Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 23, 2021
Mr. President, thank you for organizing this important briefing.
We are here today because in 2014, Russia occupied Crimea and instigated a conflict in the Donbas region. We are here today because Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine have led to the deaths of more than 13,000 people, displaced millions of Ukrainians, and left an additional 3.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance. And we are here today because Russia has attempted to block any meaningful progress in diplomatic negotiations while it simultaneously arms, trains, funds, and leads its proxy forces and supports the self-proclaimed “authorities” on the ground.
But we are also here today because, as we have heard, Ukraine has widespread support among member states that honor and respect the implicit, bedrock prohibition in the UN Charter: that no country can change the borders of another by force. The United States will continue to stand with partners in upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, within its internationally recognized borders and its territorial waters. We urge member states to vote in support of General Assembly resolutions calling attention to the human rights situation and militarization of Crimea.
Seven years after Russia’s invasion, we reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The United States will never recognize Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea. U.S. sanctions on Russia in response to Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine and its occupation of Crimea will remain in place unless and until Russia reverses course.
Over the past year, it is very troubling to report, Russia has increased its efforts to destabilize Ukraine and undermine the country’s sovereignty. Even while Russia maintains troops, tanks, and heavy weapons in Ukraine’s territory, Russia falsely presents itself as a mediator in the conflict, when it is in fact the instigator. Russia’s increasing militarization of Crimea poses a serious and a growing threat to our common security. The United States is greatly concerned over Russia’s conscription of residents of Crimea, its continued disruption of commerce in the Sea of Azov, and its attempt to use its occupation of Crimea to project power into the Black Sea region.
There is no question that Russia continues to fuel this deadly conflict. Despite the July 27, 2020 agreement to strengthen measures toward a real ceasefire, Russian-led and Russian-supported forces continue to launch attacks along the Line of Contact, killing Ukrainian service members and putting civilians at risk. Russia has acted disingenuously towards conflict resolution negotiations, it has stalled the opening of new civilian crossing points along the Line of Contact, and it has blocked additional exchanges of detainees, despite the commitments it made at the Normandy Format Summit in December 2019.
The United States joins with others today in expressing our concern on the restrictions on access that Russia and Russia-supported self-proclaimed “authorities” continue to impose on humanitarian workers and OSCE Special Monitoring Mission personnel, especially the restrictions on almost all UN agencies operating in the Russian-controlled parts of Luhansk. These restrictions come at a time when the world has been ravaged by COVID-19 and vulnerable conflict-affected populations face even greater threats.
Russia and its proxies have used the guise of “COVID-19 mitigation measures” to further limit the life-saving operations of humanitarian actors, contrary to humanitarian principles and the mandate of the OSCE in Ukraine. We call on Russia to grant and facilitate safe, timely, and unhindered access to all humanitarian personnel and OSCE and UN monitors throughout the Ukrainian territory that Russia controls, including parts of Donetsk, Luhansk, and occupied Crimea.
Mr. President, Russia’s invasion in 2014 was followed by a series of killings and disappearances of at least a dozen opponents of the occupation. These actions remain uninvestigated and unsolved. We urge Russia to release the more than 100 Ukrainian political prisoners it is holding, and end its campaign of raids, detentions, and other forms of intimidation against Crimean Tatars, against Jehovah’s Witnesses, and against other opponents of the occupation. We condemn Russia’s expulsion of Crimean Tatar leaders from their homeland, the criminalization and the seizure of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, and the driving out of all independent civil society and media outlets from the peninsula.
Like others, we demand and ask that Russia immediately cease its aggressive behavior in eastern Ukraine and end its occupation of Crimea. We call on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, cease its support for its proxies and other armed groups, and implement all of the commitments it made under the Minsk Agreements. Russia must end tactics of intimidation and instead work with the government of Ukraine and the international partners who are committed to a diplomatic resolution to this conflict.
Ukraine’s commitment to peace has been clear. The United States welcomes Ukraine’s Crimean Platform initiative, and we hope many more member states will consider joining this diplomatic effort to push back on Russia’s ongoing aggression and make clear that its brutal occupation must end.
Thank you, Mr. President.