Expected Council Action
In June, 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 eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces continue to conduct offensive operations near the cities of Avdiivka, Bakhmut, and Kupiansk. On 20 May, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian private security company the Wagner Group, claimed that his forces had fully captured Bakhmut. On 25 May, Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said that Russian troops have replaced Wagner Group units in the vicinity of Bakhmut. She also claimed that Ukrainian forces maintain control over positions on the southwestern periphery of the city.
Meanwhile, Russia has continued to launch air and missile assaults targeting military and civilian infrastructure across Ukraine. On 26 May, a Russian missile strike on an outpatient medical clinic in the city of Dnipro reportedly resulted in over 30 civilian casualties, including two deaths. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the attack in a 26 May tweet as “another crime against humanity”.
The Security Council remains actively engaged on the situation in Ukraine. On 12 May, Russia convened an Arria-formula meeting titled “Situation with freedom of religion and belief in Ukraine: persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church”. On 15 May, the Council convened for a humanitarian briefing at the request of Ecuador and France, the co-penholders on humanitarian issues in Ukraine. At Russia’s request, the Council held a briefing under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item on 18 May, which focused on the issue of Western weapons supplies to Ukraine. The Council also held a briefing on the situation of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) on 30 May, at the request of Ecuador and France. (For more, see our What’s in Blue stories of 11 May, 14 May, 17 May, and 29 May.)
On 17 May, Türkiye, Russia, and Ukraine agreed to an extension of the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) for an additional two months. Russia had threatened not to renew the initiative, citing a lack of progress in implementing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Russia and the UN to facilitate unimpeded exports of Russian food and fertilisers to global markets. UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the BSGI’s extension at a 17 May press briefing. While acknowledging that “outstanding issues remain”, he expressed hope that the parties “will reach a comprehensive agreement to improve, expand and extend the initiative”.
Despite the BSGI’s extension, Ukraine continues to allege that Russia is deliberately impeding the inspection of vessels at the Joint Coordination Centre, causing a decline in freight turnover and a reduction in the shipment of Ukrainian foodstuffs. On 23 May, Ukraine accused Russia of blocking shipments from the Pivdennyi port, one of the three Ukrainian ports specified in the BSGI agreement. Moscow has countered these claims by asserting that Kyiv has obstructed the shipment of Russian ammonia via a pipeline to the Pivdennyi port, as outlined in the agreement.
Key Issues and Options
The overarching priority for the Council is to promote a solution to the conflict in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter and to facilitate dialogue among the parties to that end. Council members may consider requesting the Secretary-General to employ his good offices to promote the resumption of talks between Russia and Ukraine in pursuit of a peace agreement, including by providing support and facilitating coordination among various diplomatic initiatives. 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. Hostilities have resulted in a severe deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. Lack of access to areas held by Russian forces remains a major obstacle preventing essential aid from reaching frontline communities. Moreover, extensive mine contamination, particularly in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, has exacerbated the challenges of repairing critical infrastructure and resuming farming. Ukraine now faces one of the highest levels of mine contamination worldwide. Council members may consider convening a briefing to examine the humanitarian consequences of mine contamination, with a focus on its impact on civilian populations.
Another key issue for the Council is the effective implementation of the BSGI and the MoU. 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.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The Security Council remains starkly divided on the conflict in Ukraine and the appropriate framework for achieving a peaceful resolution. 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 front lines of the conflict, resulting in Russia seizing a significant amount of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine. In a 9 May interview, Guterres said he does not believe that Russia is currently willing to withdraw from the territories it occupies in Ukraine, suggesting that “peace negotiations are not possible at this time…[as] both parties are convinced that they can win” through military means.
Despite the prevailing divisions, several member states, notably three from the BRICS bloc—which comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—have initiated diplomatic efforts aimed at promoting dialogue towards a political settlement to the war in Ukraine. On 10 May, Celso Amorim, chief advisor to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and former Foreign Minister of Brazil, met with Zelenskyy, following his earlier visit to Moscow in April. In a 26 May tweet, Lula confirmed that he held a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which he “reiterated Brazil’s willingness, along with India, Indonesia and China, to talk to both sides of the conflict in pursuit of peace”.
In May, China’s Special Representative on Eurasian Affairs Li Hui embarked on a European tour, holding meetings with senior government officials in Kyiv, Warsaw, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, and concluding with meetings in Moscow on 26 May. In Kyiv, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reportedly conveyed to Li that Kyiv would not “accept any proposals that would involve the loss of its territories or the freezing of the conflict”. According to media reports, during his discussions with European government officials, Li encouraged them to adopt an independent stance from that of Washington and to exert pressure on Ukraine to accept an immediate ceasefire to prevent further escalation of the conflict. Western officials have raised concerns about China’s ability to act as an impartial mediator in negotiations because of its close alignment with Moscow. European diplomats reportedly sought to convey a unified front by urging China to refrain from providing military assistance to Russia, and to continue pressuring Russia against using nuclear weapons.
Zelenskyy also embarked on an extensive world tour in May—including visits to Italy, Germany, France, and the UK—to promote his vision of peace in Ukraine based on his ten-point peace formula, and to secure military aid from Kyiv’s allies. On 18 May, Zelenskyy addressed the League of Arab States summit in Saudi Arabia as part of a broader effort to solidify global support for Ukraine, before travelling to Japan for the Group of Seven (G7) summit on 19 May. After the summit, the G7 members issued a statement reaffirming their commitment to enforcing sanctions against Russia and extending support to Ukraine. The statement emphasised that “the complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops and military equipment…must be included in any call for peace”. In a separate communiqué issued on 20 May, the G7 leaders urged China to “press Russia to stop its military aggression” and withdraw its troops from Ukraine.
South Africa recently announced its own peace initiative aimed at facilitating an end to the war in Ukraine. On 16 May, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that his country will launch a peace mission comprised of six African countries—Egypt, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia—to seek a negotiated settlement to the war. Both Putin and Zelenskyy have expressed their willingness to receive the African delegation in Moscow and Kyiv, respectively. Ramaphosa discussed his initiative with Guterres in a telephone call on 16 May, during which the Secretary-General reiterated that any peace initiative should conform with the principles of the UN Charter and abide by relevant General Assembly resolutions.
Ramaphosa’s announcement came shortly after US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety accused South Africa of supplying weapons to Russia in December 2022, contradicting its proclaimed neutrality in the war. Bridgety alleged that ammunition and weapons were loaded onto a Russian cargo ship, the Lady R., in Cape Town, South Africa, in December 2022. South African officials denied the allegations and summoned Brigety to the Foreign Ministry on 12 May. On 11 May, Ramaphosa announced that he would establish an independent inquiry into the incident. A 28 May press release from Ramaphosa’s office stated that the investigation was mandated “because of the seriousness of the allegations, the extent of public interest and the impact of this matter on South Africa’s international relations”.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|18 May 2023S/PV.9325||This was a briefing on the G5 Sahel Joint Force with Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee; Executive Secretary of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) Eric Tiare, and; civil society representative Aïssatou Diouf of Enda Energy and Coordinator of the Climate Action Network for West and Central Africa.|
|15 May 2023S/PV.9321||This was a briefing on Ukraine requested by Ecuador and France.|