Expected Council Action
In December, the Security Council may hold one or more meetings on the situation in Ukraine, depending on developments on the ground.
Key Recent Developments
Hostilities remain concentrated in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions. In the east, Russian forces continue to launch ground attacks near the cities of Bakhmut and Siversk in the Donetsk region. Ukrainian forces have however reportedly managed to repel Russian advances. Heavy fighting has also been reported in the northeastern Kharkiv region, near areas that Ukraine recaptured in September and October. Cold weather appears to have diminished military activity on the front lines.
In the south, following months of Ukrainian attacks targeting Russian supply lines on the west bank of the Dnipro River, Moscow announced on 9 November the withdrawal of its troops from the western Kherson region, including the city of Kherson. Kherson city, which had been occupied by Russian forces since 2 March, was the sole regional capital seized since the start of the war.
Meanwhile, Russia has continued to launch air and missile assaults targeting civilian infrastructure across Ukraine. Since early October, Russia has fired hundreds of missiles at energy facilities and hydroelectric power stations. The attacks, which have reportedly damaged about half of Ukraine’s power grid, have triggered massive blackouts, telephone and internet outages, and a reduction in water supplies throughout the country. On 23 November, Russia launched one of its biggest waves of missile attacks, firing at targets across Ukraine, including its capital, Kyiv. According to media reports, the attacks mainly targeted energy infrastructure, but several residential buildings were also hit, resulting in at least 30 casualties, including four deaths.
On 15 November, a missile landed in Przewodów, a Polish village located approximately 24 kilometres from the Ukrainian border, killing two civilians. Russia denied launching missiles near the Ukrainian-Polish border, and on 16 November, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that “preliminary analysis suggests that the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks”. However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has denied that his country was behind the Poland missile strike and has asked that Ukraine be a part of a joint investigation into the attack being led by Poland and the US.
On 16 November, the Security Council convened for an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. Albania and the US—the political co-penholders on Ukraine—requested the meeting with the aim of providing a comprehensive update on the political and humanitarian aspects of the war. At that meeting, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo stressed that attacks targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure are prohibited under international humanitarian law and said that the “impact of such attacks [on civilians] can only worsen during the coming winter months”. DiCarlo also warned that the incident near the Ukrainian-Polish border “was a frightening reminder of the absolute need to prevent any further escalation”, adding that as long as the war continues, “the risks of potentially catastrophic spillover remain all too real”. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 15 November.)
The Council held another briefing on Ukraine on 23 November, following the attacks that had taken place earlier that day, at the request of Albania and the US. At that meeting, DiCarlo stressed that the UN “strongly condemns these attacks and demands that [Russia] immediately cease these actions”. Zelenskyy, who participated in the meeting via videoconference, described the Russian attacks as a crime against humanity, and several Council members condemned Russia’s strategy of systematically targeting Ukrainian critical infrastructure. Russia denied allegations that the intent of its attacks is to harm civilians.
On 17 November, the parties to the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI)—Türkiye, Russia, Ukraine, and the UN—agreed on the extension of the initiative under the same provisions for an additional four-month period. Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the initiative’s extension and noted in a statement on the same day that “the UN is also fully committed to removing the remaining obstacles to exporting food and fertilizers from the Russian Federation”. Russia signed the initiative in July as part of a package deal 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. At the time of writing, Council members were negotiating a potential presidential statement to welcome the BSGI’s extension.
Speaking to reporters on 17 November, UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan noted that while Russian food and fertiliser remain exempt from Western sanctions, different interpretations of EU regulations by the bloc’s countries have complicated the exports of Russian fertiliser. As a result, more than 300,000 tons of Russian fertiliser have reportedly been stranded in different European ports since the start of the war. On 18 November, a negotiated solution to break this deadlock was reportedly reached, which would see a World Food Programme (WFP) chartered ship transport Russian fertiliser from the Netherlands to Malawi.
On 14 November, the General Assembly resumed its 11th Emergency Special Session (ESS). During the ESS, it adopted a draft resolution which recognises the need for an international mechanism of reparation for damages, loss or injury arising from Russia’s “internationally wrongful acts” in or against Ukraine and recommends the creation of an international register of damages. The resolution received 94 votes in favour, 13 against and 74 abstentions. Two Council members voted against the resolution (China and Russia), four members abstained—Brazil, Gabon, India, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—and the remaining nine members voted in favour.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a 15 November statement, the head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), Matilda Bogner, drew attention to the ill-treatment of prisoners of war by both parties. The HRMMU documented the death of at least one Ukrainian prisoner of war in Russian captivity since April 2022 and is working to corroborate the reported deaths of eight other Ukrainian soldiers. The statement noted that while Ukraine has provided the HRMMU with “confidential access to prisoners of war in places of internment”, Russia has not. At the 16 November Security Council briefing, DiCarlo called on the parties to ensure the humane treatment of prisoners of war in line with their obligations under international law, in particular the Third Geneva Convention. She also called on Russia to grant the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the ICRC unimpeded access to detainees.
On 16 November, the Third Committee of the General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/C.3/77/L35) on the human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. Supported by a recorded vote of 78 in favour and 14 against, with 79 abstentions, the General Assembly condemned the ongoing temporary occupation of Crimea by Russia and its unprovoked aggression against Ukraine.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is how to ensure the protection of civilians and critical infrastructure in Ukraine. While Russia argues that its attacks are not intended to harm civilians but rather to weaken Ukraine’s military potential, the UN has emphasised that even attacks against military objectives that carry excessive harm to civilians in relation to the anticipated military advantages are prohibited under international humanitarian law. Council members may wish to convene a meeting focused on resolution 2573 of 27 April 2021, which highlights the humanitarian effects of the destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.
Another key issue for the Security Council is the need to promote the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine. Shelling around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP)—which Ukraine and Russia blame on each other—has continued to raise concerns about a possible catastrophe. On 17 November, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors adopted its third resolution on the situation in Ukraine. The text, which was tabled by Canada and Finland, called on Russia to “abandon its baseless claims of ownership of the ZNPP, to immediately withdraw its military and other personnel from the plant, and to cease all actions against, and at, the plant and any other nuclear facility in Ukraine”. Periodic briefings from IAEA Director General Rafael 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.
Divisions have become more pronounced in recent months between groups of Council members that 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 of the war in Ukraine. These members—including Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and the 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.
Divisions have also deepened between African members of the Council. While all three members voted in favour of the 25 February draft resolution tabled by Albania and the US condemning Russia for invading Ukraine, only Ghana has since continued to explicitly call on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Kenya has increasingly shown reluctance to single out Russia, doing so on fewer occasions. It has also spoken against Western sanctions at Council briefings on Ukraine. Gabon, which has not explicitly condemned Russia in its statements, was the only African member to abstain on the 30 September resolution drafted by Albania and the US, which condemned Russia’s referendums held in late September.
Following its most recent summit in Bali, which took place on 15 and 16 November, the G20—which includes Council members Brazil, China, France, India, Mexico, Russia, the UK, and the US, and incoming member Japan—noted in a declaration that while “most G20 members condemned the war…there were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions”.
Analysts have argued that winter may slow the intensity of hostilities. This has renewed hopes for the resumption of negotiations, with US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley suggesting on 9 November that “if there’s a slowdown in the tactical fighting, that may become a window…for a political solution”. The Biden administration subsequently specified on 10 November that the US is not pressuring Ukraine to resume peace talks. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that “it is ultimately up to Ukraine to make determinations about its diplomatic course”. At the Halifax International Security Forum on 18 November, Zelenskyy said that “Russia is now looking for a short truce, a respite to regain strength”, adding that while “someone may call this the war’s end…such a respite will only worsen the situation”.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|16 November 2022S/PV.9195||This was a briefing on Ukraine requested by Albania and the US.|
|General Assembly Documents|
|15 November 2022A/RES/ES-11/5||This was a resolution titled “Furtherance of remedy and reparation for aggression against Ukraine”.|