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29 January, 2016

"The main thing is to ensure the Ukrainian issue is heard regularly at the UN Security Council"

Ex-Envoy to UN on Ukraine's priorities as non-permanent member of the Security Council

Interviewed by Anna Korbut

The Ukrainian Week spoke to Yuriy Sergeyev just prior to his replacement as Ukraine's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. The diplomat, who held the position since 2007, discussed Ukraine's priorities as a non-permanent member of the Security Council for the next two years, mechanisms to protect human rights in the occupied parts of Ukraine and UN reform in view of new security challenges.

In 2016-2017, Ukraine will be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Do we have a strategy for this period? Which steps and initiatives will be a priority? What will they give Ukraine in the short and long term?

The Security Council is a collective body of the UN, charged with solving global and regional security problems. That is why our delegation will be primarily involved in solving several dozen issues that have been on the council's agenda for many years (conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, the fight against terrorism, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, etc.). The issues of the occupation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine belong to the category of challenges to peace and security and are included in the agenda of the Security Council under the title "Letter from the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations dated 27 February 2014" (we used this letter to convene the first meeting of the Security Council to try to prevent a dangerous development of the conflict in Crimea and later to discuss the aggression in Donbas). We have a plan of action for the Council and tactical steps agreed with partners on both themes – global politics and the aggression of Russia against Ukraine. The main thing is to ensure the Ukrainian issue is heard regularly at the UN Security Council with a view to constantly attracting the attention of one of the highest UN bodies in order to find a lasting solution and bring the perpetrators to justice. The timeframe for achieving this goal will depend on the situation outside the UN and the solidarity of our partners.

To what extent could non-permanent membership of the Security Council help Ukraine to focus international attention on itself? It is currently being lost due to the Syrian crisis and the fact that Ukraine is far from being a "success story" that would make it impossible for allies and sceptics alike to dismiss us. The reason behind this is mainly the unwillingness of our government to conduct real and effective reforms.

As I said, the Ukrainian question is one of the Security Council's regular issues. The task of the delegation is to keep on raising it depending on how the situation develops. At least in the context of giving information on the status of the Minsk Agreements, human rights in occupied Crimea and certain territories of the Donbas. Apart from the Security Council, it's also important to use the platform of the General Assembly for various formal and informal hearings regarding an international legal assessment of the occupation and Russia's attempt to annex Crimea – the aggression against Ukraine.

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The Syrian theme is important at the UN, but it's not a barrier to protecting our interests. The key factors to achieve our main goal – liberating Ukraine from occupation, stopping the aggression and bringing those responsible for this aggression to justice – must be the unity and solidarity of our main partners (EU, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and others) in the understanding that the crisis in Ukraine is not a local problem, but a security and stability issue for the whole European continent. This is a challenge for the entire post-war world order.  

Does the inefficiency of the Ukrainian government affect negotiating positions and the credibility of Ukraine at the UN?

I will not deny that our success in implementing reforms, strengthening the foundations of civil society and European integration is a key factor of national unity, a major component of our security and the motivation for international solidarity with us. But let's not forget that we're the victim of an international crime – the crime of aggression. And the international community, apart from adopting the important United Nations General Assembly Resolution "Territorial Integrity of Ukraine" on 27 March 2014, failed to stop the development of aggression and bring the international criminals to justice. The entire United Nations has not effectively fulfilled its primary role either. There are many reasons for this and they lie in the inefficiency of the UN's preventive mechanisms. Both the organisation itself and its Security Council are in need of significant reform. Our delegation will make its contribution to ensuring this as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

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At the Munich Security Conference in 2015, The Elders provided suggestions for possible reform of the UN Security Council. Have they been discussed? If so, then how seriously? Where is the biggest potential opposition to change?

Yes, the position of The Elders – made up of former UN Secretaries-General and prominent political figures – on UN reform have been taken into account and some of their provisions were included in the comprehensive resolution of the UN General Assembly adopted recently. This, in turn, has become a kind of road map for the organisation. Certain changes in the formula for electing a new Secretary General are one of its parts. Let's see how effective it will be in 2016, since the General Assembly has made a lot of valuable decisions in the past, but the implementation was lacking.

France previously made a proposal to limit the veto of UN Security Council members when there is a threat of crimes against humanity being committed. Was this move connected to the situation in Syria and the Russian veto? Nevertheless, it impacts Ukraine too. Have there been consultations with Ukraine or corresponding initiatives from the Ukrainian delegation? And can we hope that France will insist on this, given the fact that it is looking for cooperation with Vladimir Putin in Syria?

The French initiative to limit the use of the veto is widely supported in the UN General Assembly. This year, more than 100 countries have signed up to it, including Ukraine. When this becomes two thirds, and it's possible that this will happen at the next session, the General Assembly may be ready to adopt a corresponding resolution. This is a difficult topic, as it affects the rights of the five permanent members of the Security Council. But since it's not about abolishing the veto, only limiting its use, it's obvious that a consensus is possible. As part of the Security Council from January 1, 2016, the Ukrainian delegation takes part in meaningful discussion on the reform of this body.

What is Russia's current position at the UN now that fighting in Eastern Ukraine has subsided somewhat and other distracting threats have emerged? Is there an attempt to somehow make peace with Russia through other points of contact? 

At the UN, Russia is de facto recognised as a state that has occupied Crimea and initiated aggression in Eastern Ukraine. Therefore, it's isolated in both the Security Council and General Assembly. Unfortunately, due to imperfect legal mechanisms (or rather, perfect ones for protecting the interests of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) Russia has not been de jure recognised a party to the conflict according to Article 27 of the UN Charter. So they continue to have their seat on the Security Council, and it's practically impossible to exclude them from the solution of certain problems. This goes for Syria too. I don't think it's about making up with Russia. It's more of a situational partnership in a particular crisis.

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Does the UN have any tools to protect the rights of those in Crimea who are being persecuted by the occupation authorities, especially the Crimean Tatars? If so, then what should Ukraine do to activate such mechanisms?

Tools are available, but there are no mechanisms for their use in conditions where the occupation authorities of Crimea do not allow UN monitoring missions, OSCE and international human rights organisations to access the territory. That's why information about the real human rights situation on the peninsula is collected bit by bit from different sources. In conjunction with partners, our delegation, despite the resistance of Russia, has managed to secure the hearing at the UN Security Council of 10 reports by Assistant Secretary-General Ivan Šimonović on human rights in Crimea. We conduct almost weekly briefings, conferences and round tables on human rights violations in the occupied peninsula. The last such event was held at UN headquarters on 9 December. These are the only possibilities to consolidate the international community and form global public opinion based on facts. I hope that the collected evidence proving violations of the basic principles of universal human rights in Crimea will in the near future become materials for the International Criminal Court.

When will you return to Ukraine? Do you already know what your new position here will be?

My assignment is supposed to end with the arrival of a new envoy. For now, I'm continuing to prepare the delegation for work with the Security Council. After that, I'll ask for a holiday, then we'll see.


Yuriy Sergeyev was born in 1956. He graduated from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv in 1981 as a philology teacher. From 1992 onwards – head of the press centre of the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine, manager of the Foreign Ministry's Information Department, head of the Secretariat. Appointed Minister-Counsellor of the Embassy of Ukraine in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1997. Prior to UN mission, Mr. Sergeyev was Ukraine's Ambassador to Greece, Albania and France, as well as Ukraine's permanent representative to UNESCO. On December 9, former Ukrainian Ambassador to Russia, Volodymyr Yelchenko, was appointed new Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN.

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