UN Warned of Escalation Risk in Ukraine as Talks Falter


(Bloomberg) -- The conflict in eastern Ukraine is in danger of escalating, threatening to exacerbate an already precarious humanitarian crisis, a United Nations official warned.

“Military advance positions on both parts of the contact line are coming close to each other in the so-called gray areas,” Miroslav Jenca, the UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said at a Tuesday Security Council meeting. “The use of heavy weapons and their deployment in the proximity of the contact line is a reality.”

More than four years of conflict in rebel-held eastern Ukraine have claimed in excess of 10,000 lives. Diplomatic efforts have run aground, with the government in Kiev and Russian-backed separatists blaming each other for reneging on a 2015 peace accord. In a dramatic renewal of tensions in November, Russian forces fired on Ukrainian warships, injuring crew members and capturing three vessels.

Upon Russia’s request, the Security Council convened on Tuesday to discuss the so-called Minsk agreements, which have failed to quell the conflict. Though heavy fighting has dwindled in recent years, a low-grade war continues along the border that runs through Donetsk and Luhansk.

Russia’s envoy to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said the West is exploiting Ukraine in its geopolitical contest with Russia.

“The West bears direct responsibility for everything that is taking place,” Nebenzia said. “They are encouraging provocations by Kiev and readily providing weapons into this country, thus edging it towards reckless actions.”

The U.S. and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea and its military backing for separatist militias in Ukraine.

Germany’s envoy to the UN, Christoph Heusgen, said the renewed conflict in eastern Ukraine should be seen as a warning to the international community.

“Our Russian friends have said this was a coup and that this was just internal strife to overthrow the government,” he said. “We have to be aware this was a Russian invasion.”

In November, the two separatist-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine held elections that the U.S. and the Kiev government called a sham designed to put Kremlin-friendly officials in power.

“These elections violate both the letter and the spirit of the Minsk agreements,” said Karen Van Vlierberge, deputy permanent representative of Belgium to the UN. Dialogue is the only way to make progress in the region, she added.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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