Expected Council Action
In September, the Security Council is expected to hold a high-level open debate on “Upholding the purposes and principles of the UN Charter through effective multilateralism: maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine”. This meeting will be one of the signature events of Albania’s Council presidency.
Key Recent Developments
Over 18 months into Russia’s military incursion, the war continues to have devastating consequences for civilians and far-reaching effects on the global economy. According to a 3 August OCHA situation report, 17.6 million people in Ukraine require humanitarian assistance, while approximately 11 million people in the country have been forcibly displaced by the war. That figure includes roughly 5.1 million internally displaced people and 5.9 million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries.
Hostilities remain concentrated in the eastern Donetsk and southern Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine. Since launching their counteroffensive in June, Ukrainian forces have struggled to breach Russia’s defensive lines, which are fortified by extensive minefields. On 22 August, however, Ukraine announced that it had recaptured the village of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region, potentially a milestone in its counteroffensive. Meanwhile, Russian forces continued offensive operations near the cities of Kupiansk and Lyman in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, respectively.
Russia has continued its missile and drone attacks on Ukraine, particularly targeting Ukraine’s grain infrastructure. Following Russia’s termination of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) on 17 July, Ukraine has relied heavily on exporting grain to Romania via the Danube River. In response, Russia has launched frequent attacks on ports and grain depots along the Danube River in Ukraine, destroying hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain, according to Ukrainian officials. The port of Reni in the southern Odesa region, located only 200 metres from the border with NATO member Romania, has been among those targeted by air raids. As at 23 August, Russia had carried out 14 such attacks since 11 July, according to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).
Under significant pressure to rejoin the BSGI, Russia has sought to present itself as a viable alternative to Ukrainian grain exports and as a reliable food and grain supplier to developing countries, particularly in Africa. In a video address to the BRICS Business Forum in South Africa on 22 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia “has the capacity to replace Ukrainian grain”. He further contended that the BSGI primarily benefitted high- and upper-middle income countries, while noting that Russia has extended offers to provide six African countries with 25,000 to 50,000 tonnes of Russian grain at no cost.
In addition to attacks on grain facilities, Russian missile and drone assaults have targeted other civilian infrastructure throughout Ukraine. On 19 August, a Russian missile hit a central square in the northern city of Chernihiv, resulting in at least 144 civilian casualties, including seven deaths. On 23 August, a strike on a school in the north-eastern Sumy region reportedly killed four educational workers, while an attack on a hospital in the southern Kherson region prompted a halt to humanitarian aid deliveries in the area.
Moscow claims that Ukraine has been carrying out its own drone assaults on targets inside Russia. On 18 August, Russian authorities reported shooting down a Ukrainian drone over Moscow, with its wreckage causing damage to a non-residential building, according to media reports. On 23 August, a presumed drone attack targeted a skyscraper under construction in Moscow. While Ukrainian officials have not officially acknowledged launching attacks on Moscow, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has previously said that attacks on Russian soil are an “inevitable, natural and absolutely fair process”.
On 23 August, a business jet travelling from Moscow to St. Petersburg crashed, killing all ten people on board. Russia’s Investigative Committee—a federal authority that investigates serious crimes in the country—confirmed on 27 August that Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian private military company the Wagner Group, was killed in the crash. In late June, Prigozhin orchestrated an attempted armed mutiny against Russia’s military leadership. The mutiny ended on 24 June with an agreement between Putin and Prigozhin under which Prigozhin would call off the mutiny in exchange for amnesty and his exile to Belarus. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in Prigozhin’s death. On 25 August, Putin signed an executive order requiring all “people joining volunteer units and other persons contributing to fulfilling the objectives of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation” and other security entities taking part in Russia’s “special military operation” to swear allegiance to Russia.
On 5 and 6 August, Saudi Arabia hosted the second meeting of national security advisors and other high-level officials to discuss fundamental principles for restoring peace in Ukraine. This followed an earlier meeting held on 24 June in Copenhagen, Denmark. The gathering in Jeddah saw participation from over 40 countries, including several that have not condemned the Russian aggression, most notably China. Russia was not invited. Attendees agreed to hold a third meeting in the coming months.
Despite a surge in diplomatic efforts over recent months aimed at reinvigorating peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow, prospects for a negotiated settlement remain distant. Both sides continue to rely on military means to shape the war’s outcome. Speaking at a panel event in Norway on 15 August, Director of the Private Office of the NATO Secretary General Stian Jenssen suggested that Ukraine could concede territory in exchange for NATO membership and an end to the conflict. Facing public backlash, Jenssen retracted his comments the next day. Speaking at an event on 23 August, Zelenskyy reaffirmed that Ukraine “will not exchange territories for any membership in any union”.
The Security Council remains actively engaged on the situation in Ukraine. At Russia’s request, the Council convened on 17 August to discuss the supply of Western arms to Ukraine and their impact on prospects for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The meeting was held under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu and journalist Danny Haiphong briefed. On 24 August, the Council held a briefing to mark a year and a half since the outbreak of hostilities on 24 February 2022. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 23 August.)
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 24 August, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine issued a press release regarding its third visit to Ukraine, which was scheduled to take place from 28 August to 4 September 2023. As part of their mandate to “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law…against Ukraine by the Russian Federation”, the commissioners are scheduled to visit multiple locations in Ukraine, where they will meet with victims and witnesses. A press conference in Kyiv is scheduled upon the mission’s conclusion on 4 September.
During its 54th session, the Human Rights Council is expected to hold an interactive dialogue on 25 September on the oral update about the Ukraine COI.
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.
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.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Meeting Records
|24 August 2023S/PV.9404
|This was a briefing on Ukraine initiated by the US.
|17 August 2023S/PV.9399
|This was a briefing on Ukraine requested by Russia.