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Ambassador Power: Russia’s Military Intervention in Ukraine is a Clear Violation of International Law
May 2, 2014

Statement by Samantha Power
U.S. Mission to the United Nations: Remarks at a Security Council Meeting on Ukraine
05/02/2014 02:38 PM EDT


Thank you Mr. President. In recent months, this Council has met on more than a dozen occasions regarding the situation in Ukraine. Time and again, we have urged respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, adherence to international law, and steps to reduce tensions and de-escalate the crisis.

Just this past Tuesday, we met to discuss Russia’s inexcusable failure to fulfill its obligations under the April 17 Geneva agreement.

Russia is pushing two monumental falsehoods right now. The first falsehood is that the Ukrainians are carrying out a large-scale uncontrolled violent attack on unarmed civilians. This is false — the Ukrainian government is carrying out a targeted effort to contain Russian-sponsored paramilitary violence emanating from Slovyansk in an effort to deliver security for Ukrainian citizens. There is horrible violence in Eastern Ukraine, and that violence is coming, as it has been for weeks now, from Russian-directed agents and paramilitaries and their associates. The second monumental falsehood is that the Russian federation is deeply concerned by the instability in the East. The rest of us are deeply and sincerely concerned by this instability. But despite all of its rhetoric, Russia can’t be because Russia is causing this instability. This expressed concern is cynical and disingenuous and meant only to distract us from the reality that is playing out before our eyes.

Today, I want to focus on one main point. From the outset, the government of Ukraine has sought to resolve all issues peacefully – through dialogue both internally and with the Russian Federation. This policy of restraint continued even after Russia subverted Crimea, orchestrated an undemocratic separatist vote in Crimea, invaded Crimea, and announced to the world it had annexed Crimea – while lying about its intentions and even its presence in Crimea every step of the way.

As its country has been carved up, as foreign operatives have moved into its homeland, as masses of Russian troops have assembled along its eastern Border, and as Moscow has continued to threaten its territorial integrity and its people, Ukraine has continuously – day after day — shown remarkable, almost unimaginable, restraint. It has done as this Council has asked. It has implemented its international agreements. It has refrained from military responses to aggression, even as Russia proudly announced that it had annexed part of Ukraine. Ukraine has over and over again committed and re-committed itself to direct dialogue with Moscow. And yet, in return for Ukraine’s reasonableness, Russia has destabilized, threatened, and terrorized.

In past weeks, the same scenario that played itself out in Crimea has been repeating itself in parts of eastern Ukraine. The same sudden appearance of unfamiliar men and new armaments. The same strategy of occupying buildings and taking control of the media. The same vicious propaganda directed against the government of Ukraine. And the same denials of Russian involvement. The same cries of outrage whenever Ukraine takes a step to assert its own rights, enforce its own laws, protect its own citizens, and restore order on its own territory.

The Ukrainian people and government have embarked on an effort today to reclaim one city in the eastern part of their country. Their response is reasonable, it is proportional, and frankly it is what any one of our countries would have done in the face of this threat.

Imagine, for a moment, if 26,000 square kilometers of Russian territory were seized by another country. Would Moscow show restraint week after week, day after day, in the hopes that rational dialogue rather than brute force would prevail? How would President Putin respond if parts of his country were seized to request to remove his army from those parts of the country. Seriously, there is some irony in Russian demands given the manner in which it would deal with separatism within its borders. It has been 63 days since Russia began its campaign to annex Crimea. And for 63 days, day after day, the Ukrainian government has chosen peace. Yet in those same 63 days, Russia, day after day, has chosen to pursue more territory. Consider the following facts, pro-Russian separatists have seized Donetsk’s railway control center and stopped almost all train movements. That is an illegal act. Separatists seized control of the Donetsk general prosecutor’s office in a violent clash that left more than two dozen people hospitalized. That is an illegal act. Separatists seized the prosecutor’s office in Horlivka. That is an illegal act. Pro-Russian activists beat up two Radio Svoboda journalists filming a protest near the Kharkiv regional administration building on May 1. That is an illegal act. We could go on and on and on about the illegal acts.

All told, in 17 towns in Eastern Ukraine, 32 building are under occupation, 21 by armed personnel. In addition, we’ve seen dozens of Ukrainian public officials illegally detained, three bodies pulled from a river near Donetsk, and a group of eight — now seven — OSCE monitors abducted in direct defiance not simply of Ukraine’s government, but in defiance of this Council and the world community.

Alongside all of this action, we have heard the Russian Federation building its case for intervention – outright intervention – including President Putin saying that eastern Ukraininan cities and Odessa were not part of Ukraine in the good old days, hearkening back to the glory of Novorossiyisk, and Ambassador Churkin taking the UN Charter’s name in vain, by invoking Article 51 and “self-defense” as “activated” during the Russian takeover of parts of Georgia and relevant here in the context of the crisis in Eastern Ukraine. The country that has a right of self-defense, Ambassador Churkin, is Ukraine.

Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine is a clear violation of international law, and Russia fools no one by calling its troops “peacekeepers.” Unfortunately, Russia does have a track record of using the term “peacekeeping” as a cover for unlawful military intervention and occupation without authorization from the UN Security Council. There is no evidence that the Ukrainian government has targeted Russian nationals or threatened Russia in any way, in stark contrast to the ongoing Russian actions to destabilize Eastern Ukraine. If Russia thinks peacekeeping forces are required in Ukraine, it should come to the UN Security Council and seek UN peacekeepers.

These separatists are not engaged in peaceful protest on behalf of their rights. Their rights are not being threatened. Their ability to use their language and have it recognized by the government is not being threatened. Their ability to participate fully as voters and citizens is not being threatened. It is their methods that have been intentionally provocative and threatening. The separatists are not pressing their case peacefully; they are using baseball bats, metal bars, clubs and knives. These are not activists, they are armed operatives. It must stop.

My colleagues, since the beginning of this crisis, the Ukrainian government has acted in good faith and with admirable restraint. The area around Kyiv’s City Hall is now clear of all Maidan barricades and protestors. Over the Easter holiday, Ukraine voluntarily suspended its counterterrorism initiative, choosing to de-escalate despite its fundamental right to provide security on its own territory and for its own people. Even today, as it tries to lawfully restore order, Ukrainian security forces are operating in a cautious and restrained manner. Unlike the separatists, Ukraine has cooperated fully with the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and allowed its observers to operate in regions about which Moscow had voiced concerns regarding the treatment of ethnic Russians.

In addition, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk has publicly committed his government to undertake far-reaching constitutional reforms that will strengthen the power of the regions. He has appealed personally to Russian-speaking Ukrainians, pledging to support special status for the Russian language and to protect those who use it. He announced legislation to grant amnesty to those who surrender arms.

The fact that Ukraine has now taken some steps to try to restore order is to be expected. It is justified. It is what each and every one of the states we represent would do in a similar situation and would probably have done far earlier. The fact that Russia has chosen to call an emergency session in protest is yet another indication that the authorities in Moscow either underestimate the intelligence of the world community, or that they are trying to exactly replicate in Eastern Ukraine the charade that they were responsible for in Crimea. We are outraged by that prospect, but we are not fooled.

Just as Russia and its pro-Russian militia allies engage in a dramatic and dangerous campaign in Eastern Ukraine, the Russian government is spreading some of its most wild propaganda and fantasy stories since the beginning of the crisis. Over the course of this aggression, some of those entrusted with carrying out the functions of municipal government and those reporting impartially on the facts have begun to slowly disappear. Local councilmembers, local police, and journalists are missing and being held by armed operatives. International observers from the Vienna Document observation team, as you know, are being held in hostage. Those who have an interest and a mandate to report on the truth are being silenced. And that silence is being filled with relentless Russian propaganda and fiction that, it seems, they hope will justify whatever actions they decide to take. Today’s Russian Foreign Ministry’s ridiculous and false statement purporting Western intervention would not be so alarming if it did not suggest that Moscow is looking for nothing short of a pretext to invade. Russia may have the power to instigate fear, to spread lies, and to sow discord, violence and disarray across its border, it may even have the power to abuse its veto here at the Security Council – but as we have said in this chamber before, it cannot veto the truth.

These are dangerous days for Ukraine, and for all of us. If there is hope to deescalate, Russia must pull back its troops from the eastern border of Ukraine. It must cease its campaign of instability inside of Ukraine, and it must work to release the international observers and journalists who have been taken by armed men working on behalf of Moscow’s agenda.

Over the past 63 days, in the face of aggression and annexation, this Council implored the Ukrainians to demonstrate restraint and they heeded our call. We also asked Russia to stop invading its neighbor; sadly it did not. For that Russia must be held accountable.

In closing, I reiterate the support of my government for the principles of the UN Charter. We continue to support the scheduled May 25 elections that will enable the people of Ukraine to choose their leaders freely and fairly. We continue to seek a peaceful, democratic, inclusive, and united Ukraine. We remain committed to a diplomatic process. Finally, and most urgently, we call on Russia to cease its provocative acts and to fulfill the Geneva commitments from which it has walked away.

Thank you.