Expected Council Action
In January 2023, 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 region as Russian forces attempt to advance towards the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. Russian troops who withdrew from the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine in early November 2022 have reportedly reinforced Russian positions along the front lines in the Donetsk region. Heavy fighting has also been reported in the northeastern Kharkiv region, near areas that Ukraine recaptured in September and October 2022.
Russia has been increasing its military presence in Belarus since October 2022, igniting fears of a possible repeat of its incursion in late February across the Belarus-Ukraine border. During a 13 December 2022 press briefing, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba acknowledged signs that Russia may be preparing for a large offensive once its military capabilities are restored in January and February 2023. In an interview on 15 December, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi noted that this offensive campaign “may start not in [the] Donbas, but in the direction of Kyiv” from Belarus. Some military analysts, however, continue to assess an imminent Russian attack from Belarus as unlikely. On 19 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Aleksandr Lukashenko, during which the issue of Russian-Belarusian military integration was reportedly discussed.
Meanwhile, Russia has continued to launch air and missile assaults targeting civilian infrastructure across Ukraine. Since 10 October 2022, Russia has launched nine large-scale missile campaigns against energy facilities and hydroelectric power stations. The attacks have triggered massive blackouts and a reduction in water supplies throughout the country. Moscow says that its attacks are aimed at weakening Ukraine’s military potential, while Kyiv alleges that Russia is employing “terrorist tactics” that violate international humanitarian law. On 6 December, a day after one of Russia’s missile barrages, the Security Council convened for an open briefing at the request of France and Mexico. At that meeting, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths urged the international community to enhance its support to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 5 December 2022.)
On 21 December, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy travelled to the US in his first known trip outside Ukraine since the start of the war. During his trip, Zelenskyy held a meeting with US President Joe Biden, in which the leaders reportedly discussed strengthening cooperation, particularly regarding Ukraine’s defence capabilities. Zelenskyy also addressed a joint session of the US Congress, emphasising that the US’ support “is not charity” but rather “an investment in global security and democracy”. On the same day, the US announced an additional $1.85 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, including the transfer of the Patriot air defence system, which is expected to provide Ukraine with enhanced protection from Russian missile attacks.
Russia continues to criticise Kyiv’s Western allies for supplying Ukraine with arms. On 9 December 2022, Russia requested a Security Council briefing under the agenda item “Threats to international peace and security” on the issue of “supplies of lethal weapons to Ukraine and their consequences”. At that meeting, Russia accused the US and other NATO allies of waging a proxy war in Ukraine and violating the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), an international treaty that regulates the international trade in conventional arms. The ATT requires state parties to assess the risk of exported weapons being used to violate international humanitarian law. The US and European Council members argued that it is within their rights to offer security assistance to Ukraine, as it exercises its inherent right to self-defence under article 51 of the UN Charter.
On 30 November 2022, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen proposed forming a UN-endorsed tribunal to investigate atrocities in Ukraine. In a press statement on the same day, France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs confirmed that it had begun working with European and Ukrainian partners on a proposal to “establish a Special Tribunal on Russia’s Crime of Aggression against Ukraine”. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on 2 December 2022 that it was “outraged” by France’s statement. On 8 December, Estonia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, and Ukraine organised a panel discussion in the ECOSOC chamber titled “Creating Special Tribunal for the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine”. At that event, panellists explained the rationale for establishing such a tribunal, noting that its intention is to complement the ICC’s investigation into war crimes while closing an important accountability gap, given the ICC’s inability to take up the crime of aggression where the state concerned is not a party to the Rome Statute.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 2 December 2022, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine released a statement on its visit to Kyiv. According to the statement, the commission “devoted significant attention to the issue of the destruction of the civilian infrastructure of the country, particularly the destruction of its energy and transportation grids”. It also expressed concern about the impact of the situation on children’s rights and lives. The commission will present a comprehensive report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in March 2023, including recommendations on possible accountability mechanisms.
On 15 December 2022, High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk presented to the HRC his office’s 7 December 2022 report titled “Killing of civilians: summary executions and attacks on individual civilians in Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions in the context of the Russian Federation’s armed attack against Ukraine”. Türk confirmed that “there are strong indications that the summary executions documented in the report may constitute the war crime of wilful killing”. He also cautioned that continued Russian airstrikes “could lead to a further serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation and spark more displacement”.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Security Council is how to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, particularly in light of Russia’s continued air assaults on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Periodic briefings from Griffiths could help keep the Council informed of the humanitarian situation on the ground. Council members may also wish to urge Russia to provide unimpeded humanitarian access to the UN to all places under Russian control. At a 14 December 2022 press briefing, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric confirmed that the UN had “not been able to do any cross-line convoys of humanitarian aid”.
Another key issue for the Council is how to promote the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine. On 13 December 2022, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal announced an agreement allowing the IAEA to establish a permanent presence of experts at all nuclear power plants in Ukraine. IAEA experts have been present at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) since early September 2022. However, shelling around the ZNPP—which Ukraine and Russia blame on each other—has continued to raise concerns about a possible catastrophe. Efforts by Grossi to set up a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the ZNPP are ongoing. Following his meeting with Shmyhal, Grossi said that he is “increasingly optimistic that such a zone…will be agreed and implemented in the near future”. Council members may wish to convene a meeting with Grossi. They may choose a private, informal format, such as an informal interactive dialogue, to allow for a frank discussion about implementing the protection zone.
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, the UK, and the US—condemn Russia for what they consider to be an unprovoked war.
The advent of the five new elected Council members—Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, and Switzerland—in 2023 appears unlikely to change the difficult dynamics underlying Security Council inaction on the situation in Ukraine. The direct involvement of a permanent member in the conflict will continue to limit the Council’s options in this regard.
As a member of the EU, Malta is expected to adopt a position similar to that of outgoing Council member Ireland. Japan is also expected to be highly critical of Russia. In addition to imposing economic sanctions on Russia, both countries co-sponsored, co-authored and voted in favour of all substantive draft General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They also co-sponsored the 25 February 2022 Security Council draft resolution condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which failed to be adopted because of a Russian veto.
Mozambique is likely to take a position similar to that of departing Council member India and refrain from criticising Russia. Mozambique has abstained on all substantive draft resolutions on Ukraine in the General Assembly. It has chosen not to deliver a statement throughout the ongoing 11th Emergency Special Session (ESS) of the General Assembly. During a meeting with members of the Ghanaian parliament on 25 May 2022, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said that “in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, [Mozambique] has refrained from taking a position”, adding that “we abstained [in the General Assembly votes] because we want the parties to talk and find peaceful solutions”.
Ecuador has voted in favour of every resolution condemning Russia in the General Assembly. It co-sponsored both political resolutions, including the 2 March 2022 text condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the 12 October 2022 text condemning Russia for organising “illegal so-called referendums” in the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia regions. It also co-sponsored the humanitarian resolution on 24 March 2022 while abstaining on the motion to consider South Africa’s competing draft that was nearly identical to the draft resolution tabled by Russia at the Security Council on 23 March 2022. Ecuador did not, however, co-sponsor the 7 April 2022 resolution suspending Russia from the HRC and the 14 November 2022 draft resolution establishing a compensation mechanism on reparations for Ukraine.
While permanent neutrality is a guiding principle of Swiss foreign policy, requiring it not to participate in a war between states, Switzerland has clarified that neutrality does not preclude it from taking a principled stand against violations of international law. During a 23 March 2022 meeting of the ESS, Switzerland noted that although it is a neutral country, “neutrality does not oblige us to remain silent in the face of violations of international law. On the contrary, it is up to us to commit ourselves to respect of the Charter”.
The five incoming members will replace India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway. Mexico informally assumed the co-penholdership, together with France, on humanitarian issues in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion. In early March 2022, France and Mexico pursued a draft humanitarian resolution at the Security Council and have since collectively initiated numerous humanitarian briefings on Ukraine. It remains unclear which Council member, if any, will assume Mexico’s co-penholder role in 2023.
Norway was a strong advocate for the Secretary-General’s good offices in the context of the war in Ukraine during its term. Together with Mexico, Norway co-authored the 6 May 2022 presidential statement welcoming the Secretary-General’s efforts in search of a peaceful solution to the war.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Meeting Records
|9 December 2022S/PV.9216
|This was a briefing on Ukraine requested by Russia under the agenda item “Threats to international peace and security”. The meeting focused on the issue of “supplies of lethal weapons to Ukraine and their consequences”.
|6 December 2022S/PV.9208
|This was a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine requested by France and Mexico.