform.
Yet Russia – and the separatists it trains, arms, fights alongside, and with whom it shares command and control systems in eastern Ukraine – continues to ignore this consensus, flouting the commitments it made at Minsk. It goes right on applying its playbook in new territories – as though this Council and the world are too blind, or too easily deceived to notice.
We must not let ourselves be deceived. The consequences of Russia’s contempt for Minsk and the rules undergirding our international peace and security are too great – both for the integrity of the international system, and for the rights and welfare of the Ukrainian people. We cannot fail to see and fail to act. We must not stop applying pressure until Ukrainians get the stable democracy, the territorial integrity, and sovereignty they yearn for and deserve. Thank you.