Expected Council Action
In November, the Security Council may hold one or more meetings on the situation in Ukraine, depending on developments on the ground.
Key Recent Developments
As the war enters its ninth month, hostilities remain concentrated in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions. Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on 30 September the annexation of the Russian-held regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia. Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops have continued to advance on the eastern and southern fronts. In the east, Ukrainian forces retook the strategic city of Lyman in the Donetsk region in early October and have continued pushing farther east, recapturing over 200 square kilometres of territory in the Luhansk region since 10 October. Russian forces have reportedly been repelled from the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, which they have been trying to capture for weeks. In the south, the Ukrainian army broke through Russia’s line of defence on the west bank of the Dnieper River in the Kherson region, prompting the local occupation authorities on 22 October to order the evacuation of civilians from the city of Kherson.
Moscow blames Ukraine for an 8 October explosion on the Kerch Strait bridge, which connects Russia to the annexed Crimean Peninsula. In retaliation, Russia has been launching missile and air assaults against military and energy infrastructure across the country, including in the capital, Kyiv. Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attack. The most intense barrage took place between 10 and 12 October and sporadic attacks have continued since. Russia has reportedly used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to target critical infrastructure. The P3 members (France, the UK and the US) have accused Iran of supplying Russia with the drones, claiming that this violates Security Council resolution 2231 of 20 July 2015, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. Tehran has denied these allegations.
In a 14 October letter to the Council, Ukraine alleged that Iran had transferred UAVs to Russia in late August and argued that this contravened resolution 2231. The letter invited “UN experts” to visit Ukraine to “inspect recovered Iranian-origin UAVs in order to facilitate implementation of [resolution 2231]”. France, Germany, the UK, and the US have also expressed support for a UN Secretariat investigation into these allegations. At a 19 October press briefing, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy rejected allegations that the drones used by Russian forces were supplied by Iran. He also said that Russia would reassess its cooperation with the UN Secretariat and the Secretary-General should the UN accept Ukraine’s invitation to investigate the matter. (For more, see our 26 October What’s in Blue story.)
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), between 10 and 18 October, Russian attacks resulted in at least 155 civilian casualties, including 38 deaths. The missile attacks have destroyed 30 percent of Ukraine’s energy facilities, according to Ukrainian authorities. The intensified campaign was a central focus of the Security Council’s 21 October briefing on Ukraine, which was requested by France and Mexico. At that briefing, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo expressed concern about the destruction of critical energy infrastructure, stressing that the “deprivation caused by these attacks threatens to expose millions of civilians to extreme hardship and even life-endangering conditions this winter”. (For more information, see our 20 October What’s in Blue story.)
Russia has continued to accuse the US of funding military biological programmes in Ukraine in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). On 24 October, Russia sent a letter to the Council, lodging a formal complaint in accordance with article VI of the BWC, which stipulates that BWC states parties have the right to request the Security Council to investigate alleged breaches of the BWC. The letter contained a draft resolution which proposes the creation of a commission to investigate Russia’s allegations and calls on it to submit a report to the Council by 30 November. It appears that Russia has convened one round of negotiations on the draft text on 26 October and that it may put it to a vote in November.
On 27 October, the Council convened for an open briefing on this issue, at Russia’s request. At the meeting, Adedeji Ebo, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that “the UN is not aware of any such biological weapons programmes”. Following this briefing, the Council held a private meeting at Russia’s request, focused on general nuclear issues, including the safety and security of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and Russia’s allegations against Ukraine for developing and planning to detonate a “dirty bomb” on its own territory, with the aim of accusing Russia of launching a tactical nuclear weapon. (A dirty bomb is a weapon comprised of radioactive materials mixed with conventional explosives. For more, see our 27 October What’s in Blue story.)
Developments in the recent period have also cast uncertainty over the future of the 22 July Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is set to expire on 19 November. Russia signed the initiative as part of a package that included a memorandum of understanding on the UN’s scope of engagement to facilitate unimpeded exports of Russian food products and fertilisers to global markets. It has criticised the implementation of the package deal and has threatened not to renew the grain initiative when it expires. UN Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths travelled to Moscow on 16 October to discuss the extension and expansion of the deal, including proposals to renew the initiative for one year and to export through Black Sea ports Russian ammonia that prior to the war was transferred through a pipeline running from Russia to Ukraine.
On 29 October, Russia announced that it will suspend its implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, citing an alleged Ukrainian drone attack against Russian ships in Crimea. In a 29 October statement, Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised that “it is vital that all parties refrain from any action that would imperil” the grain initiative. On 31 October, the Security Council held a meeting on the matter, at the request of Russia. Griffiths and Grynspan briefer at the meeting. (For more information, see our 30 October What’s in Blue story.)
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 18 October, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine submitted a report to the General Assembly on findings around events during late February and March in the four regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy (A/HRC/49/71). The report, requested by Human Rights Council resolution S-34/1, found “reasonable grounds to conclude” that war crimes and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have been committed in Ukraine since the start of the war on 24 February. Russian armed forces were “responsible for the vast majority of the violations identified”, while “Ukrainian forces have also committed international humanitarian law violations in some cases, including two incidents that qualify as war crimes”, the report said. Among other things, the report documented “the relentless use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas” and “patterns of summary executions, unlawful confinement, torture, ill-treatment, rape and other sexual violence committed in areas occupied by Russian armed forces across the four regions”.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is how to support the renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Council members may wish to convene a private meeting, or a closed Arria-formula meeting, to allow for a frank exchange of ideas with key actors in the banking, insurance and transportation sectors on the package deal’s implementation.
Another key issue is the need to promote the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine. Shelling around the ZNPP—which Ukraine and Russia blame on each other—has continued to raise concerns about a possible catastrophe. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi held meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and with Putin on 6 October and on 11 October, respectively, to discuss his proposal for establishing a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the plant. Periodic briefings from Grossi could help keep the Council informed of ongoing risks and efforts to mitigate them.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The Security Council remains starkly divided on the situation in Ukraine. Russia continues to justify 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—condemn Russia for what they consider an unprovoked war. Members’ sharply diverging positions on this issue and the direct involvement of a permanent member in the conflict have made agreement on Council products on Ukraine difficult.
Another issue that has complicated Security Council products on Ukraine is a perceived lack of transparency in some negotiations. In its explanation of vote on 30 September, after abstaining on the Albania-US draft Security Council resolution condemning Russia for organising the “illegal so-called referendums” (S/2022/720), Brazil cited concerns about the conduct of the negotiations, arguing that Council members “missed a valuable opportunity to engage collectively in a transparent manner, making full use of our consultation spaces in the Security Council”. It appears that the co-authors of the draft resolution, which was vetoed by Russia, had chosen to negotiate the text through bilateral consultations rather than in a collective manner.
While most issues on the Council’s agenda have one or two penholders, this is not the case with Ukraine. With Albania and the US considered political co-penholders, and France and Mexico serving as humanitarian co-penholders on Ukraine, there are no clear penholders on its many other tracks, including on the Black Sea Grain Initiative and on chemical, biological and nuclear issues.
Divisions have become more pronounced in recent months between groups of Council members who appeared united in condemning Russia in the days following its intervention in Ukraine. 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 isolating Russia politically and economically.
Other Council members, however, have increasingly cautioned that such measures risk limiting the prospects of a negotiated settlement over Ukraine. 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.
Nonetheless, support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity among the wider UN membership remains high. On 12 October, the General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning Russia for organising “illegal so-called referendums” while calling on all member states to reject their validity and not to recognise any change in the status of the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia regions. The resolution received 143 votes in favour, five against (Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nicaragua, Russia, and Syria), and 35 abstentions (including China and India). Ten member states did not vote.