August 2023 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 July 2023
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Expected Council Action

In August, the Security Council plans to hold a briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The Council may hold additional meetings on Ukraine during the month.

Key Recent Developments

In July, Ukrainian forces continued their counteroffensive across several frontline sectors, with Ukrainian authorities reporting some gains in the eastern Donetsk and southern Zaporizhzhia regions. Meanwhile, Russian forces initiated offensive operations near the city of Kupyansk, between the eastern Kharkiv and Luhansk regions.

Tensions escalated along the border between Belarus and Poland. On 20 July, the Belarusian Defense Ministry announced that units of the Russian private security company the Wagner Group had started training Belarusian soldiers along the country’s border with Poland. The Wagner units were relocated to Belarus following their attempted mutiny in Russia in late June. Warsaw responded on 21 July by deciding to position its own military units on the country’s eastern border with Belarus. At a meeting of Russia’s national security council on 21 July, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Poland of nurturing “revanchist ambitions” and vowed to use “all the resources” at its disposal to defend Belarus.

In a 17 July statement, Moscow announced that it would not renew the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), allowing it to expire the following day. The statement criticised the initiative as a “purely commercial” enterprise aimed at serving “Kiev and its Western curators’ self-serving interests”. It also argued that “none of the five systemic tasks envisaged by the Memorandum of Understanding [MoU] have been fulfilled”, adding that the Secretary-General’s “last-minute” proposal to provide SWIFT payment system access to a subsidiary of Russia’s agricultural bank was “practically unrealizable and unviable”. (The MoU, signed by Russia and the UN in July 2022, outlined the UN’s scope of engagement to facilitate unimpeded exports of Russian food products and fertilisers to global markets.)

Following its decision to terminate the BSGI, Russia declared that all vessels sailing in the Black Sea would “be regarded as potential carriers of military cargo”. On 21 July, Russia’s navy reportedly conducted live-fire exercises in the Black Sea. Russian forces also launched a series of missile and drone attacks for several days following the BSGI’s termination, destroying critical port infrastructure, facilities, and grain supplies in the Black Sea port cities of Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Mykolaiv. In a 20 July statement, Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the Russian attacks, while recalling that the destruction of civilian infrastructure may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law. Guterres stressed that the attacks contradict Moscow’s commitments under the MoU to “facilitate the unimpeded export of food, sunflower oil and fertilizers from Ukrainian controlled Black Sea ports”.

Russia’s termination of the BSGI was met with broad disapproval. In a 17 July statement, Guterres expressed regret over Russia’s decision, noting that the global price of wheat had already started to rise. Quoting the letter that he had sent to Moscow before the BSGI expired, Guterres refuted several of Moscow’s justifications for terminating the agreement, emphasising that he felt “deeply disappointed that [his] proposals went unheeded”.

During the Security Council’s 17 July briefing on Ukraine and the General Assembly’s 18 July debate on “the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”, several member states—notably many non-Western members—expressed regret at Russia’s decision to withdraw from the BSGI. Briefing the Security Council during a 21 July meeting on Ukraine requested by Ecuador and France, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo described Russia’s decision as a “further blow to global food security”. She also underlined that threats to civilian vessels navigating in the Black Sea are “unacceptable”, adding that “any risk of conflict spillover as a result of a military incident in the Black Sea—whether intentional or by accident—must be avoided at all costs”. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 16 July.)

In addition to the two briefings focused on the BSGI, the Security Council convened four meetings on other issues related to Ukraine in July. In an 11 July briefing requested by Russia, the Security Council discussed developments regarding the 26 September 2022 explosions that caused physical damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea that carry natural gas from Russia to Germany. On 26 July, the Council held two briefings on Ukraine: the first was a briefing requested by Russia focused on the alleged persecution of the followers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and the second was a briefing requested by Ukraine on Russian attacks on Odesa. At the time of writing, Russia had requested another briefing on Ukraine, scheduled for 31 July, to discuss “the systematic use of terrorist methods by the Kyiv regime as a factor exacerbating the crisis around Ukraine and postponing its political settlement”.

In July, Ukraine’s NATO allies strengthened their commitment to supporting Ukraine in its defence against Russia. Furthermore, several of Ukraine’s closest allies offered to establish a framework for security guarantees to deter future aggression. During the NATO summit, held on 11 and 12 July in Lithuania, NATO members agreed on a three-element package aimed at bringing Ukraine closer to NATO. This includes a commitment to a multi-year programme of assistance designed to bolster Ukraine’s security and defence sectors while bringing Ukraine’s armed forces and military equipment up to NATO standards; the establishment of a NATO-Ukraine Council, a decision-making forum with Ukraine’s participation; and agreement to expedite Ukraine’s eventual NATO membership by removing the requirement for a membership action plan.

Following the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasised that NATO “will issue an invitation for Ukraine…when allies agree, and conditions are met”. In a 12 July press release, Russia criticised the move, framing it as a continuation of NATO’s “provocative expansion policy” and an effort to prolong “the hybrid war NATO has launched against Russia”.

On 12 July, the Group of Seven (G7)—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US—together with the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission issued a statement announcing that each G7 member will develop specific, bilateral, long-term security commitments and arrangements with Ukraine to ensure a sustainable force capable of defending Ukraine and deterring future Russian aggression. The security commitments include the provision of modern military equipment across land, sea and air domains, intelligence-sharing, cybersecurity support, economic assistance, and efforts to impose economic and other costs on Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the announcement as the first legal document symbolising that Ukraine has “an ‘umbrella’ of security guarantees” on its path to NATO membership.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 12 July, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk briefed the Human Rights Council (HRC) during its 53rd session. Presenting the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on “detention of civilians in the context of the armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine” (A/HRC/53/CRP.3), Türk noted that his office had documented the detention of more than 900 civilians, including eight children, between 24 February 2022 and 23 May. Of the documented cases in the report, 864 were perpetrated by Russia. Türk underscored that many of the cases were “tantamount to enforced disappearances” and urged the Russian leadership to “instruct and ensure their personnel comply with international human rights and humanitarian law”.

During his briefing, Türk also presented the Secretary-General’s report (A/HRC/53/64) on human rights violations in Crimea, Sevastopol, and Russian-occupied areas in the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. Noting arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture, the High Commissioner re-emphasised his concern that “accountability continues to be conspicuous by its absence” and mentioned that to the best of his knowledge, no investigations were being undertaken by Russia regarding violations and abuses committed by its forces in Ukraine against civilians.

At the conclusion of its 53rd session on 14 July, the HRC adopted a resolution (A/HRC/53/L.1) on cooperation with and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights. The resolution requests the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue presenting an oral report on the findings of the OHCHR on the situation of human rights in Ukraine to the HRC at every future session until its 59th session. The resolution was adopted with 28 votes in favour, three against, and 16 abstentions. Security Council members France, the UK, and the US voted in favour, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) abstained, and China voted against the resolution.

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. The direct involvement of a permanent member in the conflict, however, continues to limit the Council’s options.

A key issue for the Council is how to revive the BSGI. Russia has indicated its willingness to return to the agreement should its demands be met. However, Ukraine and its Western allies have been reluctant to renegotiate the terms of the agreement, viewing Russia’s actions as an effort to extract concessions, including broader sanctions relief. On 3 August, the US is organising a ministerial-level open debate on famine and conflict-induced global food insecurity as a signature event of its August Council presidency. Council members have begun negotiating a draft presidential statement in connection with the upcoming debate. Members may wish to propose language encouraging the Secretary-General to reinvigorate his good offices efforts to help the parties break the current impasse and renew the agreement.

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.

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Security Council Meeting Records
31 July 2023S/PV.9390 This was a briefing on Ukraine requested by Russia.
26 July 2023S/PV.9386 This was a briefing requested by Ukraine.
26 July 2023S/PV.9385 This was a briefing on Ukraine requested by Russia.
21 July 2023S/PV.9382 This was a briefing on Ukraine requested by Ecuador and France.
17 July 2023S/PV.9380 This was a high-level briefing on Ukraine.
11 July 2023S/PV.9373 This was a meeting held under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item, requested by Russia to discuss developments related to the 26 September 2022 explosions that caused physical damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

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