Expected Council Action
In October, the Security Council may hold one or more meetings on the situation in Ukraine, depending on developments on the ground.
Key Recent Developments
A shift in battlefield momentum favouring Ukraine and Moscow’s political reprisals marked a new phase of the war in Ukraine in the first half of September. Towards the end of the month, Russia formally annexed portions of Ukraine.
After capturing the city of Balakliya in the eastern Kharkiv region on 6 September, the Ukrainian army launched an extensive counteroffensive to retake Russian-held territory in the Kharkiv region. The operation forced Russian troops to retreat into the Luhansk region and establish a new defensive front line along the Oskil River. In a 13 September address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Ukrainian forces had recaptured roughly 8,000 square kilometres in the eastern Kharkiv region and the southern Kherson region.
In apparent retaliation for Ukraine’s battlefield gains, Russia launched a series of missile attacks targeting critical infrastructure, including energy facilities and water systems. Given the extent of damage to Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and loss of personal property resulting from the war, Zelenskyy announced on 21 September plans to establish an international compensation mechanism to register damages arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It appears that a draft General Assembly resolution recommending the creation of such a mechanism may be tabled by Ukraine in October.
On 21 September, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to conduct referendums from 23 to 27 September in the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia regions and to partially mobilise military reserves to support Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. Putin’s announcements prompted Albania and the US to request a Security Council meeting, held on 27 September, to discuss what they consider a Russian escalation of the conflict. (For more information, see our 26 September What’s in Blue story.)
On 30 September, Putin signed treaties formally annexing the four regions. Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a strong retort to Moscow during a press briefing the previous day. Noting that Russia’s annexation has “no legal value” and that it “flouts the purposes and principles of the UN Charter”, Guterres stressed that Moscow’s escalation “deserves to be condemned…[and] must not be accepted”.
Albania and the US tabled a draft Security Council resolution on 30 September. The draft text condemned Russia’s referendums, noting that they had not been authorised by Kyiv, and declared that any actions taken by Russia on the basis of the referendums, including annexation of its occupied regions in Ukraine, have no validity. In this regard, the draft resolution called on all member states to not recognise any change to the status of the regions. The draft resolution failed to be adopted because of a Russian veto. It received ten votes in favour, one against (Russia) and four abstentions (Brazil, China, Gabon, and India). Albania and the US, together with other member states, are expected to present a similar draft resolution at the General Assembly in October.
Hostilities continue to affect the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in the city of Enerhodar. On 6 September, the Security Council held an open briefing on the ZNPP, during which International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi called for the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone. (For more information, see our 6 September What’s in Blue story.) On 15 September, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution deploring Russia’s persistent violent actions against nuclear facilities in Ukraine and calling on Russia immediately to cease all actions against the ZNPP.
Human-Rights Related Developments
On 15 September, mass graves containing hundreds of bodies were found in the north-eastern city of Izium, which was recaptured during Ukraine’s recent counteroffensive. Ukrainian authorities exhuming the bodies have found evidence of atrocities, including signs of torture. On 16 September, the UN announced that its Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) would investigate the mass graves for possible signs of atrocities.
During its 51st session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) received an oral update on 23 September from the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine, followed by an interactive dialogue. In his oral update, COI Chair Erik Møse confirmed that the commission “has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine”, citing accounts of sexual violence and indiscriminate killing and torture of civilians by Russian forces. The COI also “processed two incidents of ill-treatment against [Russian] soldiers”.
On 4 October, the HRC will hold an interactive dialogue at which interim High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al Nasheef is expected to make an oral presentation of the findings of the periodic report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the situation of human rights in Ukraine.
The Security Council remains actively engaged on the human rights situation in Ukraine. On 7 September, the Council held an open briefing on reports of the forced displacement of Ukrainian civilians and the use of “filtration” operations by Russian and Russian-affiliated forces. On 22 September, the Council held its first high-level briefing on Ukraine, which focused on the fight against impunity. (For more information, see our 7 September and 21 September What’s in Blue stories.)
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. Council members may wish to narrow the focus of Council products in order to minimise room for disagreement. The only product on Ukraine adopted by the Council since the start of the war—a presidential statement expressing support for the Secretary-General’s efforts in search of a peaceful solution to the war—consists of four paragraphs.
Russia’s heightened rhetoric concerning the use of nuclear weapons is another important issue for the Council. Council members may wish to seek a briefing by the Under-Secretary-General of Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu to discuss this issue and recommit to the non-use of nuclear weapons.
A related issue is the need to promote the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine. Periodic briefings from Grossi could help to keep the Council informed of ongoing risks and efforts to mitigate the potential for an accident. Council members could encourage the Secretary-General to use his good offices to encourage talks between the parties on this issue, with the goal of demilitarising the area around the ZNPP and other nuclear facilities.
Another important issue for the Council is how to support the renewal of the 22 July Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is set to expire on 19 November. The initiative was signed by Russia as part of a package that included 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. Russia has criticised the MoU’s implementation and has threatened not to renew the grain initiative when it expires. In this regard, Council members may wish to convene a private or closed Arria-formula meeting to allow for a frank exchange of ideas between Council members and key actors in the banking, insurance and transportation sectors.
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”, while several Council members—including Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US—are firmly intent on condemning Russia for what they consider an unprovoked war.
Apparently 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. The US and European members have argued that supporting Ukraine is about protecting the rules-based international order wherein no member state can redraw the borders of another by force. These members have consistently called for supporting Ukraine while politically and economically isolating Russia.
Other Council members, however, have increasingly cautioned that doing so risks limiting the prospects of a negotiated settlement between the parties. These members—including Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—contend that the Council’s priority should be to establish conditions for the parties to engage in diplomatic negotiations. In this regard, they frequently call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and return to dialogue, without explicitly condemning Russia. Of these members, China and India have been the most reluctant to criticise Russia in the Council, although outside the Council, President Xi Jinping of China and President Narendra Modi of India have signalled concerns about the conflict.
Several of these members have also signalled discontent with the Council’s inability to encourage diplomatic engagement. The US and European members have argued that decisions concerning the terms of negotiations should be made exclusively by the parties. These members also emphasise that any immediate cessation of hostilities must be conditioned on the immediate and complete Russian military withdrawal from Ukrainian territory. Absent this condition, they argue, a cessation of hostilities would freeze the battleground on terms favourable to Russia, which has forcefully occupied nearly 15 percent of Ukraine’s territory. At the 22 September briefing, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that a peaceful settlement should be on “just terms”, without imposing on Ukraine “a settlement that cuts against the UN Charter or rewards Russia for violating it”.
Russia has accused the US and European Council members of fighting a proxy war in Ukraine with the ultimate aim of weakening Russia. It argues that by pumping weapons into Ukraine, these members are party to the conflict. On 8 September, at Russia’s request, the Council held an open briefing on the issue of Western weapons supplies to Ukraine. More recently, following the 26 September incident that caused physical damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, Russia insinuated that the US was involved in the apparent act of sabotage, which the US categorically denied. At Russia’s request, the Council held an open briefing on 30 September to discuss this incident, during which Russia stressed that “if involvement of certain states in those terrorist attacks is proven, this will mean deliberate escalation of the conflict”.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|6 September 2022S/PV.9124||This was a briefing on Ukraine, requested by Russia, which focused on the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.|
|7 September 2022S/PV.9126||This was a briefing on Ukraine, requested by Albania and the US, which focused on forced displacements, deportations and “filtration” camps in Ukraine.|
|8 September 2022S/PV.9127||This was a briefing on Ukraine, requested by Russia, which focused on the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine.|
|22 September 2022S/PV.9135||This was a ministerial-level briefing on Ukraine titled “The Fight Against Impunity in Ukraine”.|