Expected Council Action
In May, the Security Council is expected to hold an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. Additional meetings on Ukraine are likely, depending on developments on the ground.
Key Recent Developments
In late March, the frontlines in the Ukraine war shifted following the withdrawal of Russian forces from northern areas near the cities of Kyiv and Chernihiv. Hostilities have since concentrated in the eastern and southern parts of the country—including the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions—as Russia has been focusing on its stated objective of controlling the entire eastern Donbas region and establishing a land corridor from Crimea to Russia.
After Ukrainian forces regained control of several cities and villages near Kyiv that Russia had taken, including Bucha, Irpin and Motyzhyn, reports emerged of atrocities committed by Russian forces while in control of these areas, including indiscriminate killing and torture of civilians and conflict-related sexual violence. On 13 April, following a trip to Bucha, ICC Prosecutor Karim Asad Ahmad Khan described Ukraine as a “crime scene” and said there were “reasonable grounds” to suggest Russia had committed war crimes during its military operation. Russia has denied these allegations, blaming Ukraine and the West for fabricating evidence and spreading false narratives. On 18 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an honorary title to a brigade accused by Ukraine of having committed war crimes in Bucha.
Ukrainian and international interlocutors have emphasised the need to investigate and ensure accountability for war crimes reportedly committed by Russia in northern Ukraine and other parts of the country. On 25 March, Ukraine, together with Albania, Colombia, Denmark, the Marshall Islands, and the Netherlands, launched the Group of Friends of Accountability following the Aggression against Ukraine to promote the issue at the UN. On 27 April, Albania and France organised an Arria-formula meeting on “Ensuring accountability for atrocities committed in Ukraine” to encourage member states to join the Group of Friends and discuss ways in which all relevant stakeholders can support efforts to establish a chain of responsibility and accountability. (For more details, see our 26 April What’s in Blue story.)
The widespread outrage over the reported atrocities also galvanised further actions to isolate Russia in international fora. On 7 April, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), with 93 votes in favour, 24 against and 58 abstentions. At the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), member states voted Russia out of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations on 13 April. Russia had been a member of the committee since its establishment in 1947. On 27 April, member states adopted a resolution suspending Russia’s membership in the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).
As at 28 April, OHCHR had documented 6,009 civilian casualties, including 2,829 deaths, while noting that the 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. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, approximately 13 million people—more than a quarter of Ukraine’s population—have been forcibly displaced, according to a 26 April OCHA humanitarian impact situation report. That includes 7.7 million internally displaced people and 5.3 million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries.
In a 24 April tweet, the UK’s ministry of defence warned that Russia is planning a staged referendum in the southern city of Kherson “aimed at justifying its occupation”, adding that Kherson is “key to Russia’s objective of establishing a land bridge to Crimea and dominating southern Ukraine”. Ukrainian civilians in Kherson and elsewhere, including most recently in Kharkiv, are reportedly organising volunteer efforts to resist the Russian occupation.
Most of Mariupol is currently under Russian control. However, several hundred Ukrainian troops and approximately 1,000 civilians remain in the Azovstal steel plant. Kyiv has urged Moscow to hold a “special round of talks” on evacuating troops and civilians that remain trapped in Azovstal. On 23 April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy threatened to “withdraw from any negotiation process” if Russia kills the remaining Ukrainian troops in Mariupol. Peace talks have been stalled since the allegations of Russian atrocities in north Ukraine in early April; the last face-to-face meeting between Russian and Ukrainian delegations took place on 29 March.
On 20 April, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric confirmed that Secretary-General António Guterres had sent letters to Russia and Ukraine requesting meetings in Moscow and Kyiv. The Secretary-General travelled to Moscow and Kyiv on 26 April and 28 April, respectively. During his meetings with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Guterres discussed proposals for a humanitarian ceasefire in Mariupol involving the UN and the ICRC. According to a 26 April readout issued by Dujarric, Putin agreed, in principle, to Guterres’ proposal. On 28 April, Russia fired two cruise missiles into Kyiv while the Secretary-General was present in the city. The missiles hit a residential building, reportedly killing one person and injuring at least ten. Guterres and his team were not harmed by the strike. Russia’s Defence Ministry claimed that the attack targeted a rocket production facility.
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 Council meetings on the situation in Ukraine, members may also wish to consider informal formats which can allow members to interact with key actors on the situation on the ground, such as an informal interactive dialogue or Arria-formula meetings.
Ensuring humanitarian access and respect for international humanitarian law remain key issues for the Security Council. Council members will follow closely the Secretary-General’s ongoing efforts to establish a humanitarian ceasefire in Mariupol and may wish to invite Guterres to brief the Council on his visit to the region.
The protection of civilians and critical infrastructure is another key issue for the Council. Members may choose to organise meetings on the protection of critical infrastructure in Ukraine, including defending against cyber-attacks, such as those targeting power grids. Russia has reportedly targeted critical energy infrastructure since launching its invasion. This has resulted in significant shortages of gas, electricity and water in areas of heavy fighting.
The damage to Ukraine’s economy resulting from Russia’s invasion and the destruction of infrastructure is another important issue. Council members may wish to request a briefing on this matter and invite representatives from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to assess the extent of damage to Ukrainian infrastructure incurred by Russia’s military operation. According to a 10 April World Bank report, Ukraine’s economy is expected to contract by 45 percent in 2022. The report noted that “depending on the war’s duration, the share of the population living below the actual Subsistence Minimum may reach 70 percent in 2022”.
The Security Council remains starkly divided on the situation in Ukraine, with Russia justifying its invasion and several Council members—including Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US—strongly condemning Russia. Members of the latter group have consistently called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. More recently, as evidence has been mounting of Russian forces’ indiscriminate killing and torture of civilians, conflict-related sexual violence, and attacks against civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, these Council members have increasingly stressed the need to ensure accountability for atrocities committed in Ukraine.
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 what they term “political” language in humanitarian texts. Furthermore, while most of these members support an independent UN investigation to ensure accountability for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, most have been hesitant to accuse Russian forces of having committed atrocities in Ukraine before the conclusion of a full and transparent investigation. (Gabon abstained from voting on HRC resolution 49/1, adopted on 4 March, which established the independent international Commission of Inquiry.)
India continues to pursue a more neutral stance on the issue, stressing the importance of de-escalation and the need to promote dialogue and diplomacy without condemning Russia. In April, several international interlocutors attempted to persuade India to take a stronger stance on Ukraine. On 1 April, Lavrov commended India’s neutrality ahead of a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On 11 April, US President Joe Biden held virtual talks with Modi, which Biden described as a “constructive, direct conversation”. This was followed by a visit to India by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 21 April.
China has also been unwilling to criticise Russia directly during the crisis. Instead, it has demonstrated support for Russian views regarding European security architecture. It has also consistently criticised unilateral sanctions, maintaining during a 29 March Council briefing that the “ever-escalating, sweeping, indiscriminate sanctions” against Russia will give rise to “new humanitarian problems”. Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated China’s disapproval of unilateral sanctions and its opposition to NATO expansion. Addressing the annual Boao Forum for Asia on 21 April, Xi proposed a “global security initiative” that would, among other things, “reject Cold War mentality, oppose unilateralism, and say no to group politics and bloc confrontation”.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|19 April 2022S/PV.9018||This was an open meeting on Ukraine, which focused on the situation of refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and returnees.|
|11 April 2022S/PV.9013||This was an open meeting on Ukraine under the agenda item “Maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine”.|
|5 April 2022S/PV.9011||This was an open meeting on Ukraine under the agenda item “Letter dated 28 February 2014 from the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2014/136)”.|
|General Assembly Documents|
|7 April 2022A/RES/ES-11/3||This was a resolution suspending Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council.|