Remarks at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Crimea

Ambassador Kelley Currie
U.S. Representative for Economic and Social Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
March 15, 2018


Thank you, Olof. And thank you to our co-hosts for organizing this important meeting. I also want to thank our panel members for their powerful testimony. I was a little late this afternoon because I was giving our national statement in the Commission on the Status of Women today, which has convened here in New York this week and next week. And I want to note how important it is to see the leadership of women in peace and security here on this panel today and note that for the record.

Let me be clear: Crimea is part of Ukraine. The United States rejects Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, which is a clear violation of the UN Charter and international law.

It’s been four years since Russian troops entered the Crimean capital. Wearing unmarked uniforms, they seized the parliament building and imposed an illegitimate referendum on the people. It was a cynical act with a pre-ordained outcome. Since then, Russia has staged several rounds of sham elections to bolster the fiction that they are the legitimate government of Crimea. They’ve targeted anyone, any news media, and any independent organization that challenges their illegitimate rule. Their tactics have ranged from totalitarian to outright brutal.

The leadership of the Crimean Tatars remains banned on fabricated charges of being a so-called “extremist” group. But Russia’s lies don’t change the place these leaders hold in the hearts of their countrymen and women and in the history of Crimea. Even from exile, they continue to represent the Crimean Tatars.

For others who challenge their rule, Russian security forces have used old fashioned violence instead of fabricated charges. Since the occupation of Crimea began, there have been at least 70 politically motivated imprisonments, with 55 still imprisoned, according to the estimates of one human rights group.

Last year alone, Russian security forces killed at least four people, took 16 political prisoners, and another 16 Crimeans simply disappeared. Another nearly 300 people were detained for speaking out against Russian rule in Crimea, according to the Crimean Tatar Resource Center.

Crimea is our focus today, but I can’t let this opportunity pass without pointing out the humanitarian crisis that Russia has created across eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s acts of aggression have claimed over 10,000 lives there, a quarter of whom were civilians. They have displaced 1.6 million people from their homes. Russia continues to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside the militants it controls in eastern Ukraine. It adjusts the level of violence at will to fit its political objectives.

And let me anticipate the Russia delegation’s denial of this by pointing to some well-documented facts. Russian soldiers have been captured by Ukrainian Armed Forces in eastern Ukraine. Journalists have identified countless examples of Russian military equipment being used by Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine. There is no doubt Russia is there. And there is no doubt what it is up to. The conflict rages on, driven by Russian acts of aggression, with February seeing a spike in the bombing and shelling.

This is an escalating crisis that we cannot ignore. Today we’re here to discuss what can be done. Just being here and recounting the crimes Russia has committed and continues to commit is a good first step. The world needs to continue to be reminded of what is happening in Crimea.

Russia has proposed a “protection force” for Ukraine that would have the effect of freezing its illegal occupation in place and protecting the illegal status quo. This is not a serious effort at peace and should not be mistaken for one.

Working with our French and German colleagues the United States has defined a set of parameters for a legitimate peacekeeping force in Ukraine, one dedicated to restoring Ukrainian territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. For this to become a reality, of course, Russia would have to support it in the Security Council.

In the meantime, the United States will maintain – and increase, if necessary – the pressure on Moscow to pull its forces, support, and weapons out of Ukraine. Until Russia shows us it is ready to take concrete steps to resolve this crisis, there is little point in discussing even the slightest sanctions relief.

And as long as Russia is engaged in aggressive, destabilizing behavior, we will never hesitate to point it out and condemn it. To that end, as Ambassador Haley said yesterday, the United States believes that Russia is responsible for the heinous attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent. Russia’s lawless, dangerous, and destabilizing activity in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere cannot be separated from these troubling events in the UK.

We remain steadfast in our full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty. Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine. That’s another way of saying that the ball is in Russia’s court. It started the conflict in Ukraine. Now it needs to do what’s necessary to end it.

The only path forward is for Russia to fulfill its international commitments, end its occupation of Crimea, and cease its aggression in eastern Ukraine. Until Russia takes these steps, they can expect to hear the United States call them out however and whenever possible. The choice for peace is theirs.

Thank you.