Statement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Mr. Dmytro Kuleba at the UNGA debate “Situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine” 23 February 2022

Statement of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Mr. Dmytro Kuleba at the UNGA debate “Situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine” 23 February 2022

Mr. President,

I am grateful for your leadership in this main policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations.

You have chosen the word “Hope” as a motto for your Presidency. The same feeling currently dominates the mindsets of Ukrainians and people around the globe. Hope for peace. Hope for common sense to prevail. Hope for diplomacy to ease tensions.

However, today we need much more than hope. We need swift, concrete and resolute actions. A new type of action by the UN and international community which is relevant to the level of threat we all, not just Ukraine, face today because of Russia’s aggressive course.

The people of Ukraine need these actions by Ukraine’s strategic partners and international community. We are at a critical juncture in world history and our actions today define it for decades to come. We all read history books. We all watched movies about the mistakes of politicians in the runup to 1914 and 1939. About the feats of our grandparents and a catastrophic price at which a revanchist evil in Europe was defeated.

There is no more important task today than to not repeat the mistakes of the past. I do believe in the power of the free world and our joint ability to avert a new devastating catastrophe in Europe that no nation will be able to sit out. This is why today I address you on behalf of over 40 millions of Ukrainians who only wish to live in peace and prosperity. Not in fear, intimidation, not under Russian fire, bombs and shelling.

We are currently at the middle of the largest security crisis in Europe since the Second World War. This crisis was created and is being escalated by one side unilaterally, by the Russian Federation. Russia’s accusations of Ukraine are absurd. Ukraine has never threatened or attacked anyone. Ukraine has never planned and does not plan any such action. Ukraine has never planned and does not plan any military offensive in the Donbas. Neither any provocations or acts of sabotage. It is ultimately absurd to suggest that Ukraine could have prepared for anything like this and waited for months until Russia amassed an enormous military force along our borders to proceed with such alleged plans. This absurdity defies basic logic.

Not less absurd are accusations of Ukraine escalating by acquiring defensive weapons from its partners. The only, I want to stress it, the only reason for Ukraine to boost its defenses is Russia’s ongoing and planned military and political actions. Russia’s actions and statements are outrageous, horrific and go far beyond threatening Ukraine.

In fact, in his address this week Russian president Vladmir Putin overtly denied Ukraine’s right to exist. Anyone who might think I exaggerate as the Ukrainian Foreign Minister should just watch this horrifying speech. It is with a heavy heart that we all need to admit the grim reality of a new aggressive and revanchist rule rising over Europe.

This is the fourth time that the General Assembly debates the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. However, this is the first time we debate the situation in the new reality created by the illegal recognition of two territories of Ukraine by Russia. And the backdrop of our discussion today is much more dangerous as Russia attacked the very fundamental principles of international peace and security, the pillars of the United Nations and, as I mentioned, the very existence of the Ukrainian state, the founding member of the United Nations.

A Ukrainian state that signed the UN Charter in San Francisco in 1945 as a founding member and made the principle enshrined in Article 2 of the Charter a cornerstone of its foreign policy. A state that voluntarily gave up its nuclear arsenal under the security assurances of nuclear powers. A state that has endured years of assault by one of these powers, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Two days ago, on February 21st, the Russian President recognized “independence” of the temporarily occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine and ordered the deployment of the Russian Armed Forces in these areas. This is an affront attack on the United Nations and core principles of international law, an ultimate blow to years of peace process and Russia’s unilateral withdrawal from the Minsk agreements.

What is happening right now in Eastern Ukraine, where Russian tanks are rolling in, and along the Ukrainian borders, where Russian forces are amassed in enormous quantities, must be a concern for everyone, for all of you.

I warn every nation in this distinguished chamber: no one will be able to sit out this crisis if Putin decides that he can move forward with his aggression against Ukraine. Your governments and your people will face painful consequences together with our government and our people. This is why we need to use this last chance for action and stop Russia where it is. It is clear that President Putin will not stop by himself.

Distinguished representatives,

The beginning of a large-scale war in Ukraine will be the end of the world order as we know it. If Russia does not get a severe, swift and decisive response now, this will mean a total bankruptcy of the international security system and international institutions which are tasked with maintaining the global security order. This is a grim scenario which will throw us back to the darkest times of the 20th century. Russia will not stop at Ukraine. If a permanent member of the UN Security Council succeeds in breaking literally all rules, other actors will be inspired by him and follow his pattern. What he tries to do now is to prove that the United Nations are weak, indecisive and unable to defend their core principles, that rules do not apply to him, to Russia, to Putin.

What role for the UN does Russia see? A new League of Nations. We must deny Russia what it wants. I graduated from the university with a degree in international law and a strong belief in multilateralism. After many years of practicing diplomacy, I still do believe in both: rules containing aggression and the power of our collective and firm action. If the United Nations makes a pivot right now to become a strong and proactive player, which is not afraid of resolute actions and using all of its might and powers, I am confident that Russia will stop.

In this context, I welcome yesterday’s statement by the United Nations Secretary General which is truly different in tone. We need decisive actions of the same kind to follow these right words.

Russia shows signs of readiness to further escalate its aggression against Ukraine and we have limited time to stop, deter and contain it. Every hour of inaction now is a threat to the lives of Ukrainians, not only military but also civilians, including women and children. This is an escalating threat to our collective global security and to our freedom.

Ukraine expects decisive, immediate and proportional actions by the international community. The United Nations is the organization that has to demonstrate leadership. Not just condemnations. Concrete actions to stop the Russian machine of war without stepping into a bloody conflict with many thousands of casualties, devastation and suffering. I do not want this. Ukraine does not want this. The world does not want this. We need your help right now to stop Russia from proceeding with aggressive plans.

Ukraine believes in diplomacy. We see no alternative to peaceful solutions by political and diplomatic means. There is still an opportunity for diplomacy to say its word. Even as Russia continues its escalation and provocations. For months Russia pretended to pursue diplomacy while bringing more and more troops to our borders and in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Now this number stands at least at 150 thousand.

Under the OSCE Vienna Document on Confidence and Security-Building Measures such actions fall under the qualification of “unusual military activities” that would require explanation. However, Russia has persistently refused to provide it. Instead, it proceeded with threats.

Russia has literally stuffed the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov with at least 46 military vessels. It routinely closes large parts of the seas under the pretext of holding naval exercises. In practice, it amounts almost to a blockade of Ukrainian seaports. This is already an attack on the global freedom of navigation, one of the sacred principles of international law.

Russia’s propaganda machine is in full swing. It desperately tries to create a pretext for further aggression against Ukraine.

We resolutely reject all Russian insinuations about any alleged Ukrainian offensive military operations in the Donbas. We do not hold or plan any such actions.

We remain committed to political and diplomatic settlement and together with our partners we maximize efforts to reduce tensions and keep the situation in line with diplomatic dialogue.

For now, we see that Russian occupation forces have already significantly increased shelling of Ukrainian territory and civilian infrastructure. Artillery fire at the contact line in the Donbas from the occupied territory hit a kindergarten in a town called Stanytsia Luhanska and a school in Vrubivka, among the latest terrible examples.

Recognition of the so-called “republics” has no legal implications. It merely confirms Russia’s own involvement as a party to the armed conflict in Donbas, which Russia vehemently denied all these years.

The situation in the occupied Donbas has already been terrible for years, with residents living in the atmosphere of fear, lawlessness and insecurity.

The infamous secret prison called “Izolyatsia” in the occupied Donetsk remains inaccessible for human rights and humanitarian missions. It continues to function as a literal concentration camp. In Europe, in the 21st century. Hundreds of people have passed through this camp and were subjected to heavy forced labour, humiliation, tortures. Cases of extrajudicial killings have been reported too.

Russia continues to block the release of the illegally detained persons. In September 2021 the President of Ukraine handed over to the Secretary General the list of more than a hundred of Ukrainians from Donbas and Crimea who had been unlawfully detained, sentenced or even transferred from the occupied territories to the Russian Federation. We reiterate our call on the Secretary-General to provide good offices and facilitate their immediate release. And I appreciate the readiness of the Secretary General to do so.

Mr. President,

Today, Ukraine defends not only global security, but also freedom, democracy and fundamental principles of international law. Peaceful life and the future of millions of people in Europe and around the globe rely on the rules that Russia tries to destroy. Diplomacy and international fora must prevail and stop Russian aggression.

Since 2014, the General Assembly has already adopted eleven resolutions reaffirming its commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and condemning the temporary occupation of Ukraine’s territories by Russia.

The General Assembly has not and will not accept the Russian mantra that “the case of Crimea is closed”. The occupying power persists in destroying the identity of Ukrainians and the indigenous people of the peninsula — the Crimean Tatars. Since 2014 more than 64,000 Ukrainian citizens have had to leave Crimea and move to mainland Ukraine due to fear, persecution for political and human rights activism, discrimination on ethnic and religious grounds. Political persecutions continue unabated.

Among many others, Mr. Nariman Dzhelyalov, Deputy Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, participant of the International Crimea Platform Summit, remains behind bars. He is one of more than 100 political prisoners of the Kremlin.

On February 16th, a court in Simferopol sentenced journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko on trumped-up charges to six years in prison. He is one of fourteen Ukrainian journalists kept by Russians in prison. Russia may continue to pretend it doesn’t violate any international norms and principles. Yet, reports by the UN Secretary-General, OHCHR, OSCE, their missions, as well as the report of the ICC Prosecutor, all testify to the contrary.

If Russia doesn’t agree with all the mentioned resolutions and reports it should simply provide access to Crimea to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. The access of international organizations to the occupied territories is critical. Ukraine guarantees such access throughout the government-controlled territory and continues to demand from the Russian side to do the same in the occupied territories.

Esteemed members of the General Assembly,

The whole world witnesses today that Russia turns to threatening and blackmailing the global community to “close the Crimea case”. It is in fact one of the points in the long-list of its recent so-called “security demands”.

Ukraine continues efforts to achieve de-occupation of Crimea by peaceful means.

The Crimea Platform is a tool designed exactly for that end. We are truly thankful to all the countries supporting the International Crimea Platform. Your active involvement in the Platform is a sound foundation for our future success. We are open to new members and I call on you to join the Crimea Platform. Be it states or international organizations, you are welcome. We expect the UN will find proper modalities to engage with this initiative, established on the principles of the UN Charter.

Mr.President, dear colleagues,

Ukraine made a historic contribution to global security. In 1994 we denuclearized, giving up the world's third largest nuclear arsenal. We have no plans to regain nuclear weapons. Today, we expect the world to reciprocally ensure our security with relevant scale and resoluteness of actions in the face of a historic level of threat. This is the reason why Ukraine requested urgent consultations under article 6 of the Budapest memorandum.

The world owes Ukraine its security.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy initiated a new format of negotiations to settle the security crisis created by Russia. Five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Ukraine, Germany and Turkey. This is the format that we are trying to convene.

I reaffirm that Ukraine proposed some years ago to deploy a UN peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. Until now, the UNSC has failed to take necessary decisions.

Ukraine proposes to combine stark sanctions policy and strengthening of Ukraine together with keeping diplomatic channels open to persuade Russia to de-escalate and prioritize diplomacy.

We urge member states to use all available means to protect Ukraine and deter Russia. Whatever action you can take is appreciated. We are grateful for the actions already taken by many of you.

We expect the international community to do its best to put out the fire in the center of Europe, which is about to flare up.

The Russian security crisis must end with Russia returning to the path of diplomacy.

We call on all States and international organizations not to recognize any alteration of the status of the certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine and to refrain from any action or dealing that might be interpreted as recognizing any such altered status.

The absence of proper reaction or a neutral stance will only contribute to further escalation and sufferings. And it will not be limited to Ukraine’s border and territory.

On the contrary, active diplomacy, strong political messaging, tough economic sanctions and strengthening Ukraine can still force Moscow to abandon aggressive plans. Swift and resolute actions by the United Nations can reclaim the organization’s leading role at this historic and dark moment.

Russia must withdraw its forces from the sovereign territory of Ukraine. Russia must stop destabilizing the international security situation. We, Ukrainians, want peace. And we want to resolve all issues through diplomacy. We stand ready for all possible scenarios and ready to protect our land and our people if Russia further attacks. Ukraine will not hesitate to exercise its inherent right of self-defense as outlined in article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations in response to the armed attacks of the Russian Federation.

These days we have probably the last window of opportunity to do what Russia does not expect the United Nations and its member states to do. Demonstrate unprecedented ability and readiness to act in order to stop aggression. No matter what relations you develop among each other, it is your ultimate duty to defend the UN Charter.

I thank you!