Expected Council Action
In August, the Security Council may hold one or more meetings on the situation in Ukraine, depending on developments on the ground.
Key Recent Developments
In July, the Security Council held one open briefing on Ukraine and there were two Arria-formula meetings on the matter—one convened by Russia on 11 July and the other by Albania and Poland, in cooperation with Ukraine, on 15 July. (For more information, please see our 8 July, 14 July and 28 July What’s in Blue stories.)
In addition to these meetings, the war in Ukraine was referenced during several other Council meetings. Notable in this regard was the annual open debate on children and armed conflict, held on 19 July. At that meeting, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba presented the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, in which Ukraine was added as a situation of concern with immediate effect. Information about violations committed against children in Ukraine will be included in the Secretary-General’s future annual reports on children and armed conflict. (For background, see our 18 July What’s in Blue story and our July Forecast brief on children and armed conflict.)
Following months of backdoor diplomacy led by Türkiye and the UN, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement on 22 July to facilitate the export of grain and related foodstuffs and fertilisers from Ukrainian ports. The agreement, signed separately by Russia and Ukraine, assumes that the two countries will provide maximum assurances for the safe and secure navigation of vessels transporting grain from ports in the cities of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhne. In this regard, Russia and Ukraine agreed not to undertake any attacks against relevant commercial ships, civilian vessels and port facilities.
In addition to this agreement, Russia and the UN signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the UN’s scope of engagement to facilitate unimpeded exports of Russian food products and fertilisers to global markets. In this regard, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), headed by Rebeca Grynspan, in coordination with the Permanent Mission of Russia to the UN, will endeavour to engage with relevant authorities and the private sector to remove impediments that may arise in the sectors of finance, insurance and logistics.
One day after the signing of the agreement and the MoU, on 23 July, Russia launched a cruise missile attack on Odesa. The attack struck port facilities and no casualties were reported. Although Moscow initially denied it carried out the attack, Russian officials later claimed that it targeted military infrastructure. The attack sparked widespread condemnation and concerns about the future of the grain export agreement. In a 23 July statement, Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attack, noting that the agreement’s “full implementation by [Russia], Ukraine and Türkiye is imperative”.
The Odesa attack also complicated negotiations among Council members on a Council product seeking to welcome the agreement and the MoU. On 22 July, after the agreement and MoU were finalised, France apparently circulated a draft presidential statement welcoming the agreement and calling for its swift and full implementation, including avoiding actions that could undermine the agreement. Norway and Mexico also had a draft presidential statement, to which additional input from the E10 (elected members) were included and eventually circulated as an E10 draft presidential statement on the same day by Kenya, this month’s E10 coordinator. The E10 draft welcomed the agreement and the MoU, recognised the importance of ensuring full global access to food and fertiliser products, and requested the Secretary-General to brief the Council on its implementation. Brazil, as Council president, attempted to merge the two drafts but agreement had not been reached by Friday evening (29 July).
The Odesa attack added a new element to the negotiations and, although efforts continued to be made to arrive at a mutually agreeable text, divisions over language on the attack made reaching consensus on the text unattainable. On 24 July, France withdrew their draft presidential statement and circulated a draft press statement endorsing the agreement and condemning the recent attack on Odesa. (Press statements are not formal Council products and although they also require consensus, agreement can sometimes be more easily obtained.) It seems that Russia objected to the draft text. On 25 July, the E10 worked on incorporating language on the Odesa attack into their text. Unable to obtain agreement on how to address the attack, the E10 withdrew their text on 26 July. Norway and Mexico then circulated a new draft presidential statement based on the E10 draft but referencing the Secretary-General’s 23 July statement on the attack. Following comments from members, Norway and Mexico withdrew the draft text on 27 July. It appears that some Council members were unwilling to accept a text without explicit reference to the Odesa attack.
Despite concerns about the future of the grain export deal following the 23 July attack, it seems that steps are being taken to implement the agreement. On 27 July, a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC)—consisting of senior representatives from Russia, Türkiye and Ukraine—was established in Istanbul under the UN’s auspices to conduct general oversight of the agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, Ukraine’s Black Sea ports will not be demined. Instead, Ukrainian pilot vessels will guide merchant ships through a maritime humanitarian corridor established in the Black Sea from the ports to the Bosphorus Strait. At a Turkish port, inspection teams comprised of representatives from Russia, Türkiye and Ukraine will check for unauthorised cargoes and personnel on board all commercial vessels bound for Ukraine. To prevent provocations and potential incidents, the agreement precludes military ships, aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles from approaching the maritime humanitarian corridor without JCC authorisation. The movement of merchant ships will be monitored remotely.
As the war in Ukraine enters its sixth month, hostilities remain concentrated in the eastern Donetsk region. Following a brief operational pause in mid-July, Russian forces continued ground attacks northwest of Sloviansk and east of Siversk and Bakhmut. In July, missile attacks continued to be reported on a daily basis, often striking residential and commercial areas and, in some cases, leading to dozens of civilian casualties. For example, the shelling of a residential building and a recreation centre in Serhiivka in the Odesa region on 1 July resulted in 21 civilian deaths. On 9 July, a missile strike on the city of Chasiv Yar in Donetsk destroyed a residential building, killing 48 civilians and injuring nine others. More recently, a 14 July missile strike on the city of Vinnytsia in west-central Ukraine reportedly resulted in 25 civilian deaths and over 200 injuries.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 5 July, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue on Ukraine at which High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet presented orally the findings of the periodic report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). She noted that the findings of the report are based on information gathered by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine during 11 field visits, to three places of detention, and 517 interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations, as well as other sources of information. Bachelet said that as at 3 July, OHCHR documented over 10,000 civilian deaths or injuries across Ukraine, including 335 children among the 4,889 civilians documented as killed, with the actual figures likely to be much higher. Among other things, OHCHR has documented damage or destruction to over 400 medical and educational facilities; 270 cases of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance; 28 cases of conflict-related sexual violence; and 17 deaths of journalists. She further noted that “appalling reports of torture and ill-treatment by both parties continue, including of prisoners of war, with little progress in holding those responsible to account”.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Security Council is how to facilitate an end to the conflict. Agreement on Council products on Ukraine is difficult because of the direct involvement of a permanent member in the conflict, and members’ sharply diverging positions on the issue. Members can continue to hold regular open briefings on the situation in Ukraine with the aim of keeping the international community abreast of developments on the ground. Members may also wish to consider formats with restrictive attendance and no meeting record, such as private or closed Arria-formula meetings, to allow for a frank exchange of ideas between Council members and key actors on the situation on the ground.
Another key issue for the Council is determining how it can support the implementation of the Black Sea grain agreement and the MoU on ensuring unimpeded access of Russian food and fertiliser to global markets. In this regard, members may wish to ask the Secretary-General to brief on the implementation of the agreement and the MoU. In this context, they may also be interested in hearing how the Council can promote adherence by the parties to their commitments.
The Security Council remains starkly divided on the situation in Ukraine, with Russia justifying its invasion, which it refers to as a “special military operation”, and several Council members—including Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US—firmly intent on condemning Russia for what they consider an “unprovoked” war. Members of the latter group have consistently called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.
While seemingly united in condemning Russia in the days following its intervention in Ukraine, divisions between the US and the European members, on the one hand, and other members, on the other hand, have become more pronounced in recent months, particularly on matters related to the use of sanctions, perceptions of neutrality in addressing the humanitarian situation, and the approach to allegations of criminal accountability for atrocities committed in Ukraine. For example, several elected members have contended that the Council should avoid what they term “political” language condemning Russia in humanitarian texts. Additionally, the A3 (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya) and Brazil have been reluctant to accuse Russian forces of having committed atrocities in Ukraine before the conclusion of an independent and transparent UN investigation. (Gabon abstained from voting on HRC resolution 49/1, adopted on 4 March, which established the independent international Commission of Inquiry. Gabon, Ghana and the United Arab Emirates voted against General Assembly resolution ES-11/3, adopted on 7 April, which suspended Russia from the HRC, while Brazil, India, Kenya, and Mexico abstained.) Moreover, Brazil and Kenya have frequently joined China and Russia in expressing concern over the secondary effects of sanctions on global markets. The fact that members were unable to welcome a positive development such as the recent agreements in spite of the efforts of a number of members, clearly illustrates the complexities of Council action on this issue.