United States, Russian Federation Trade Barbs over Potential for Invasion, While Kyiv Vows to Repel Any Escalation of Violence
Against the backdrop of evolving events in eastern Ukraine — including reported violations of the ceasefire agreement in the last 24 hours — it has become clear that the situation is perilous, and diplomacy must urgently prevail, the top United Nations political official told the Security Council this morning.
“Whatever one believes about the prospect of such a confrontation, the reality is that the current situation is extremely dangerous,” said Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, during a meeting in which Council members diverged widely on their expectations for armed clashes in the upcoming days. Noting that the issues underpinning the crisis are both complex and long-standing — and touch on matters relating to the broader European security architecture — she said that, while seemingly intractable, they can and must be resolved through diplomacy.
Voicing regret that diplomatic talks in both the Normandy Four format and the Trilateral Contact Group remain deadlocked, she stressed that the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the 2015 Minsk Agreements remains the only Council-endorsed framework for a negotiated, peaceful settlement. She also cited reports of fresh ceasefire violations across the contact line in the past several hours, emphasizing that, if verified, they cannot be allowed to escalate. She called on all sides to exercise maximum restraint. Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its borders must be respected.
Briefing the Council via videoconference were two representatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), including Mikko Kinnunen, the Special Representative for the Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and in the Trilateral Contact Group. Stressing that the latter’s three members — OSCE, Russian Federation and Ukraine — remain “too far from one another”, he urged them to continue engaging and ultimately implement all elements of the Minsk agreements. While it has become popular to accuse participants of violating those accords, he cautioned that it is neither possible nor appropriate to single out one party, as none have fully implemented the agreements’ provisions. Referring to the alleged shelling in Luhansk today near the contact line, he underlined the importance of swiftly establishing facts and avoiding escalation.
Yaşar Halit Çevik, Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, described the gradual degradation of the ceasefire agreement over the past year. Impediments to the Mission’s free movement have also escalated in non‑government-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine. He noted that, since the beginning of 2022, the Mission has recorded, on average, twice as many daily ceasefire violations as it did during the same period in 2021, as well as a rise in civilian casualties as a result of shelling and small arms fire. Meanwhile, crossing points along the contact line have been severely limited, with serious implications for civilian lives.
Also briefing was Tetiana Montian, a civil society activist from Ukraine, who said Kyiv has no intention of implementing the Minsk agreements. Emphasizing that people in the eastern Donbass region are not represented in politics and are even criminally prosecuted, she said free thinking in Ukraine is squashed and civilians are deprived of their civic rights. She described Ukraine as a colony of the West — which has “plunged my country into slavery” — adding that the real goal of Western nations is to lure the Russian Federation into a war. “We are not a chessboard […] and we are not pawns in a political game,” she stressed, warning that OSCE has remained blind to the shelling and other violence being wrought by Ukrainian forces.
Taking the floor, Council members diverged on several matters, including the utility of such geostrategic groupings as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the likelihood of an imminent aggression by the Russian Federation. However, nearly all speakers agreed that the situation in eastern Ukraine remains highly fraught and that both de-escalation and diplomatic engagement are urgently needed.
Sergey Vershinin, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Council President for February, said in his national capacity that the goal of today’s meeting is to reaffirm support for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. However, seven years after their signing, it is clear that Ukraine — whose leaders describe the accords as having been signed “at the barrel of a gun” — has no plans to implement them. Indeed, Kyiv stubbornly avoids direct negotiations, fails to restore economic links between the two countries and refuses to provide for the special status of certain regions, as mandated by the agreements. He also decried the “ostrich-like” position of Western States, who turn a blind eye to those obvious violations, and urged the Council to avoid speculation about plans for a Russian invasion, which his country has firmly and repeatedly denied.
In sharp contrast, Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States, described the Russian Federation’s looming aggression in Ukraine as the most immediate threat. Recalling that Moscow has amassed over 150,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, he said that, while it claims to be drawing down those forces, on-the-ground intelligence indicates that an attack is imminent and may take place in the coming days. Outlining in stark terms the potential elements of such an invasion, he explained that “by sharing what we know with the world, we hope that we can influence [the Russian Federation] to abandon the path of war and choose a different path while there is still time”.
James Cleverly, Minister of State for Europe and North America of the United Kingdom, reaffirmed support for the Minsk agreements and underscored the responsibility of all parties to fully implement them. Emphasizing that the Ukrainian people are once again living under the threat of invasion — with Russian troops, heavy weaponry and military vessels amassed at their borders, from Belarus to the Black Sea — he declared: “Let us say clearly what the world can see: Russia has deployed the forces necessary to invade Ukraine, and now it has readied them for action.” He also voiced deep concern that diplomats representing the Russian Federation in OSCE talks have repeatedly failed to come to the negotiating table.
Germany’s representative said that, while many obstacles remain, the reaffirmation of the ceasefire in July 2020 proved that progress is possible “if political will is there”. Commending the work of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, she echoed calls on all parties to ensure that it is able to carry out its mandate without interruption. More than 90 per cent of cases where monitors’ free movement has been disrupted or their equipment destroyed have taken place beyond the contact line in territory not under the control of Ukraine’s Government. Urging Moscow to use its influence to guarantee the Mission’s free and safe access, she turned to the unprecedented build-up of troops along the Russian Federation’s border, stressing: “It is next to impossible to not perceive this as a threat or the preparation for an attack.”
The representative of China, striking a different tone, praised the Russian Federation’s recent diplomatic engagement with the leaders of France, Germany and other nations. Emphasizing that European countries should make independent and strategic decisions, he said the gradual enlargement and expansion of NATO — a relic from the cold war — in eastern Europe must be addressed, as its agenda runs counter to current trends. Indeed, regional security cannot be guaranteed by flexing muscles, he said, pointing out that one NATO nation refuses to relinquish its “cold war mentality” and continues to stir up tensions the Asia-Pacific region.
Meanwhile, the representative of Ukraine expressed grave concern about a recent appeal by the Russian State Duma — one of the chambers of that country’s Parliament — to recognize the occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as so-called “peoples’ republics”. Noting that such an action would violate the Minsk agreements and deal a blow to the prospects of peace, he added that Ukraine will defend itself in the event of a further escalation. He thanked countries that have expressed their support and solidarity with Ukraine, welcoming attempts at diplomacy while cautioning that progress will remain stalled as long as Moscow makes preconditions. The Russian Federation has a choice — “to embark on the path of de-escalation and diplomatic dialogue, or experience a decisive consolidated response by the international community,” he said.
Also speaking were representatives of Norway, Brazil, Ireland, India, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates, Ghana, Mexico, Albania, France and Gabon.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 1:07 p.m.