The Situation in and around Ukraine, including the deteriorating situation in Eastern Ukraine

We sit on the precipice of a full-scale Russian war against Ukraine.

The Situation in and around Ukraine, including the deteriorating situation in Eastern Ukraine

As delivered by Ambassador Michael Carpenter
to the Permanent Council, Vienna
February 21, 2022

Thank you, Mr. Chair. 

And thanks to you both, Ambassadors Kinnunen and Cevik, for your briefings today and for your tireless efforts at peacemaking. We are grateful for everything you are doing.  And, yes, facts matter.

Dear colleagues, today we sit on the precipice of a full-scale Russian war against Ukraine. It is a very difficult conclusion to have to reach. So many participating States around this table have dedicated so much energy to the diplomatic path, looking for all possible ways to de-escalate in keeping with our core principles. We took Russia’s security concerns seriously. We put new proposals on the table. We tried to think of new transparency, confidence-building, and arms control concepts that would help us build a stronger and more durable European security architecture. We launched a new European Security Dialogue to spur creative ideas and to allow every country at this table to have a voice in our collective security. And we remain – and always will remain – committed to dialogue and diplomacy. And to peace. Especially to peace. 

But facts are stubborn: none of us can ignore that Russia’s forces have been growing at an alarming rate, and that so many strike troops are poised for attack within mere kilometers of Ukraine’s borders. And all of this is coincident with a massive and unusual troop deployment in Belarus immediately adjacent to Ukraine’s border – a so-called “exercise” that we were all told would end yesterday, but which has now been indefinitely extended. Coincident with a large-scale nuclear exercise. Coincident with a massive naval buildup in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Coincident with bellicose rhetoric suggesting Ukraine either should not be a state or should not have an independent foreign policy. 

 Colleagues, I know many in this room thought several months ago that perhaps we were just witnessing an exercise in coercive diplomacy. And while none of us can predict the future, we also cannot ignore such an unprecedented threat of force. History teaches us that threats of force – whether euphemistically called “military-technical means” or whatever other term of art – all too often devolve into the actual use of force. Innocent lives are at stake, and for that reason we must redouble our efforts at preventing this war of aggression from being launched. 

Colleagues, as you all know, this is the most significant military mobilization in Europe since the Cold War.  Russian soldiers, tanks, aircraft, and ships encircle Ukraine.  Already we have witnessed cyberattacks against Ukraine. But I would be remiss to use the passive voice. We have technical information that links the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, to the distributed denial of service attacks last week against the Ukrainian banking systems.  Finally, let us not forget that the SMM’s recorded ceasefire violations in recent days have more than doubled last year’s daily average, as Ambassador Cevik just noted.

 Let me be as clear as I possibly can.  This is not hype. This is not hysteria.  This is not a provocation.  Despite what Russia tries to allege, the cold hard truth is that Russia is right now trying to create a pretext for military action.  We have been predicting this and sharing information in real time about the possibility of a false flag operation.  

To anyone familiar with Russian tactics, this is not new.  It comes straight from the playbook based on denial, deception, and disinformation – aimed at creating just enough plausible doubt to keep us off balance until it is too late.  We saw this in Ukraine in 2014.  We saw it in Georgia in 2008.  And last week, the world saw a prime example of Russia’s deception with its fake withdrawal of forces from the Crimean peninsula.  Instead of de-escalating, Russia has actually considerably increased its build-up of forces and equipment near Ukraine, in Belarus, and in the Black Sea. 

Whenever we discuss Russian aggression against Ukraine in this Council, Russia invariably repeats its assertion that it is not a party to the conflict in Ukraine.  It attempts to propagate the false narrative that it is merely a “mediator,” as if the rocket launchers, electronic warfare systems, and tanks in the Russian-controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk were produced locally, commanded and controlled by locals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let us recall that not long ago, a Russian court acknowledged the presence of tens of thousands of Russian troops in the Donbas.  We therefore call on Russia, as a signatory of the Minsk agreements and as the aggressor in this conflict, to honor its commitments to international peace and security. 

Let us also pause to think about what war actually means. It means carnage. It means humanitarian disaster. It means the deaths of civilians: innocent men, women and children. Like the 14,000 who have already died in this war since 2014. War also means occupation, imprisonment, torture. Already we have received reports of forced mobilization of men and boys, taken against their will to assembly points and then on to the front lines in the Russian-controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk. And let us be clear: this would be an offensive war, a war of choice, planned for months in advance. All that separates us from this war right now is one fabricated pretext.  

The United States and its Allies have been clear that our response should Russia attack Ukraine will be unified, swift, and severe.  We have been clear that if Russia further invades Ukraine, it will become a pariah to the international community, it will become isolated from global financial markets, and it will be deprived of the most sophisticated technological inputs. We have also been equally clear that there is still a diplomatic path forward if Russia is willing to engage.  Until the tanks are rolling, the planes are flying, and the aggression has fully begun, we are going to do everything we can to pursue diplomacy. The United States therefore once again urges Russia to stop its dangerous provocations and the pursuit of a pretext to further invade Ukraine. Let us return to the negotiating table before any more lives are lost. 

One last thing, Mr. Chair, I understand the Russian Security Council is discussing now the possible recognition by the Kremlin of the non-government controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.  This would not only be a complete repudiation of the Minsk Agreements, which my Russian colleague has just spent a long time discussing, but, indeed, of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.  If carried out, this would again result in the upending of the rules based international order, under the threat of force.  This, dear colleagues, is deplorable, and, as the EU Ambassador said, condemnable.  And should be, by all of us.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.