Security Council

Maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine - Security Council, 9138th Meeting

So-called referenda during armed conflict in Ukraine ‘illegal’, not expression of popular will, United Nations political affairs chief tells Security Council.
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Delegates Condemn ‘Sham’ Annexation Polls by Russian Federation in Occupied Ukraine Territories, Call for Resumption of Peace Talks

The so-called “referenda” conducted by de facto authorities in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine have been held during active armed conflict in the country and cannot be called a genuine expression of the popular will, the United Nations senior political and peacebuilding official told the Security Council today, as members condemned the Russian Federation’s “sham referenda”, while others called for a return to peace talks.

“Unilateral actions aimed to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the attempted acquisition by force by one State of another State’s territory, while claiming to represent the will of the people, cannot be regarded as legal under international law,” Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs emphasized. She added that the exercises, which began on 23 September, have been held during active armed conflict, in areas under Russian control and outside Ukraine’s legal and constitutional framework.

“The United Nations remains fully committed to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” she underscored. As the occupying Power, the Russian Federation is obliged under international humanitarian law to respect the laws of Ukraine in the administration of occupied territories. She warned that recent developments, including heavy fighting, escalating military operations, human rights violations and attacks in the vicinity of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, point to more death and destruction. Member States must do all they can to end the war and ensure lasting peace.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, addressed the Council via a pre-recorded video statement, highlighting that Moscow is conducting a sham referenda on the occupied territory of Ukraine. People are being forced to fill out papers while threatened with guns and results have been prepared well in advanced. He condemned the annexation of the captured territories as an attempt to steal the territory of another State and erase the norms of international law. “There is only one way to stop it all,” he said, calling for complete isolation of the Russian Federation, its exclusion from all international organizations and further sanctions against Moscow.

In the ensuing debate, delegates questioned the legitimacy of the referenda, with Brazil’s representative stressing that “it is unreasonable to assume that populations in areas in conflict can freely express their will”. Referenda on questions of sovereignty should be conducted transparently, without restrictions on freedom of expression and allowing for monitoring by independent observers. The referenda in Ukraine are “yet another step that leads to an escalation of the conflict,” he warned.

Likewise, the speaker for Albania stressed that, “when you vote at gunpoint, the process is more expedited”, describing the forced conditions in which the referenda are taking place. The holding of such referenda violates the Constitution of Ukraine, Ukraine’s martial law, and runs contrary to the United Nations Charter, international law and the principles the Russian Federation should uphold as a permanent Security Council member. He urged support for a joint resolution his country is co-sponsoring with the United States and called on Member States to support Ukraine in defending itself and getting its territory back.

The representative of the United States said that her country will never recognize any seized or annexed territory of Ukraine as anything other than a part of it. It will, thus, continue to provide “historic amounts of support for Ukraine”. She said the resolution her delegation intends to introduce will condemn the sham referenda, call on Member States to refrain from recognizing any altered status of Ukraine, and obligate the Russian Federation to withdraw its troops from the country.

Some delegates, including Ghana, United Arab Emirates, India and Kenya, urged the cessation of hostilities, with the latter also echoing others’ concerns about the threats of the use of weapons of mass destruction. Noting the most powerful actor’s prioritization of this conflict over other crises, he pointed out that, in Eastern Africa, fertilizer prices have doubled, fuel prices have risen sharply, and cereal production is predicted to shrink 16 per cent this year. “It is a matter of life or death for all actors to respond to the food insecurity crisis,” he stressed.

The representative of the Russian Federation asserted that, “if the West forced its subordinates in Kyiv to uphold the basic human rights and respect for their compatriots and their right to life”, Moscow’s special operations would not have been needed. Over the next few days, the results of the referenda held in the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions will be published. It is a long-awaited event for the inhabitants of Donbass who have been living in constant fear for their lives and sought to bring peace to their land, he said.

Also speaking today were representatives of Ireland, United Kingdom, Mexico, China, Norway, Gabon and France.

At the outset of the meeting, the representative of the Russian Federation voiced opposition to the participation of the President of Ukraine via video teleconference, noting that such participation must be made in person.

The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 4:43 p.m.

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