May 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2023
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Expected Council Action

In May, 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 the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, although Russian offensive operations appear to have decreased in recent weeks. Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence Chief Kyrylo Budanov said in a 24 April interview that Russian forces have switched to defensive positions everywhere except for the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. The UK’s Ministry of Defence agreed with Budanov’s assessment, noting in a 25 April intelligence update that Russia’s average daily casualty rate has fallen by approximately 30 percent compared with previous months, suggesting that its forces have switched to defensive positions in preparation for anticipated Ukrainian offensive operations. In the southern Kherson region, Ukrainian forces appear to have established positions on the eastern side of the Dnipro River. Reports also suggest that Ukraine is amassing troops near the frontline in the southern Zaporizhzhia region.

April marked the first month since December 2021 that the Security Council did not convene for a formal meeting on Ukraine. During its April Council presidency, Russia organised two signature events: an open debate on “Risks stemming from violations of the agreements regulating the export of weapons and military equipment” on 10 April, and a 24 April ministerial-level open debate on “Effective multilateralism through the defense of the principles of the UN Charter”, which was chaired by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Although the Ukraine war was not the stated focus of these meetings, the issue was raised by many participants at both events. (For more, see our What’s in Blue stories of 9 April and 23 April.)

Russia also organised an Arria-formula meeting on 5 April titled “Children and Armed Conflict: Ukrainian Crisis. Evacuating Children From Conflict Zone”, which featured controversial briefings by Russia’s Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova and representatives from the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Lvova-Belova and Russian President Vladimir Putin in March for allegedly committing the war crime of “unlawful deportation” and “unlawful transfer” of children from Ukraine to Russia. During the 5 April meeting, representatives of several Council members—including Albania, Malta, the UK, and the US—walked out of the conference room when the contentious briefers took the floor. The meeting was not broadcast on UNTV because the UK raised an objection to webcasting the meeting on the official UN channel. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 4 April.)

On 28 April, Albania, France, and the US, together with non-Council member Ukraine, organised an Arria-formula meeting on “Addressing the Abduction and Deportation of Children During Armed Conflict: Concrete Steps for Accountability and Prevention”. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 28 April.)

In April, a collection of classified US documents was leaked online, revealing details about the war in Ukraine. US Pentagon officials have verified the authenticity of some of the documents. The leaked information included confidential communications between Secretary-General António Guterres and other UN officials. One of the documents suggested that Guterres was willing to concede to Russia’s demands regarding the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), potentially “undermining broader efforts to hold Russia accountable”. Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric dismissed the narrative presented by the leaked documents, stating during a 13 April press briefing that “the Secretary-General is not soft on any one country or another”, adding that “he has been very clear about the violations of international law” in the context of the conflict in Ukraine.

On 11 April, the UN issued a note to correspondents stating that the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), which is responsible for facilitating the BSGI, has been unable to conduct vessel inspections as the parties failed to reach an agreement on “operational priorities”. Ukraine has expressed concern that Russia is intentionally obstructing navigation in the Black Sea, causing delays in the shipment of Ukrainian foodstuffs. On 13 April, the Kremlin issued a statement accusing the UN of “distort[ing] data and facts” and blaming Ukraine for stalling the registration and inspection of ships. In addition, Russia threatened that it would not renew the BSGI “without any progress regarding the five systematic problems”, which include reconnecting Russia’s agricultural bank to the SWIFT payment system and unblocking the Tolyatti-Odesa ammonia pipeline that has been inactive since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The BSGI is set to expire on 18 May, four days after Türkiye’s general elections.

Guterres held a meeting with Lavrov on 24 April to discuss the BSGI and the operational challenges encountered by the JCC. During the meeting, Guterres presented Lavrov with a letter outlining a proposed plan to improve, extend, and expand the BSGI, taking into account the positions recently expressed by the parties and the risks associated with global food insecurity. A similar letter was reportedly sent to Ukraine and Türkiye, the two other signatories to the agreement.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 31 March, at the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk spoke at the interactive dialogue on Ukraine, emphasising that after 13 months of Russia’s war against Ukraine, “severe violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have become shockingly routine”. Türk noted that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified more than 8,400 civilian deaths and more than 14,000 civilian injuries since the beginning of the invasion, observing that most of the casualties resulted from Russia’s use of “wide-impact explosive weaponry in residential neighborhoods”.

In his statement, Türk noted that OHCHR has interviewed more than 400 prisoners of war (POWs) on both sides. He underscored that it is essential for international monitors and OHCHR staff to receive “unfettered access to all individuals detained by Russian forces”. Türk also observed that OHCHR continues to gather and analyse information about the incident in Olenivka in July 2022, in which at least 50 Ukrainian POWs were killed.

Women, Peace and Security

In a 30 March joint statement, Valiant Richey, the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and Pramila Patten, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said that over eight million people have fled Ukraine since the beginning of the war. Patten and Richey called for strengthening prevention and protection measures both inside and outside Ukraine and for “sustainable solutions that increase societies’ resilience against trafficking in persons, especially women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation and sexual violence”. They stressed the importance of adopting a gender-sensitive and survivor-centred approach in preventing and combatting trafficking and called for more coordinated efforts to “disrupt and dismantle the human trafficking business model”. The statement notes that, coinciding with the large-scale displacement, “there are large spikes in online searches for explicit content and sexual services from Ukrainians” and stresses the urgency of rooting out “those who create the demand and platforms that allow for this type of violence and exploitation to thrive”. In this regard, Patten and Richey called on states “to put in place policies mandating proactive monitoring and removals of exploitative materials, as well as mechanisms for public reporting and for shutting down abusive platforms”.

Key Issues and Options

The overarching priority for the Council is to promote a solution to the conflict in line with the UN Charter and to see dialogue facilitated among the parties to that end. Council members may wish to request the Secretary-General to employ his good offices to promote the resumption of talks between Russia and Ukraine in pursuit of a peace agreement. 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 ensuring the extension of the BSGI. 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 to the implementation of the BSGI and the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Russia and the UN to facilitate unimpeded exports of Russian food and fertilisers to global markets.

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, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US—condemn Russia for what they consider to be an act of aggression.

Ukraine and its allies have advocated for a just peace, conditioned on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders. Other member states have called for an immediate cessation of hostilities without any preconditions, which could freeze the frontlines of the conflict, resulting in Russia seizing a significant amount of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine. Nonetheless, prospects for a negotiated settlement remain low as Russia and Ukraine remain focused on influencing the outcome of the war through military means.

On 24 February, China released a 12-point position paper on a political settlement to the war in Ukraine. The paper included calls for respecting the sovereignty of all countries, ceasing hostilities, and resuming peace talks, but did not mention Russia’s military withdrawal from Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed Beijing’s engagement on Ukraine but stressed that “if the principle of respect for territorial integrity does not provide for the withdrawal of all Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine, then this does not suit our state”.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beijing on 6 April, taking part in a trilateral meeting with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Chinese President Xi Jinping. According to media reports, Macron urged Xi to “bring Russia back to reason” and to encourage all parties to return to the negotiating table. While the leaders agreed that nuclear weapons should not be used in the conflict, Xi emphasised the importance of taking the legitimate concerns of all parties into consideration.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has sought to position the country as a potential mediator in the conflict. Lula has proposed the creation of a “political G20” to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine. After a meeting between Lula and Xi on 14 April, the two countries issued a joint statement calling on more countries to play a constructive role in promoting a political settlement to the Ukrainian crisis. While Brasília has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has refrained from participating in sanctions against Russia. However, Lula has faced criticism from Kyiv and some of its Western allies for implying that Ukraine shares responsibility for the conflict and that the US and Europe are prolonging it. On 18 April, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, accused Brazil of “parroting Russian and Chinese propaganda” by “suggesting that the [US] and Europe are somehow not interested in peace or that [they] share responsibility for the war”, a claim that Brazil denies.

Although Western authorities have criticised Brazil and China for not engaging with Kyiv on their proposals and instead fostering relations with Moscow, the two countries have recently made efforts to reach out to Ukraine’s leadership. On 21 April, Brasília announced that Lula’s chief advisor, former Foreign Minister of Brazil Celso Amorim, would travel to Kyiv. Amorim discussed Brazil’s peace proposal with Putin in early April. On 26 April, Xi held his first telephone call with Zelenskyy after his meeting with Putin in Moscow from 20 to 22 March. During their hour-long conversation, Zelenskyy expressed hope for China’s “active participation in efforts to restore peace”, while underscoring the need to refrain from supporting Russia, including through the supply of weapons. Xi stressed the importance of seizing the opportunity and building up favourable conditions for a peaceful settlement, given that “rational thinking and voices” are “now on the rise”. China will also send the Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs to Ukraine for “in-depth communication…on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis”.

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Security Council Meeting Records
24 April 2023S/PV.9308 This was a ministerial-level open debate on “Effective multilateralism through the defense of the principles of the UN Charter”.
10 April 2023S/PV.9301 This was an open debate on “Risks stemming from violations of the agreements regulating the export of weapons and military equipment”.