Expected Council Action
In July, the Security Council will hold a briefing on the situation in Ukraine. UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is expected to chair the meeting. The Council may hold additional meetings on the country, depending on developments on the ground.
Key Recent Developments
In early June, Ukraine launched a series of counteroffensive efforts focused primarily on the eastern Donetsk and southern Zaporizhzhia regions. Despite recapturing several villages, the counteroffensive has encountered strong resistance from Russian forces. In an 18 June intelligence update, the UK’s Ministry of Defence noted that Russia was conducting “relatively effective defensive operations” in the south and that both sides were “suffering high casualties”. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal suggested on 22 June that Ukraine’s counteroffensive would “take time” but emphasised that he remained “optimistic” about its eventual success. Shmyhal’s remarks came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged in a 21 June interview that progress on the battlefield had been “slower than desired”.
On 6 June, the Kakhovka Dam located in the southern Kherson region of Ukraine was destroyed, leading to widespread flooding along the lower Dnieper River. Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of destroying the dam. According to a 22 June OCHA humanitarian impact and response report, the incident has led to “an unconfirmed number of civilians killed and injured and a worsened humanitarian situation in areas already facing the dire consequences of war”. In addition to displacing more than 4,000 people in the southern Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, the incident and subsequent depletion of the Kakhovka reservoir has left hundreds of thousands of people without access to drinking water.
The Security Council held an emergency meeting on 6 June to discuss the incident at the request of Russia and Ukraine, supported by Albania and the US. During the meeting, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths characterised the dam’s destruction as “one of the most significant incidents of damage to civilian infrastructure since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022”.
The Council convened four subsequent meetings on Ukraine in June. At Russia’s request, Council members held two meetings under “any other business” on 15 June and 27 June to discuss developments related to the 26 September 2022 explosions that caused damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. On 23 June, the Council convened for a briefing during which Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo provided an update on the security and humanitarian situation in Ukraine. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 22 June.) On 29 June, the Council held a briefing, at Russia’s request, on the issue of “Western arms supplies to Ukraine and their implications for diplomatic efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis”.
On 23 June, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian private security company the Wagner Group, released a video accusing the Russian Ministry of Defence of orchestrating a missile strike on a Wagner Group outpost in eastern Ukraine. Prigozhin has frequently criticised the Russian military leadership for their insubstantial support to Wagner Group troops fighting in the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. Tensions escalated in early June, when Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered all “volunteer detachments” to formalise contracts with the ministry by 1 July, in an apparent attempt to consolidate the ministry’s command over operations in Ukraine.
In several ensuing audio clips posted on Telegram on 23 June, Prigozhin dismissed the government’s reasoning for invading Ukraine, asserting that the war had been waged to further the interests of a “clan of oligarchs”. Prigozhin also blamed Russia’s military leadership for the country’s shortcomings in Ukraine, as he declared that Wagner Group forces would lead a “march for justice” to Moscow “to find out why there is such chaos in the country”. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) responded by opening a criminal probe into Prigozhin.
On 24 June, elements of the Wagner Group took control of the military command centre in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, apparently encountering minimal resistance from the Russian military. Prigozhin subsequently ordered a few thousand Wagner troops to proceed to Moscow while he commanded the rebellion from Rostov-on-Don. In a televised address on the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to punish those involved in what he called an “armed mutiny”, accusing Prigozhin of committing “treason” because of “inflated ambitions and personal interest”.
Within a few hours, Wagner Group forces advanced within 200 kilometres of Moscow, establishing artillery positions south of the city, before ultimately pulling back. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko reportedly brokered a deal between Putin and Prigozhin, who agreed to call off the march in exchange for amnesty and Prigozhin’s exile to Belarus. Prigozhin conveyed that “a demonstration of protest was enough”, cautioning that “a lot of Russian blood could be spilled” if the Wagner Group were to advance further towards Moscow.
On 26 June, Prigozhin released another audio message on Telegram claiming that the march was not an attempted coup to overthrow the government but rather a protest against the Russian military leadership. On 25 June, the Kremlin confirmed that Wagner Group soldiers would still be offered military contracts with Russia’s Defence Ministry. In an interview with Russian media on 26 June, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the incident would not affect Russia’s military activities in Ukraine. He further emphasised that it would not create difficulties in Russia’s relations with its foreign “partners and friends” or disrupt Russia’s operations in Mali and the Central African Republic. In a call with US President Joe Biden, Zelenskyy described the incident as exposing “the weakness of Putin’s regime”.
The Secretary-General, in his annual report on children and armed conflict, published on 27 June, said that he is “appalled by the high number of grave violations against children in Ukraine following the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation”. In the annexes to his report, he listed the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups for committing attacks on schools and hospitals (480 verified instances) and the killing of children (136 verified victims). The Secretary-General expressed concern about the high number of children killed (80) and maimed (175) and attacks on schools and hospitals (212) by Ukrainian armed forces but did not list them in the report’s annexes. He urged the Ukrainian armed forces immediately to implement measures to protect children and to prevent attacks on schools and hospitals, adding that he will be “particularly attentive to this situation in the preparation of my next report”. (For more, see the Children and Armed Conflict brief in our July forecast.)
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 15 June, Alice Jill Edwards, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, issued a statement expressing alarm at reports and testimonies which indicate that Russian military forces in Ukraine “consistently and intentionally” inflict “severe physical and psychological pain and suffering on Ukrainian civilians and prisoners of war”. Edwards, together with other independent UN experts, sent a letter to Russian authorities in which they emphasised that the “consistency and methods” of the alleged torture suggest coordination, planning, and organisation, as well as “direct authorisation, deliberate policy or official tolerance from superior authorities”. Edwards plans to visit Ukraine later this year to conduct a fact-finding inquiry as part of her mandate.
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 start 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 ensuring the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), which is set to expire on 17 July. Russia has 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. The Tolyatti-Odesa ammonia pipeline, which had been the subject of UN-led discussions between Russia, Türkiye, and Ukraine to facilitate the export of Russian ammonia fertiliser, sustained partial damage due to reported explosions on 7 June. 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 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, leaving Russia in control of a significant amount of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Despite the prevailing divisions, several member states, including three from the BRICS bloc—which comprises Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa—have initiated diplomatic efforts aimed at promoting dialogue towards a political settlement of the war in Ukraine. So have other countries: at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on 3 June, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto presented a peace plan aimed at resolving the conflict in Ukraine. His proposal involved an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of both sides to 15 kilometres from their current positions, allowing for the establishment of a demilitarised zone to be monitored by UN peacekeepers. Subianto also suggested that a referendum, overseen by the UN, be conducted in Ukraine’s “disputed territories”. Kyiv and many of its Western allies dismissed the proposal, particularly objecting to the use of the term “disputed territories”.
On 16 and 17 June, a high-level delegation from Africa—comprising representatives from Comoros, Egypt, Senegal, South Africa, the Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Zambia—visited Ukraine and Russia in search of a negotiated settlement to the war. The delegation presented a ten-point proposal to the parties, emphasising a commitment to pursuing a peaceful resolution to the conflict through diplomatic means and based on the principles outlined in the UN Charter. The proposal also called for de-escalation and the consideration of security guarantees for both sides.
In a joint press conference following the meeting in Kyiv, Zelenskyy rejected peace talks with Moscow, arguing that Russia views negotiations as an opportunity to strengthen itself for further military action. He reiterated that any peace proposal must include the “real withdrawal of Russian troops” from Ukraine. In St. Petersburg, Putin dismissed the African delegation’s peace plan, challenging assumptions about Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders and the source of the global food security crisis. Putin maintained that “Russia has never rejected any [peace] talks”, suggesting that Kyiv chose to withdraw from negotiations in March 2022 under pressure from its Western allies.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Meeting Records
|2 June 2023S/PV.9340
|This was an emergency meeting requested by Russia and Ukraine, with support from Albania and the US, which focused on the 6 June destruction of the Kakhovka Dam.