31 January 2022 – Following weeks of heightened tensions around Ukraine, with reports that Russia has been deploying more than 100,000 troops and heavy weapons close to its border, the United Nations’ Security Council held its first meeting to discuss ways of de-escalating the crisis on Monday.
Addressing ambassadors, the UN political affairs chief reiterated the UN Secretary-General’s appeal that “there can be no alternative to diplomacy and dialogue”.
Highlighting the “complex and long-standing security concerns and threat perceptions that have been raised”, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary A. DiCarlo, repeated that any military intervention involving Russia, or NATO alliance forces which are also now on high alert, must be averted.
She said that any incursion by one State on another’s territory, would be against international law and the United Nations Charter.
According to her, it is reported that in addition to the 100,000 troops on Russian soil along Ukraine’s border, unspecified numbers of Russian troops and weaponry are also reportedly being deployed to Belarus ahead of large-scale joint military exercises in February on the borders with Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States.
NATO members are also reportedly planning additional deployments in Eastern European member states, and NATO has advised that 8,500 troops are now on high alert.
“Accusations and recriminations among the various actors involved in the ongoing discussions have created uncertainty and apprehension for many that a military confrontation is impending”, she said.
Ms. DiCarlo also welcomed the ongoing diplomatic discussions, saying the UN hopes that a successful de-escalation will strengthen peace and security in Europe.
These efforts include a 13 January meeting in Vienna held by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and a 21 January meeting between the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, in Geneva.
On 26 January, a meeting of the Normandy format (a group with France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine created in 2014 to address the conflict in Ukraine) was held in Paris.
Another meeting of the Normandy format is scheduled to take place in Berlin during the second week of February.
For the UN political chief, this second encounter is “another sign that diplomacy can work.”
“Still, we remain greatly concerned that, even as these efforts continue, tensions keep escalating amid a dangerous military build-up in the heart of Europe”, she warned.
She urged all actors “to refrain from provocative rhetoric and actions to maximize the chance for diplomacy to succeed.”
The Under-Secretary-General also said that UN agencies would remain committed to deliver on their mandates in Ukraine.
“Safe, unimpeded humanitarian access must be respected, under any circumstances, to provide support to the 2.9 million people in need of assistance, with the majority in non Government-controlled areas”, she said.
The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission also continues to document civilian casualties, as the conflict enters its eighth year.
The conflict, which erupted shortly after Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, has claimed the lives of more than 14,000 people, including approximately 3,000 civilians, and injured more than 7,000 civilians, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
In addition, some 1.5 million people have been internally displaced since the outbreak of the conflict, according to Ukrainian government figures.
“No one is watching the current diplomatic efforts more than the people of Ukraine”, said Ms. DiCarlo, noting that they “have endured a conflict that has taken over 14,000 lives since 2014 and that tragically is still far from resolution.”
For her, “it is painfully obvious that any new escalation in or around Ukraine would mean more needless killing and destruction.”
Ms. DiCarlo also believes that “any escalation or new conflict would deal another serious blow to the architecture so painstakingly built up over the last 75 years to maintain international peace and security”.
United States: ‘Stakes could not be higher’
Addressing the Council, US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, described the situation as “urgent and dangerous”, declaring that “the stakes could not be higher.”
“[It is] as clear and consequential a threat to peace and security as anyone could imagine”, she said.
According to her, Russia’s actions “not only threatens Ukraine, it threatens Europe and the international order.”
“If Russia further invades Ukraine, none of us will be able to say we didn’t see it coming. And the consequences will be horrific, which is why this meeting is so important today”, she added.
Noting the “largest mobilization of troops in Europe in decades”, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said she continues to hope Russia chooses the path of diplomacy, but she argued that the international community “cannot wait and see.”
The ambassador concluded saying that “diplomacy will not succeed in an atmosphere of threat and military escalation.”
“We seek the path of peace. We seek the path of dialogue. We do not want confrontation. But we will be decisive, swift and united should Russia further invade Ukraine”, she said.
Russia: Whipping up ‘hysteria’
Taking his turn to speak inside the Council chamber, Russia’s ambassador, Vasily Nebenzia, denied once again that his country had any plans to invade Ukraine, accusing the US of calling the meeting to “whip up hysteria.”
“We just don’t understand what we are discussing here today and why we are indeed here”, Mr. Nebenzia said.
At the start of the meeting, Russia called for a procedural vote to shelve the meeting on Ukraine, but it did not gain enough support from other Council members.
Ambassador Nebenzia questioned the 100,000-troop figure, adding that all deployments had taken inside Russian territory, which has frequently happened before, to varying degrees, “and has not caused any hysterics whatsoever.”
“There’s no proof to confirm these serious accusations” of a move towards war, he said, adding that they constitute “a provocation in itself” and “the economic impact is already being felt by Ukrainian neighbours.”
The senior diplomat also accused Western powers of “pumping Ukraine full of weapons”.
“You’re waiting for it to happen, as if you want your words to become a reality”, he added.
Ukraine: We won’t ‘bow’ down to threats
Addressing ambassadors, the Ukrainian Permanent Representative, Sergiy Kyslytsya, argued that “serious talk” inside the Security Council to find a diplomatic end to the crisis, was required now, “more than ever”.
He informed that, since 22 December, shootings, shelling, sniper fire, and systematic use of attack unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) against Ukrainian troops, had killed 12 Ukrainian servicemen and wounded aother 14.
He assured that “Ukraine is not going to launch a military offensive, neither in Donbas nor in Crimea, nor anywhere else.”
“Ukraine sees no alternative to peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict and restoration of its sovereignty and territorial integrity”, he added.
Yet, the diplomat said there is “a surge in Russian disinformation campaigns, including false accusations of Ukraine plotting a military attack.”
Mr. Kyslytsya also addressed the Russian demand that Ukraine be barred from becoming a member of NATO, noting his country sovereign right to choose its own security arrangements.
“Ukraine will not bow to threats aimed at weakening Ukraine, undermining its economic and financial stability and inciting public frustration. This will not happen, and the Kremlin must remember that Ukraine is ready to defend itself”, he concluded.