Expected Council Action
In March, the Security Council may hold one or more meetings on the situation in Ukraine, depending on developments on the ground.
Key Recent Developments
One year into Russia’s military incursion, the war continues to have devastating consequences for civilians and far-reaching effects on the global economy. As at 15 February, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 21,293 civilian casualties, including 8,006 deaths, while noting that true figures are likely to be considerably higher. OHCHR has confirmed that at least 456 children have been killed in Ukraine and 684 injured. Moreover, the humanitarian and displacement crises in Ukraine continue to deteriorate. According to a 10 February OCHA humanitarian impact situation report, 17.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, while approximately 13.4 million people have been forcibly displaced by the war. That figure includes 5.4 million internally displaced people and eight million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries.
The war has entered a new phase, with a renewed Russian offensive marked by intensified fighting in several areas in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. Russian forces continue to conduct ground attacks near the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region as well as along the outskirts of Donetsk City, while heavy fighting has also been reported in the cities of Svatove and Kreminna in the Luhansk region.
The Security Council has been actively engaged on the situation in Ukraine in recent weeks. On 6 February, the Council held a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, at the request of Ecuador and France, the co-penholders on humanitarian issues in Ukraine. On 8 February, at Russia’s request, the Council convened an open briefing under the “Threats to international peace and security” (TIPS) agenda item to discuss “the prospects for the peaceful settlement of the crisis around Ukraine in the context of the increasing supplies of Western armaments”. On 17 February, Russia initiated an open briefing under the TIPS agenda item to mark the eighth anniversary of the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”, also known as the Minsk II agreement, adopted on 12 February 2015. Russia initiated another open briefing under the TIPS agenda item on 21 February, citing new evidence regarding the 26 September 2022 explosions that caused physical damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. On 24 February, the Council held a ministerial-level briefing initiated by Malta, Council president for February, to mark the one-year anniversary of the war. (For more, see our What’s In Blue stories of 7 February, 16 February, and 23 February.)
The General Assembly convened a meeting under the 11th Emergency Special Session (ESS) established by Security Council resolution 2623 of 27 February 2022. The meeting took place from 22 to 23 February. On 23 February, UN member states voted on a draft resolution titled “Principles of the Charter of the United Nations underlying a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine”. The resolution underscores the urgent need to reach a peaceful settlement to the conflict that is consistent with the UN Charter. Member states also voted on two draft amendments proposed by Belarus, both of which failed to be adopted. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 23 February.)
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 22 February, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur on the right to education Farida Shaheed, and Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Nazila Ghanea issued a joint statement expressing concern at the extent of damage and destruction of sites, institutions, and objects of cultural, historical, and religious significance in Ukraine. Cultural properties are protected under Article 1 of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. As at 22 February, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had verified damage to 241 sites since the start of the war. The joint statement also expressed concern about the targeting of Ukrainian cultural symbols and reports of Russian troops detaining civil servants, educators, and local school directors for their refusal to implement Russian curricula.
Key Issues and Options
The overarching priority for the Council is to promote a solution to the conflict and facilitate dialogue among the parties to that end. Following the 23 February adoption of the General Assembly resolution calling for a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace, Council members may wish to request the Secretary-General to employ his good offices to promote the resumption of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in pursuit of a peace agreement in line with the UN Charter. While a negotiated settlement may appear distant, establishing diplomatic lines of communication between the parties may contribute to preventing further escalation of the conflict.
A key issue for the Council is how to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Periodic briefings from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths or other OCHA officials could help keep the Council informed of the humanitarian situation on the ground.
Another key issue for the Council is how to ensure the effective implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) and the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the UN’s scope of engagement to facilitate unimpeded exports of Russian food products and fertilisers to global markets. On 15 February, Ukraine sent a letter to the Security Council expressing concern that Russia is deliberately “obstructing” navigation in the Black Sea, causing delays in shipments of Ukrainian foodstuffs related to the BSGI. The letter notes that Russian officials at the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul have “systematically [delayed] the inspection of vessels”, leading to a “systematic decrease of freight turnover”. Russia, for its part, argues that the MoU signed by Russia and the UN on 22 July 2022 has not been implemented. Council members may wish to convene a meeting with UN Coordinator for the BSGI Abdullah Abdul Samad Dashti and UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan. They may choose a closed, informal format, such as an informal interactive dialogue, to allow for a frank discussion about the challenges of implementing the BSGI and the MoU.
Another important issue for the Council is how to promote the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine. Efforts continue by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi to establish a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Council members may wish to seek a briefing from Grossi.
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, the UK, and the US—condemn Russia for what they consider to be an unprovoked war.
Ukraine and its allies have advocated for a just peace in line with the UN Charter, conditioned on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine’s internationally recognised border. Other member states have called for an immediate cessation of hostilities without any preconditions, which could freeze the frontlines of the conflict and see Russia seize a significant amount of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine. Western governments have framed support for the General Assembly resolution as support for upholding the rules-based international order.
The outcome of the ESS votes on 23 February signalled the international community’s continued support for Ukraine and commitment to its sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. However, the high number of abstentions and absences, particularly on the draft amendments, demonstrates a persistent unwillingness by some member states—predominantly from the Global South—to be perceived as aligning themselves with either side to the conflict. Approximately 41 percent of African states and about 28 percent of Asia-Pacific states either abstained or did not cast a vote on the resolution. When assessing the votes on the draft amendments, the proportion increases to roughly 76 percent for African states and 62 percent for Asia-Pacific states.
The 32 member states that abstained from voting on the resolution include some of the leading members of the Global South, such as China, India, Senegal—which currently chairs the AU—and South Africa. Analysts have noted that many of the member states that have abstained from voting on the General Assembly resolutions and continue to do so have close economic, historical, or military ties to the Kremlin. Some analysts have argued that these member states’ reluctance to condemn Russia at the General Assembly is not equivalent to approval of Russia’s actions in Ukraine but reflects dissatisfaction with the approach taken by western governments to addressing the war and its ricocheting effects on the global economy. Many African and Asia-Pacific member states have expressed support for an immediate cessation of hostilities given their primary concern over the spillover effects of the conflict, including on global energy and commodity prices. They have also been uncomfortable with sanctions on Russia, with many enhancing economic relations with Russia since the start of the war.
On 24 February, China released a 12-point position paper on a political settlement to the war in Ukraine. The 12 points include calls for respecting the sovereignty of all countries, abandoning the “Cold War mentality” to which China has also referred in its statements, ceasing hostilities, resuming peace talks, resolving the humanitarian crisis, protecting civilians and prisoners of war, keeping nuclear power plants safe, facilitating grain exports, stopping unilateral sanctions, keeping industrial and supply chains stable, and promoting post-conflict reconstruction. While many countries, including Ukraine, have welcomed China’s intensified diplomatic engagement on the war, some have noted with concern that China’s position paper makes no reference to the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|21 February 2023S/PV.9266||This was an open briefing under the TIPS agenda item requested by Russia.|
|17 February 2023S/PV.9262||This was an open briefing requested by Russia on the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”, also known as the Minsk II agreement, adopted on 12 February 2015.|
|8 February 2023S/PV.9256||This was an open briefing under the TIPS agenda item requested by Russia to discuss “the prospects for the peaceful settlement of the crisis around Ukraine in the context of the increasing supplies of Western armaments”.|
|6 February 2023S/PV.9254||This was a humanitarian briefing on Ukraine.|