UNITED NATIONS – Russia clashed with European nations and the United States on Tuesday over the legality of elections in two Moscow-backed separatist areas in eastern Ukraine, and the U.N. political chief indicated backing for the Western view that the votes would violate a 2015 peace agreement.
Russia, which has been feuding with Ukraine and the West since Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in early 2014, appeared totally isolated at a Security Council meeting on the Nov. 11 elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia wanted Elena Kravchenko, president of the Central Electoral Committee in Luhansk, to brief the council. But in a procedural vote called by a half dozen Western nations on whether she could speak, Russia was the only "yes" vote, with seven countries voting "no" and seven abstaining. A minimum of nine "yes" votes were needed for Kravchenko to speak.
Before the meeting began, a joint statement from France, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium and Germany was read outside the council chamber condemning "the illegitimate 'elections' planned for Nov. 11." It said the elections would "contravene commitments" under the 2015 agreement signed in the Belarus capital of Minsk and violate Ukrainian law.
The either EU countries urged the international community to unite in opposing the elections, saying the votes "can only serve to undermine efforts to achieve peace in the region." They urged the separatists to abandon plans for the elections and called on Russia "to bring its considerable influence to bear to stop the so-called 'elections' from taking place."
U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen said later that the "sham elections staged by Russia" violate the Minsk agreements, which state that elections must be held in accordance with Ukrainian law and be supervised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Cohen said Russia is using the elections to bolster the authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk, which he said "are inseparable from the illegal armed groups controlled by Moscow."
The 2015 Minsk agreement has helped reduce hostilities, but U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council on Tuesday that "there has been little progress in talks to end the fighting."
"The conflict in eastern Ukraine, now in its fifth year, remains an active threat to international peace and security," she said.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian forces and rebels in Donetsk and the neighboring Luhansk region, and DiCarlo said cease-fire violations have increased and casualties have risen over the last six weeks.
DiCarlo said the Minsk agreements, endorsed by the Security Council, are the only agreed framework for a negotiated peace in eastern Ukraine. She warned that any election-related measures "taken outside Ukraine's constitutional and legal framework would be incompatible with the Minsk agreements."
Russia's ambassador argued that the elections "have nothing to do with the Minsk package" because they are municipal elections. The votes are needed "to fill the vacuum in power" following the Aug. 31 murder of Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko, who was a signatory to the 2015 agreements, Nebenzia said.
Nebenzia added that the elections are also necessary as a result of what he called "sabotage by Kiev of its political commitments."
Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko accused Russia of using the Security Council to wage a "disinformation campaign" and blame Ukraine for everything that happens in Donetsk and Luhansk. He reiterated Ukraine's position that the results of the Nov. 11 "fake 'elections' will be null and void."