Remarks by Ambassador Blake on Ukraine at the University of Indonesia

Thanks to UI for the opportunity to contribute to this discussion.  I appreciate the opportunity to join my colleagues the Russian and Ukrainian Ambassadors.

Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is a very important issue for the United States for the same reason it’s important to Indonesia and every country – it has profound implications for the stability of international law and norms. And it has important implications for Southeast Asia.  To be clear, Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, illegal occupation of Crimea, and annexation of Crimea violate the most fundamental principle of international law: respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Russia’s annexation of Crimea is a violation of the UN Charter. It’s a violation of numerous subsequent international treaties and conventions.

You all know the sequence of events.  Ukraine had been negotiating an Association Agreement and Free Trade Agreement with the European Union since 2008.  However, in late 2013 the Ukrainian government unilaterally suspended such negotiations despite strong popular support, in what was seen as a deliberate decision by President Yanukovych to reject cooperation with Europe in favor of closer ties with Russia.  Thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate their support for closer cooperation with the EU.  President Yanukovych’s government began a violent crackdown on the demonstrators.  On February 21, President Yanukovych and members of the opposition signed a compromise agreement negotiated with the help of three European foreign ministers acting as mediators.  Under its terms, President Yanukovych had 48 hours to sign the first piece of agreed action – a constitutional reform.  Not only did President Yanukovych not sign it, but he ran away.  He failed to live up to the agreement and left the seat of the presidency vacant for two days while his country was in crisis.

Contrary to claims that a coup took place, the democratically elected parliament overwhelmingly voted to remove Yanukovych from the office he had abandoned — with 328 votes in favor and none against.  The parliament empowered a transitional government and set an early date for national elections, which will take place on May 25.  Many countries, including the U.S., rushed to the assistance of Ukraine to support its transition. But not Russia. It refused to speak to the new government in Kiev. Instead, it deployed troops across a sovereign border into Crimea. These troops took control of Ukrainian military bases and local government buildings.  For weeks Moscow denied these troops were Russian, even though they drove vehicles with Russian license plates and identified themselves as Russians to local reports. President Putin admitted two weeks ago on Russian television that he sent these troops to Crimea.  Since then, there is evidence of continued Russian support for a concerted, orchestrated campaign of incitement and sabotage to undermine and destabilize the Ukrainian state.  In addition, Russian leaders continue to threaten to invade Ukraine again, and Russian troops are massed along the Ukrainian border.

Russia often claims that its agents are not active in Ukraine.  But many of the separatists and in Eastern Ukraine are outfitted in bullet-proof vests, camouflage uniforms with insignia removed, and carrying Russian-designed weapons like AK-47s and Dragunovs.  Moreover, Russian internet sites openly are recruiting volunteers to travel from Russia to Ukraine and incite violence. The international community has been united in condemning Russia’s  unilateral intervention and supporting Ukrainian sovereignty and the broader principle of respect for international law and norms.

Here in Indonesia, Foreign Minister Natalegawa made a statement early on highlighting the importance of territorial integrity, and he urged restraint.  Minister Natalegawa also stated Indonesia’s rejection of the so-called referendum, which goes against Ukraine’s constitution.  In the UN General Assembly, Indonesia and the United States joined one hundred nations in an overwhelming vote of support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Why do countries like Indonesia and the United States have such a strong interest in Ukraine?  This is a case of a serious threat to the basic underlying principles of international law and norms.  The basic principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity must be upheld, not just in order to protect the rights of Ukraine’s citizens, but also to defend those principles on which all countries rely.  In fact, President Putin once shared this view as well. Last year, he wrote a famous editorial in the New York Times.  In it, he talked about the importance of international law and the illegitimacy of unilateral action:  “We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos.  The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.” – Vladimir Putin, Sept 11, 2013

The basic fact is that Russia historically recognized and acknowledged Ukraine’s borders.  Prior to the illegitimate referendum in Crimea, there was no border dispute between Ukraine and Russia; Russia acknowledged Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea as a matter of historical fact.  The United Nations Charter commits Russia to abide by those borders.  Moreover, Russia had made a specific commitment with regard to Ukraine’s sovereignty in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.  In that agreement, Ukraine voluntarily gave up the entire arsenal of nuclear weapons it had inherited from the Soviet Union; in return, the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom guaranteed to respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders and refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine.  Russia’s violation of the Budapest agreement therefore not only strikes at international law and norms, but also undermines 45 years of multilateral diplomacy on nonproliferation and disarmament.

The United States has worked with countries in Europe, Asia, and around the world to urge Russia to enter into peaceful dialogue with the Ukrainian government.  After more than a month, Russia sat down with Ukraine, the U.S. and the EU in Geneva on April 17.  All four countries agreed to take steps to de-escalate the crisis.  I appreciate the support Ambassador Galuzin just expressed, indeed, Russia agreed to use its influence over the separatist groups in eastern Ukraine to have them stand down, disarm, and leave the buildings they have seized.  Russia also agreed to cooperate with OSCE observers. The people of Ukraine are still waiting for Russia to follow through.

President Obama said late last week, “We have seen [Russia] not abide by the spirit or the letter of the agreement in Geneva” reached last week.  Specifically,  Russia has not followed through to urge separatists and militias in eastern Ukraine to lay down their arms, vacate buildings, and begin a process of dialogue and lead to a de-escalation.  Because of that failure, the President convened a call with several of his European counterparts over the weekend.  And those consultations led to a very strong G7 statement over the weekend that found that Russia was not meeting their commitments, and therefore urged additional targeted sanctions to impose a cost on Russia.

Yesterday, the United States announced additional sanctions against Russia.  These included: travel bans and asset freezes for seven Russian individuals, including two said to be in Mr. Putin’s inner circle; freezing the assets of 17 Russian companies;  thirteen Russian companies will face additional restrictions as the government will cut off the export or re-export of American-made products to them.  Additionally, the State and Commerce Departments announced a new policy to deny export license applications for high-technology goods that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities.

These sanctions are having an impact.  Russia has experienced $60 billion in capital flight this year, exceeding already the outflows of all of last year.  The Russian stock market is down almost 15 percent this year, making it the worst performing among major emerging market economies this year.  The Russian ruble has depreciated almost 9 percent against the dollar since January 1st, again the worst performing currency among major emerging markets over the same period.  These negative developments led Standard and Poor’s to downgrade Russia’s credit rating to BBB-, which is just one step above junk status.  Last but not least Russia’s GDP growth is slowing.  The Russian Central Bank recently downgraded its own 2014 growth projection to less than 1 percent. Secretary Kerry reiterated last week that there is still time for Russia to change course but the window is closing.  President Putin and Russia face a choice.  If Russia chooses the path of de-escalation, the international community – all of us – will welcome it.  If Russia does not, the world will make sure that the cost for Russia will only grow.”

Turning to this region, ASEAN has its own Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.  Key principles in that treaty include: Perpetual Peace. Respect for sovereignty. Renunciation of the threat of the use of force.  Our region, the Asia Pacific, must defend these principles, not just in the abstract, but whenever these principles are ignored… especially when the aggressor is one of our region’s own members.  This region has its own territorial tensions.  If we are to avoid war or conflict in Asia, all countries must agree to follow international rules and norms.  All countries need to resolve disputes peacefully.  Our region will not enjoy peace, it will not thrive economically, if big powers behave like Russia and try to define borders through unilateral actions.

The events in Ukraine are a wake-up call for all of us. Everything we have stood for over 40 years as a community of free nations is at risk.  I encourage all of you, as Indonesia’s future leaders and citizens of the world, to speak up for Ukraine – its democracy, its freedom, and its sovereignty.  Finally, this event would not be complete if we did not also hear the perspective from Ukraine.  Fortunately, we are honoured with the presence of Ambassador Pakhil, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Indonesia.  I believe Ambassador Pakhil would like to contribute to this event with a few remarks on behalf of the people of Ukraine.