Expected Council Action
In April, the Council may consider the situation in Ukraine depending on developments on the ground, both within Ukraine–where the interim government is faced with secessionist threats from pro-Russia elements in the east and southeast and confronted with the de facto annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia–and along the border with Russia in light of military deployments and exercises by Moscow in the area.
At press time, no outcome was expected.
Key Recent Developments
On 22 February, after signing a deal with the opposition to end the political crisis in Ukraine, President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev to an undisclosed location. The parliament (Verkhovna Rada) voted to remove Yanukovych and on 23 February granted expanded powers to its interim speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, to serve as interim president.
On 26 February, Russia carried out a large-scale military exercise in regions bordering Ukraine. In subsequent days government buildings and airports in Simferopol and Sevastopol were seized by militias loyal to Russia. In response to a letter from Ukraine (S/2014/136) citing the situation in Crimea as a threat to its territorial integrity, the Council first met on Ukraine in a private meeting on 28 February (S/PV.7123).
On 1 March, Russia approved the use of military force in Ukraine to protect Russian citizens in the Crimean peninsula, with Ukraine describing the situation as an invasion and occupation. On 6 March the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea voted in favour of seceding from Ukraine and becoming part of Russia, scheduling a referendum on the status of Crimea for 16 March.
The Council met repeatedly in March to keep abreast of these developments. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed on 1 March (S/PV.7124), Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernández-Taranco on 3 March (S/PV.7125) and consultations were held on 6 March with Eliasson briefing again. The referendum, and attempts by the UN and others to find a diplomatic solution, was the focus of the briefings by Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on 10 and 13 March (S/PV.7131 and S/PV.7134).
On 15 March, the Council held a vote on a draft resolution proposed by the US that reaffirmed the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine, noted that Ukraine had not authorised the referendum and that it had no validity (S/2014/189). Russia was able to veto the Chapter VI draft resolution as no challenges were raised as to whether or not it had to abstain as a party to a dispute, as envisaged in Article 27(3) of the UN Charter. China abstained (S/PV.7138).
The Council was once again briefed by Eliasson on 19 March alongside Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, who had just returned from a 7-18 March visit to Ukraine (S/PV.7144). On 21-22 March, Šimonović was allowed to visit Crimea to lay the groundwork for a UN human rights monitoring mission there.
An Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission for Ukraine was approved on 21 March. As Russia was initially reluctant to give its approval for the mission–OSCE bylaws require that full-fledged missions be approved by all of its member states–it is even more uncertain that the observers will be granted access to Crimea or Sevastopol following annexation to Russia.
Despite targeted travel and financial sanctions imposed by the EU and the US, the formal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol was finalised on 21 March when President Vladimir Putin signed into law the constitutional amendments adding the two entities into the Russian Federation. (The law had been previously approved by the Constitutional Court and ratified by Parliament.) In the meantime, Russian forces continued to seize military bases in Crimea and Sevastopol, with the Feodosia base falling on 24 March. Citing increased threats to its forces stationed in Crimea, Ukraine ordered the withdrawal of all its armed forces and their families.
The Group of 7 (G-7) met on 25 March on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, unanimously deciding to suspend Russia from the Group (formerly G-8). The G-7 also discussed the possibilities of further bilateral sanctions and called on Russia to engage in diplomatic dialogue in order to deescalate the crisis. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and acting Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia also met on the margins of the summit in the first high-level meeting between Russia and Ukraine since the crisis began.
With the Security Council failing to adopt the draft resolution on Ukraine on 15 March, action was moved to the General Assembly. On 28 March, the General Assembly adopted a resolution entitled “Territorial integrity of Ukraine” (A/RES/68/262) with 100 votes in favour, 11 against and 58 abstentions. Although similar to the draft resolution considered by the Security Council in that it reaffirms the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, declares the 16 March referendum illegal, and calls for a political solution, the General Assembly resolution made explicit reference to the illegality of the referendum both in Crimea and Sevastopol.
On 28 March, the Council held closed consultations on Ukraine with a briefing by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on his 20 March meetings in Russia with Putin and Lavrov and meetings in Ukraine with Turchynov and acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on 21-22 March.
At press time, an “Arria-formula” meeting, open to all UN member states, on human rights and media freedom in Crimea had been scheduled by Lithuania for 31 March.
The key issue for the Council will be determining what, if anything, the Council may do to address the situation in Ukraine, including Crimea and Sevastopol, in the face of resistance from Russia.
A related issue is containing the fallout regarding assurances provided to non-nuclear states by nuclear states and guarantor states, in light of the violation to the 5 December 1994 Budapest Memorandum (S/1994/1399). (Russia, the UK and the US agreed to respect the “existing borders of Ukraine” and to refrain from “the threat of or use of force against the territorial integrity” of Ukraine in exchange for its nuclear disarmament. China and France later provided similar assurances.)
The Council could address the situation in Ukraine, including Crimea and Sevastopol, through Chapter VI resolutions, by either working with Russia or reminding it of its obligation to abstain from voting, in line with Article 27(3) of the UN Charter, in light of it being a party to the dispute.
Although devoid of the “teeth” of Chapter VII measures, options under Chapter VI include:
- calling on the parties to seek a solution by negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement or resort to regional arrangements (Article 33);
- mandating a commission of investigation (Article 34);
- recommending procedures or measures for adjustment and settlement of dispute, including recommending that the parties refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice (Article 36); or
- recommending such terms of settlement it may consider appropriate (Article 37).
Another option would be to take a backseat to allow regional arrangements, such as the OSCE, to take the lead.
Considering the importance the Council attaches to the non-proliferation agenda, it also remains to be seen if the Council will address wider concerns regarding assurances provided to non-nuclear states by nuclear and guarantor states in light of the violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.
To date, Council meetings on Ukraine have mostly been a venue for Council members to state their positions on a fast evolving crisis and to hear from the Secretariat and Ukraine.
The single attempt at a decision was a weakly worded draft resolution which failed to mention Russia and made no reference to the strategic port of Sevastopol. As Council members were aware in advance that the draft would be vetoed by Russia, it is surprising that there was no previous discussion of whether or not it was a party to the dispute and whether it had to abstain from voting in accordance with Article 27(3). Ultimately, the Council could have decided, with at least nine affirmative votes, to challenge Russia and oblige it to abstain from voting on the Chapter VI draft resolution.
Although the Council is deadlocked on Chapter VII measures due to the veto power of Russia, it remains to be seen if Council members are willing to address the situation in Ukraine, including in Crimea and Sevastopol, through Chapter VI resolutions. As the voting record on resolution A/RES/68/262 in the General Assembly showed, however, some Council members, such as Argentina and Rwanda, may abstain if stronger language is added to any future draft resolution(s) on Ukraine in the Council. (Argentina and Rwanda voted in favour of S/2014/189 yet abstained on A/RES/68/262.) Conversely, it seems to suggest that beyond additional meetings and briefings, 11 Council members may be willing to countenance future Chapter VI outcomes.
China may well become the “arbiter” on future Council outcomes on Ukraine. If Russia is cornered into an Article 27(3) abstention, China could eventually decide to veto any future Chapter VI draft resolution(s) out of solidarity with Russia. Doing so, however, would undermine the respect for territorial integrity and national sovereignty that China has upheld as core principles of its foreign policy.