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Vote on UN Security Council Resolution on Ukraine

U.S. Mission to the United Nations: Explanation of Vote after a UN Security Council Vote on a Resolution on Ukraine

Madame President,
The United States deeply appreciates the support from our colleagues around this table and from the many states who have called for a peaceful end to the crisis in Ukraine.

This is, however, a sad and remarkable moment.

This is the seventh time that the UN Security Council has convened to discuss the urgent crisis in Ukraine. The Security Council is meeting on Ukraine because it is the job of this body to stand up for peace and to defend those in danger.

We have heard a lot each time the Security Council has met about the echoes and relevance of history. We have heard, for example, about the pleas of the brave democrats of Hungary in 1956 and about the dark chill that dashed the dreams of Czechs in 1968.

We still have the time and the collective power to ensure that the past doesn’t become prologue. But history has lessons for those of us who are willing to listen. Unfortunately, not everyone was willing to listen today.

Under the UN Charter, the Russian Federation has the power to veto a Security Council resolution, but it does not have the power to veto the truth. As we know, the word “truth”, or “pravda” has a prominent place in the story of modern Russia. From the days of Lenin and Trotsky until the fall of the Berlin Wall, Pravda was the name of the house newspaper of the Soviet Communist regime. But throughout that period, one could search in vain to find pravda in Pravda. And today, one again searches in vain, to find truth in the Russian position on Crimea, on Ukraine, or on the proposed Security Council resolution considered and vetoed a few moments ago.

The truth is that this resolution should not have been controversial. It was grounded in principles that provide the foundation for international stability and law: Article 2 of the UN Charter; the prohibition on the use of force to acquire territory; and respect for the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of member states. These are principles that Russia agrees with and defends vigorously all around the world – except, it seems, in circumstances that involve Russia.

The resolution broke no new legal or normative ground. It simply called on all parties to do what they had previously pledged, through internationally binding agreements, to do. It recalled specifically the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which Russia and other signatories reaffirmed their commitments themselves to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and to refrain from aggressive military action toward that country.

The resolution called on the government of Ukraine to do what it has promised it will do: to protect the rights of all Ukrainians, including those belonging to minority groups.

Finally, the resolution noted that the planned Crimean referendum, scheduled for tomorrow, has no legal validity and will have no legal effect on the status of Crimea.

From the beginning of this crisis, the Russian position has been at odds not only with the law, but also with the facts. Russia claimed that the rights of people inside Ukraine were under attack, but that claim has validity only in the parts of Ukraine where it was Russia, and Russian military forces, that were exercising undue influence. Russia denied that it was intervening militarily, but Russian troops have helped to surround and occupy public buildings, shut down airports, obstruct transit points, and prevent the entry into Ukraine of international observers and human rights monitors. Russian leadership has disclaimed any intention of trying to annex the Crimea, then reversed itself and concocted a rationale for justifying just such an illegal act.

Russia claims that its intentions are peaceful, but Russian officials have shown little interest in UN, European and American efforts at diplomacy – including Secretary of State Kerry’s efforts yesterday in London. Russia has refused Ukraine’s outstretched hand while, as we speak, Russian armed forces are massing across Ukraine’s eastern border. Two days ago, in this very chamber, Ukraine’s prime minister appealed to Russia to embrace peace. Instead, Russia has rejected a resolution that had peace at its heart and law flowing through its veins.

The United States offered this resolution in a spirit of reconciliation, in the desire for peace, in keeping with the rule of law, in recognition of the facts, and in fulfillment of the obligation of this council to promote and preserve stability among nations. At the moment of decision, only one hand rose up to oppose those principles. Russia -- isolated, alone, and wrong –blocked the Resolution’s passage, just as it has blocked Ukrainian ships and international observers. Russia put itself outside those international norms that we have painstakingly developed to serve as the bedrock foundation for peaceful relations between states.

The reason only one country voted “no” today, is that the world believes that international borders are more than mere suggestions. The world believes that people within those internationally recognized borders have the right to chart their own future, free from intimidation. And the world believes that the lawless pursuit of one’s ambitions, serves none of us.

Russia has used its veto as an accomplice to unlawful military incursion – the very veto given nearly seventy years ago to countries who had led an epic fight against aggression. But in so doing, Russia cannot change the fact that moving forward in blatant defiance of the international rules of the road will have consequences. Nor can it change Crimea’s status. Crimea is part of Ukraine today; it will be part of Ukraine tomorrow; it will be part of Ukraine next week; it will be part of Ukraine unless and until its status is changed in accordance with Ukrainian and international law.

Russia prevented adoption of a resolution today. But it cannot change the aspirations and destiny of the Ukrainian people. And it cannot deny the truth displayed today that there is overwhelming international opposition to its dangerous actions.

Thank you.

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