General Assembly: 58th plenary meeting, 76th session.
Speakers Deplore Russian Federation’s Military Deployment into Donetsk, Luhansk
The General Assembly discussed recent developments in eastern Ukraine today, with the top United Nations official declaring that the Russian Federation has punctured the inviolability of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by its formal acknowledgement of the independence of the latter’s territories of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Secretary-General António Guterres said that the Minsk agreements — a set of international accords that aim to end the war in Ukraine’s Donbas region — have been “surviving in an intensive care unit thanks to a number of life-supporting devices” until the recognition by the Russian Federation of the “so-called independence” of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, in violation of that State’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He urged a return to dialogue and negotiation in pursuit of a peaceful resolution of the dispute, pledging that the United Nations will continue its humanitarian and human rights work to help all those residing within Ukraine’s borders, “independent of whoever might control the territory where people are living”.
Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, recalled the words of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, reminding delegates: “The United Nations was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell”. The Organization’s mandate stipulates that disputes between Member States must be settled by peaceful means and in accordance with international law, he emphasized.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, issued a stark warning: “Russia will not stop at Ukraine.” He went on to point out that President Vladimir Putin has “outright denied Ukraine’s right to exist”, even as he recognized the independence of its Donetsk and Luhansk territories. Evoking the long shadow cast by the Second World War, he warned that the current moment represents the largest security crisis since that time. As Russian tanks roll into eastern Ukraine, “there is no more important task today than to not repeat the mistakes of the past”, he stressed.
He went on to state that President Putin wishes to prove that the United Nations is indecisive and unable to defend its core principles. The global community should respond with “concrete actions to stop the Russian machine of war without stepping into a bloody conflict with many thousands of casualties”, he said, emphasizing that time remains for diplomacy to prevail. However, “Ukraine will not hesitate to exercise its right to self-defence” in countering armed attacks by the Russian Federation, he reaffirmed.
The Russian Federation’s delegate said that since the “failed Maidan coup” of 2014, Ukraine has conducted a “hate-filled policy against its own citizens”. Despite Russian efforts for negotiations in Security Council meetings and other international arenas, Ukraine has avoided dialogue with the Donbas region and ignored the interests of broad swathes of the population, he said, adding that it has also sabotaged calls by Member States for an inclusive dialogue.
He went on to state that while the people of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk have declared their independence, Ukraine has no plans for dialogue on the matter, and instead carries out bloody military adventures while waging war on the Russian language as part of a deliberate State policy of “linguistic inquisition”. After eight years of economic, transport and food embargoes on the Donbas, the Russian Federation has decided that the region’s people can consider themselves independent, he declared, adding that his country, through its armed forces, will seek to ensure that the ceasefire there will be monitored.
Syria’s representative, referring to the subject’s inclusion on the Assembly’s agenda, noted that the Charter of the United Nations decrees that the Assembly must not make any recommendation on a matter while it is under consideration by the Security Council. He went on to state that the Ukraine crisis has been manufactured by Western States, masterminded by the United States with the aim of undercutting the Russian Federation.
China’s delegate said that, while Beijing’s position on sovereignty and territorial integrity remains constant, the situation in Ukraine “is tangled in a historical web”. As a result, all parties should engage in dialogue and seek solutions through peaceful means, he added.
Numerous speakers insisted that the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter be upheld, decrying the Russian Federation’s aggressive stance and proposing the concrete steps — including sanctions — needed to encourage diplomacy and deter further aggression.
Tariq Ahmad, the United Kingdom’s Minister for South Asia, North Africa, the United Nations and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, highlighted the steps that his country’s Government has taken to stop President Putin’s expansionist ambitions. The sanctions already enacted against the Russian Federation are “just the start”, he emphasized, adding that more measures have been prepared and are “ready to go”.
Tobias Lindner, Germany’s Minister of State in the Federal Foreign Office, recognized the existential threat — as well as the threat to the rules-based international order — posed by the words of the President of a United Nations Member State calling into question the statehood of a fellow Member State. He said that since 2014, Germany and France have been working towards implementation of the Minsk agreements and remain willing to continue that effort for European peace and security.
The representative of the United States expressed her consternation that President Putin has asked the world to turn back a century and re-enter “an age of empires”. Emphasizing that the world will not be going back to an era of empires, colonies, or even the Soviet Union, she declared: “This is Putin’s war of choice.” The fruits of his decision will be seen in the actions taken by the United States and its allies to deter further aggression.
Canada’s delegate quoted from Article 2 of the United Nations Charter: “The Organization is based on the principles of the sovereign equality of all its members.” In other words, he said, “there is no back of the bus at the United Nations” and no nation is more, or less, entitled to its sovereignty than any other. He went on to criticize Moscow’s use of the word “peacekeeping” to define the role of its troops in eastern Ukraine.
Lithuania’s representative echoed that sentiment on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, saying the Russian Federation’s designation of “peacekeepers” to describe its forces in Donetsk and Luhansk is a perversion of the concept. He also condemned Moscow’s accelerated issuance of Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens in Crimea and their forced conscription into the Russian Armed Forces. That points towards a deliberate policy of accelerating systemic demographic change, he noted.
Georgia’s delegate said the current military aggression against Ukraine mirrors his own country’s experience. “We are seeing the very same playbook in action in Ukraine,” he warned, recalling that Russian forces occupied the regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali in 2008. Moscow then recognized them as sovereign entities, leading to their annexation. What the Russian Federation is exhibiting is a pattern of behaviour that undermines the entire international rules-based order, he pointed out, emphasizing that the international community does not recognize the Russian-occupied regions of Georgia and nor will it accept Moscow’s recognition of Ukraine’s territories.
Turkey’s representative struck a similar tone, noting that the Russian Federation’s acts of aggression struck close to home. “We do not need, nor do we want, a new war in our region,” he emphasized. As a neighbour to both States, Turkey is more than ready to help them return to the negotiating table without delay and is willing to host any technical or high-level meetings that may be needed, he said.
Also speaking were representatives of Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico, France, Albania, Saudi Arabia (for the Gulf Cooperation Council), Liechtenstein, Poland, Croatia, Netherlands, Switzerland, New Zealand, Italy, Czech Republic, Australia, Republic of Moldova, Chile, Romania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Paraguay, Palau, San Marino, Guatemala, Uruguay, Peru, Hungary, Liberia, Ecuador, Slovakia, Austria, Republic of Korea, Brazil, Belgium, Colombia, Kenya, Slovenia, Singapore, Ireland, Malta, Luxembourg, Spain, Lebanon, Federated States of Micronesia, Greece, Libya, South Africa, Jordan, Marshall Islands, Egypt, Portugal, Azerbaijan, Argentina, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Samoa and Thailand.
Also speaking was the Head of the European Union Delegation.
The General Assembly will continue its debate on Monday 28 February.