Situation in Ukraine: Former UN Co-ordinator in Ukraine
Vice Chairman: The principal subject of today's agenda is the situation in Ukraine. The joint committee has recently held separate meetings with both the ambassador of Ukraine and the ambassador of the Russian Federation. Today we meet retired ambassador Francis M. O'Donnell who served for five years in Ukraine with the United Nations and is well placed to address the committee authoritatively. On behalf of the committee I welcome the ambassador to our meeting. The format is that we will hear a presentation from him. This will be followed by a question and answer session. With his permission I propose to bank all the questions and he can respond later. I invite Mr. O'Donnell to make his presentation.
Mr. Francis M. O'Donnell: I thank the Chairman and members for the kind invitation to address the committee and share my perspective on the tragic situation in Ukraine. I am here in my capacity as a private citizen, but with a direct experience and familiarity with Ukraine based primarily on my service there as the United Nations Resident Coordinator, responsibly for co-ordinating all UN agencies’ activities for development, during the period 2004, that is, the Orange Revolution, to 2009. My views are therefore my own, and I take full responsibility for them. I compliment the motion on Ukraine carried in the Dáil last week, in every respect.
I would also like to recognise H.E. Mr. Sergii Reva, Ukraine’s ambassador to Ireland and his colleagues from the Baltics. I have come to know during this crisis. His previous presentation to the committee on 5 March was not only erudite but accurate. He has adequately refuted Russian myths about language issues and many other issues as well. I share fully the Ambassador’s alarm that Russia’s legislators have empowered President Putin to invade Ukraine. Worse, Russia’s resort to unilateralism to allegedly redress purported grievances, whether on grounds of Ukrainian instability, or language, ethnicity, or political concerns, has to be utterly repudiated. If there was the slightest truth in Russia’s concerns, why did it not recourse to established international instruments, such as the UN Security Council, the Human Rights Council, the OSCE, or the Council of Europe? Russia must be urged to return to multilateralism and diplomacy.
Since my tenure in Ukraine, I have kept in touch with many on the ground and in leadership positions, and during the past several months of this crisis, I have privately networked to build support and understanding for Ukraine’s true realities, often in the face of contrary propaganda by its large neighbour. As a result, and subject to further developments, the Global Partnerships Forum based in New York stands ready to engage in support of Ukraine’s partnership-building, and more specifically, following my entreaties to the Elders, that is, the group of distinguished former heads of state and government, headed by Kofi Annan, founded by Nelson Manela. I believe they are now planning to bring forward a collective demarche to Moscow, which they had previously been planning to visit later this year.
Why is this important? It is crucial in my view that the strongest possible delegation of distinguished former Heads of State and Government from around the world should engage in force and in unison with the Russian authorities, both President Putin, and the legislative branches of the Russian Federation. We are on the brink of a major conflagration in Europe. I have had great concern about this for several months, expressed in my various communications to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and to the UN Department of Political Affairs. I wish I were wrong, but my regretful predictions as the weeks have gone by have been sadly accurate, and I express further dismay that the latest report I have read last night from the British Royal United Services Institute on Ukraine military dispositions, both Ukrainian and Russian, is very worrying. Therefore, the international community should demand, in light of the annexation of Crimea, that Crimea which is currently occupied in flagrant violation of international law should have an international civilian monitoring presence to ensure that all segments of Crimean society are able to exercise the full range of their civic and political rights. It is also required as international witness to events, and as a disincentive to abuses of human rights, and to prevent impunity for violations.
Democracy can be manipulated. We know this. For the past ten years Ukrainians have struggled against such manipulation and have resisted such obstructions in favour of joining the European mainstream. This is no arbitrary political choice, nor optional geo-strategic alignment to fall into one camp or another. Their aspiration is so deep that it is an insult to them to be told that their orientation is merely the product of western influence, of alleged billions poured in, let alone of US funding of NGOs or EU fiscal bribery, as if they could be "bought off" - to use the term - by such largesse. Nothing could be further from the truth, and those who cling to such myths are either agents or victims of Kremlin propaganda. For that matter, US and EU funds provided largely to Ukraine have mainly been used to strengthen civil society, and build institutions’ capacities in the best traditions of modern governance, and in programmes that reflect the sovereign choice of Ukraine. The UN and other agencies, as well as other multi and bi-lateral development partners have regularly collaborated with these programmes, within overall frameworks of donor co-ordination and accountability, such as the OECD’s Paris Declaration and the Busan Partnership.
What should now be the priority of the international community? First, the international community has to ensure that the costs to the Russian Federation are such that President Putin has no alternative other than to realise he grossly miscalculated his Crimean gambit. Second, diplomacy must remain not only open but creative, exploring solutions “outside the box”; Russia must not be pushed into such a corner that it feels more isolated and can only fight back. Third, therefore, there must be other options open to Russia that are attractive domestically and internationally in a fast-changing environment where positions can and must shift, ultimately towards resolution based on political compromise that entails a “win-win” perception. Fourth, in this context, the “win-win” must be quadrilateral, as follows: for Ukraine, for Russia, for the European Union, and for the US and NATO. That is a tall order, therefore the EU preparation for four-party talks is absolutely the way to go, and last night’s announcement that these will start next week is hardly a minute too soon. Fifth, it should also be a win-win for the international rule of law, for global and regional security, for human rights and broad-based socio-economic progress. Sixth, it must lead quickly to an omnibus reform of the UN Security Council – so very long overdue – as it is thoroughly unacceptable that any Big-5 nuclear-wielding power should not only hold a veto over vital actions to preserve international peace and security, but also be able to flagrantly violate the same. Seventh, in this crisis, we should see an opportunity on many levels and dimensions, to strengthen the international system, the rules that underpin it, and the instruments designed to uphold human dignity and preserve peace and security.
Ukraine is at a crossroads and does not need foreign interference, invasion, occupation, fragmentation, and annexation, or for that matter, cultural condescension. What role can Ireland play? In my opinion Ireland should return to the great prominence of its moral leadership evinced during the de-colonisation era a half-century ago, and now play a vanguard role in building EU, wider European, and broad global consensus for reform of the UN Security Council. Ireland should pay attention to the dramatically-altered threat environment posed by recent Russian aggression, conduct a new risk assessment, and reverse the pathetic trend of Irish defence expenditure which at 0.5% of GDP, is far below the EU norm. We are almost unique as a non-NATO country that has dramatically depleted its Defence Forces in recent years. In fact we have no practical capacity to defend this country. Worse, the attempts to reduce the service age will accelerate the loss of trained personnel, at exactly the time when we may need them. The parliamentary co-operation between the Oireachtas, and the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada could be enhanced within the framework of PACE.
For Ukraine, Ireland could explore, promote and support the engagement of the Global Partnerships Forum in building stronger partnerships for Ukraine. It could promote also low-cost confidence-building measures that should serve to assuage both Ukrainian and Russian anxieties about risks of human rights violations, for example, through the deployment of teams by the international NGO coalition known as Non-violent Peaceforce which carries out low-cost and effective unarmed civilian protection with multilateral and bilateral donor funding in such places as the Caucasus, South Sudan, and the Philippines, where it is part of the Mindanao peace process. FLD from this country could also be involved. The Government and Oireachtas could support the Institute for International and European Affairs to substantially ratchet-up its monitoring of the situation in Ukraine and its neighbourhood, by having a watching brief regularly shared with government and Oireachtas officials, and also by inviting and hosting presentations by Ukrainian leaders and Russian alternative political voices, such as Boris Nemstov, former deputy prime minister.
Not least, the Irish in Ukraine have long lamented Ireland’s failure to deploy a full-time resident ambassador to Ukraine. It is beyond comprehension that this, the largest country entirely in Europe, located at its geographic heart, in such a geo-strategically sensitive location, with a population about the size of Spain’s, should have no Irish resident embassy.