Expected Council Action
In April, the Security Council is expected to convene an open briefing on Ukraine. Additional meetings on Ukraine are likely depending on developments on the ground.
Key Recent Developments
The Security Council, and the UN system more broadly, have been actively engaged on the situation in Ukraine in recent weeks. Since Russia’s invasion on 24 February, the Security Council has convened seven open briefings and voted on three draft resolutions, two of which were not adopted. Previous meetings addressed the humanitarian situation (on 28 February, 7 March, 17 March, and 29 March), the safety of nuclear sites (on 4 March), and allegations about military biological activities in Ukraine (on 11 March and 18 March). (For more information, see our 5 March, 11 March and 17 March What’s In Blue stories.) In addition, developments in Ukraine were a significant focus of the 14 March briefing on the activities of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). (For more information, see our 13 March What’s In Blue story.)
The General Assembly has convened two meetings under the Emergency Special Session (ESS) established by Security Council resolution 2623 of 27 February. The first meeting took place from 28 February to 2 March and the second meeting from 23 to 24 March. Following each meeting of the ESS, UN members voted on a draft resolution on Ukraine. On 2 March, the General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/ES-11/1 titled “Aggression against Ukraine”, and on 24 March, it adopted resolution A/RES/ES-11/2 titled “Humanitarian consequences of aggression against Ukraine”.
On 26 February, Ukraine instituted proceedings against Russia before the ICJ, which rendered provisional measures on 16 March ordering Russia to immediately suspend the military operations it commenced on 24 February in Ukrainian territory, among other matters.
ICC Prosecutor Karim Asad Ahmad Khan announced on 2 March that he had decided to immediately proceed with an active investigation into the situation in Ukraine after receiving referrals from 39 ICC States Parties.
The UN Human Rights Council established an independent international Commission of Inquiry on 4 March to “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, and related crimes in the context of aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation”, and other related matters.
Five weeks into Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine, the conflict shows no signs of abating. At the outset of the invasion, Russian troops made swift advances in southern Ukraine with the apparent aim of establishing a land corridor from the Crimean Peninsula—which it annexed in 2014—to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. This objective was partially derailed by Ukrainian military resistance in the southeast city of Mariupol. After encircling the city, Russian troops slowly advanced deeper into Mariupol’s centre, where shelling of residential areas and civilian infrastructure resulted in a significant number of civilian casualties. On 16 March, Russian forces bombed a theatre in Mariupol where hundreds of civilians were taking shelter. Security constraints have hindered access to humanitarian assistance in the city for over a month. Currently, roughly 160,000 people in Mariupol remain trapped and without basic necessities such as food, water and electricity, according to a 28 March OCHA humanitarian impact situation report.
From their base in Crimea, Russian forces also attacked the cities of Kherson, Mykolaiv and Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine. Kherson was the first major Ukrainian city to be captured by the Russian military during the offensive. After having taken partial control of Kherson on 2 March, Russian troops began preparing for a move to the south-west towards Odesa. According to some analysts, one of Russia’s objectives was to block Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea. However, Russian troops stalled at the city of Mykolaiv, where Ukrainian forces staged several counter-offensives, forcing Russian troops to retreat to Kherson in early March.
Heavy fighting has taken place in several cities in the northeast of Ukraine, including Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy. The inability of Russian forces to seize control of Chernihiv derailed its push on Kyiv from the east. Although Chernihiv is encircled by Russian troops, Ukrainian forces have reportedly so far managed to retain the city’s centre.
Meanwhile, the number of civilians killed and displaced, and essential infrastructure destroyed, continues to rise, driving a significant increase in humanitarian needs across the country. Briefing the Council on 29 March, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya stressed that “our worst-case scenario has been reached and, in some areas, surpassed”. As at 30 March, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 3,090 civilian casualties from the conflict, including 1,189 deaths, while noting that true figures are likely to be considerably higher. Most casualties have been attributed to the use of explosive weapons with a wide-impact area, such as shelling from heavy artillery, the use of multiple rocket launch systems and air attacks. Moreover, since the conflict erupted on 24 February, nearly 10.5 million people—approximately a quarter of Ukraine’s population—have been forcibly displaced, according to a 30 March OCHA humanitarian impact situation report. This figure includes 6.5 million internally displaced people and four million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries.
In addition, fighting has caused significant damage to critical infrastructure and disrupted essential public services. According to a 16 March UNDP report, the conflict risks reducing 90 percent of the Ukrainian population to poverty, reversing almost two decades of socioeconomic progress in the country and region. At a 14 March press briefing, Guterres noted that 45 African and least-developed countries import at least one-third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia and warned that “we must do everything possible to avert a hurricane of hunger and a meltdown of the global food system”. The conflict will affect the global economy, he said, “especially in the developing world”, as food, fuel and fertiliser prices increase, supply chains are disrupted, and the costs and delays of transportation of imported goods reach record levels.
At the time of writing, there had been seven rounds of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion. The first three rounds, which took place near the Belarus-Ukraine border, were held on 28 February, 3 March and 7 March. On 10 March, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu mediated the first high-level talks between the two sides, hosting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Antalya, Turkey. During this meeting, it appears that Lavrov reiterated demands that Ukraine de-militarise and accept a neutral status, while Kuleba sought to secure humanitarian ceasefire agreements.
From 14 to 17 March, the two sides held a fifth round of negotiations via videoconference. In a Facebook video posted after the meeting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy characterised the talks as “more realistic”. According to media reports, the Ukrainian negotiating team had demanded a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees. On 14 March, a 15-point plan was reportedly discussed between the two sides. The plan involved Kyiv renouncing its NATO ambitions and intentions to host foreign military bases or weaponry in Ukrainian territory, in exchange for the withdrawal of Russian troops and security guarantees against a potential invasion. Media reports have indicated that the main sticking point in the talks was Russia’s demand that Ukraine recognise its claim to Crimea and the independence of the separatist regions in Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.
On 21 March, the two sides convened for the sixth round of talks, which again yielded no results. Following the latest round of talks held on 29 March, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defence Alexander Fomin said that the negotiations on “the neutrality and non-nuclear status of Ukraine, as well as on the provision of security guarantees to Ukraine” had entered a “practical stage” and announced that Russia would “dramatically reduce military activities” around Kyiv and Chernihiv “to increase mutual trust” and “create the necessary conditions for future negotiations”. Following Fomin’s announcement, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that the US believes “this is a repositioning, not a real withdrawal, and that we should all be prepared to watch for a major offensive against other areas in Ukraine”. On 25 March, the deputy chief of staff of the Russian military, Sergey Rudskoy, announced that the Russian offensive would now focus on the “complete liberation of Donbas”.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is determining what role it can play in facilitating an end to the conflict. While it can continue to hold regular public meetings on the situation in Ukraine, members may also wish to consider closed formats such as informal consultations, the informal interactive dialogue format or closed Arria-formula meetings, that would allow members to hear frank assessments of the situation from key actors.
The Council could also consider a presidential statement encouraging Secretary-General António Guterres to use his good offices to resolve the crisis. One possibility would be for the Secretary-General to appoint a personal envoy to oversee the political settlement process and its implementation. (Personal envoys undertake missions at the Secretary-General’s initiative but do not require a mandate from the Security Council.) At a 28 March press briefing, Guterres announced that he had requested Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths to explore “the possible arrangements for humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine”. While deploying Griffiths to engage with the parties on negotiations for a humanitarian ceasefire may serve as a viable entry point for the Secretary-General’s good offices, a personal envoy could be given a broader political mandate. In addition, Council members could ask the Secretary-General to provide regular reports on the work of his personal envoy.
Another option for Council action would be a vote on a Chapter VI resolution urging a ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access and calling on the parties to seek a solution through diplomatic means. Council members may choose to invoke Article 27(3) and request Russia to recuse itself from voting. For this to happen, members would have to agree that the decision falls under Chapter VI, that there is a dispute, and that Russia is a party to the dispute.
The safety of nuclear facilities in Ukraine is another issue for the Council. The Council could request periodic updates on this issue from the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, who has already briefed the Council once on Ukraine (on 4 March) following the outbreak of a fire at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Another option would be for the Council to request a briefing from the ICJ president on the provisional measures the Court has rendered.
The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Ukraine is another important issue. The Council could invite the Emergency Relief Coordinator to present the findings of the report on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine and on the humanitarian response due on 1 April, as mandated by General Assembly resolution A/RES/ES—11/1 of 2 March.
The Council could also seek to bring a human rights perspective to its discussions, inviting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet or Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris to brief the Council.
The Security Council remains starkly divided on the situation in Ukraine, with Russia justifying its invasion, on the one hand, and several Council members—including Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US—strongly condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine, on the other hand. Members of the latter group have consistently called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. They view the humanitarian situation as stemming directly and exclusively from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and demand that any text addressing the humanitarian situation in the country explicitly reference Russia’s role in igniting and exacerbating the crisis.
Several elected Council members—including the A3 (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya) and Brazil—have tended to be critical of the Russian intervention but have been uncomfortable with sanctions and the inclusion of political language in humanitarian texts. This is evidenced by their voting pattern at the Security Council and the General Assembly, which, for the most part, has been in line with that of the US and European members. The African members and Brazil voted in line with the US and the European members on the 25 February, 27 February and 23 March Security Council resolutions, as well as the 2 March and 24 March General Assembly resolutions that were adopted by 141 and 140 votes in favour, respectively. However, these members broke ranks and either abstained or voted in favour of considering South Africa’s competing draft resolution at the General Assembly on 24 March, which was similar to Russia’s Security Council draft text that failed to be adopted on 23 March. (Fifty states were in favour of voting on the South African General Assembly draft, too few for it to be put to the vote.) In its explanation of vote at the General Assembly, Brazil said that it would have preferred a resolution with “strictly humanitarian messages” rather than one containing “clearly divisive elements”, many of which went “beyond the humanitarian aspects of the conflict”.
An ally of both Russia and the US, India has attempted to take a neutral stance, having abstained on all Security Council and General Assembly resolutions to date since the outbreak of violence on 24 February. In explaining its vote at the General Assembly on 24 March, India said that the UN’s efforts should contribute to de-escalation and “facilitate the immediate cessation of hostilities to promote dialogue and diplomacy”.
China has been unwilling to criticise Russia directly during the crisis, and it has demonstrated some support for Russian views regarding the European security architecture and the pitfalls of sanctions. It joined India and the United Arab Emirates in abstaining on the 25 February and 27 February Security Council draft resolutions, arguing that any action should be “truly conducive to defusing the Ukraine crisis rather than adding fuel to the fire”. At the 25 February Council meeting, China said that “Russia’s legitimate security aspirations should be given attention to and properly addressed”, given NATO’s eastward expansion. It has also consistently criticised unilateral sanctions, maintaining that the “ever-escalating, sweeping, indiscriminate sanctions” against Russia will give rise to “new humanitarian problems” during the 29 March briefing. China voted in favour of Russia’s humanitarian draft resolution on 23 March, abstained on the 24 March General Assembly resolution deploring Russia’s intervention, and co-sponsored South Africa’s competing text in the General Assembly on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Resolutions|
|27 February 2022S/RES/2623||This resolution called for an “emergency special session” (ESS) of the General Assembly to consider and recommend collective action on the situation in Ukraine. This represented the first time in four decades that the Council has adopted a “Uniting for Peace” resolution, whereby the Council refers a situation on which its permanent members are deadlocked to the General Assembly. It was adopted with 11 votes in favour, one against (Russia), and three abstentions (China, India, and the UAE).|
|General Assembly Documents|
|24 March 2022A/RES/ES-11/2||This was a resolution titled “Humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine”.|
|2 March 2022A/RES/ES-11/1||This was a resolution titled “Aggression against Ukraine”.|
|22 March 2022A/ES-11/L.3||This was a General Assembly resolution drafted by South Africa and co-sponsored by Angola, the Central African Republic, China, Lesotho, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, which was put to a procedural vote and did not receive the necessary support to be considered by the General Assembly.|
|23 March 2022S/2022/231||This was a Security Council draft resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine drafted by Russia and co-sponsored by Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Syria. The resolution failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite support, receiving two votes in favour (China and Russia) and 13 abstentions.|
|25 February 2022S/2022/155||This was a Security Council draft resolution authored by Albania and the US and co-sponsored by 81 member states, deploring Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter. The draft resolution failed to be adopted because of a veto cast by Russia. Eleven members voted in favour, one against (Russia) and three members abstained (China, India and the United Arab Emirates).|