Expected Council Action
In October, 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 and southern Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine. Since launching their counteroffensive in June, Ukrainian forces have struggled to break through Russia’s defensive lines, heavily fortified with extensive minefields. After recapturing the village of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region in August, Ukrainian forces have been widening their breach of Russian defensive lines in the area.
Concurrently, Ukrainian troops have continued offensive operations around the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region. According to the UK’s Ministry of Defence, Ukraine has recaptured the villages of Klishchiivka and Andriivka, located approximately eight kilometres south of Bakhmut. Further north, Ukrainian forces are defending against a Russian offensive in the eastern Luhansk region.
Meanwhile, Russia and Ukraine continue to conduct air, missile, and drone attacks against each other. Russia has targeted Ukraine’s ports and grain infrastructure, and Ukraine has targeted military objects in Crimea. Following Russia’s termination of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) on 17 July, Ukraine has relied heavily on exporting grain through the Danube River into the Romanian Black Sea port cities of Sulina and Constanta. In response, Russia has launched several attacks on ports and grain depots along the Danube River in Ukraine, destroying hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain, according to Ukrainian officials. As at 7 September, Russia had damaged or destroyed over 26 Ukrainian port facilities, warehouses, silos, and grain elevators since July, according to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. On 8 September, the UK announced plans to increase surveillance of Russian naval activity in the Black Sea in an effort to deter attacks on civilian shipping and grain infrastructure in Ukraine.
Over the past month, Ukraine has intensified its attacks on the Crimean Peninsula. The latest missile strike on 22 September struck the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. A week earlier, on 14 September, Ukrainian drones and cruise missiles destroyed a Russian S-400 air defence system located on the Crimean Peninsula. Crimea has served as a pivotal hub for Russia’s military operations in Ukraine. The Russian Black Sea Fleet, a pillar of the Russian navy, has fired missiles at civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and threatened commercial shipping in the Black Sea following Moscow’s termination of the BSGI in July.
September witnessed a flurry of multilateral diplomatic activity, with many discussions touching on the situation in Ukraine. During the Group of 20 (G20) Summit, which took place on 9 and 10 September, members managed to set aside their differences regarding the war in Ukraine and agree on a joint declaration, which asserted that “all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state”. The declaration also affirmed that “[t]he use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible”. While the statement acknowledged the “human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine”, it avoided designating Russia as the aggressor. On 9 September, Oleg Nikolenko, the spokesperson of Ukraine’s foreign ministry, criticised the joint statement, calling it “nothing to be proud of”, while thanking “the partners who tried to include strong wording in the text”.
The Security Council has remained actively engaged on the situation in Ukraine, holding four meetings on the issue in September. At the request of Albania and the US, the Council convened for a meeting on 8 September to discuss the regional and municipal elections that Russia organised in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions. On 12 September, Russia requested a briefing under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item to discuss “the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine and other factors negatively affecting the prospects for resolving the crisis in Ukraine and around it”. The Council convened for a high-level open debate on Ukraine on 20 September. The meeting, titled “Upholding the purposes and principles of the UN Charter through effective multilateralism: Maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine”, was a signature event of Albania’s September Council presidency. On 26 September, at Russia’s request, the Council held a meeting to mark the one-year anniversary of the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. (For more, see our What’s in Blue stories of 7 September and 19 September.)
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 4 September, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine issued a statement upon the conclusion of its visit to Kyiv and Uman. The COI noted the recent issuance of an extensive “conference room paper”, which provides a detailed account supporting the COI’s findings. The paper sets out violations by the Russian armed forces, including wilful killings, torture, rape, and sexual violence. Many of these violations constitute war crimes, and if confirmed by further investigations, some may amount to crimes against humanity, according to the paper. The COI’s representatives called on the Russian authorities to ensure that they hold all perpetrators accountable and reminded the Ukrainian authorities to conclude investigations of the cases where the COI found violations by the Ukrainian armed forces. The COI will submit written reports of its activities to the General Assembly in October and to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in March 2024. The COI is expected to brief the HRC on 25 September during its 54th session, and UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif will brief the HRC on 9 October on cooperation with and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights, as requested by HRC resolution A/HRC/RES/53/30.
On 10 September, in a statement issued at the end of her official seven-day visit to Ukraine, Alice Jill Edwards, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, emphasised that “the volume of credible allegations of torture and other inhumane acts that are being perpetrated against civilians and prisoners of war by Russian authorities appears to be unabating”. Edwards underscored that none of these acts seem unintentional or accidental, but rather “orchestrated as part of a State policy to intimidate, instil fear, punish, or extract information and confessions”. During her visit, the Special Rapporteur also inspected the conditions of Russian prisoners of war. She noted that “sincere efforts” were made by the Ukrainian authorities to treat Russian prisoners of war with respect. Edwards will present a report to the HRC during its 55th session in March 2024.
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.
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.
Ukraine’s diplomatic approach has evolved considerably since the collapse of peace talks with Moscow in April 2022. Rather than resuming dialogue with Russia, Ukraine has focused on rallying international backing for a ten-point peace formula introduced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at a G20 summit on 15 November 2022. The peace formula includes calls for nuclear safety, food and energy security, the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the release of all prisoners and deportees, and the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes. Speaking at the general debate of the 78th session of the General Assembly on 19 September, Zelenskyy underscored that attaining peace in Ukraine requires collective global efforts, rather than isolated “dialogue between the so-called great powers…behind closed doors”.
At the Council’s high-level open debate on Ukraine on 20 September, Zelenskyy, attending in person for the first time since the start of the war, elaborated on Ukraine’s strategy to garner support for his peace formula and the eventual organisation of a “global peace summit”. Zelenskyy proposed the formation of ten groups comprising national security advisors and diplomats. Each group would be responsible for drafting “decisions and legislative proposals” aligned with each point of the peace formula. It seems that by segmenting support based on individual points, Zelenskyy aims to appeal to member states that have been neutral or hesitant to condemn Russia during the conflict. Several elements of the peace formula—including ensuring food security and maintaining nuclear safety—resonate with states that have chosen a multi-aligned approach to the conflict, strengthening ties with both Moscow and Kyiv and its allies.
At the open debate, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticised Ukraine’s diplomatic stance. He argued that while Russia is ready to restart peace talks, Kyiv remains unwilling to seek a peaceful resolution. Lavrov pointed to a decree signed by Zelenskyy on 4 October 2022, which formally declared the prospect of peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin “impossible”. Moscow holds Ukraine’s Western allies responsible for the collapse of the peace talks in April 2022. During the debate, Lavrov insinuated that if the US truly wants peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow to resume, it should “give the signal for Zelenskyy’s [decree] to be cancelled”.
Despite the rhetoric calling for peace, prospects for a resolution remain bleak as both sides continue to rely on military means to shape the war’s outcome. After the Council’s high-level open debate, Zelenskyy travelled to Washington DC, where he met with US President Joe Biden and members of the US Congress. On 21 September, the US announced a new military assistance package worth $128 million. Meanwhile, Russia hosted a summit with Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader Kim Jong-un on 13 September, amid growing speculation of a potential arms agreement between the two nations. During the summit, Kim Jong-un affirmed that the DPRK “will continue to support every decision” made by Putin, as Russia engages “in a sacred battle to defend its state sovereignty and security in the face of the hegemonic forces that oppose” it. On 18 September, Lavrov hosted his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi. The following day, the Kremlin announced that Putin will travel to Beijing in October to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The visit will mark his first international trip since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him in March over alleged war crimes related to the forced removal of children from Ukraine.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|26 September 2023S/PV.9424||This was a briefing on Ukraine, requested by Russia.|
|21 September 2023S/PV.9421 (Resumption 1)||This was a high-level briefing on Ukraine, organised as a signature event of Albania’s Council presidency in September.|
|20 September 2023S/PV.9421||This was a high-level briefing on Ukraine, organised as a signature event of Albania’s Council presidency in September.|
|12 September 2023S/PV.9415||This was a briefing on Ukraine, requested by Russia.|
|8 September 2023S/PV.9414||This was a briefing on Ukraine, requested by Albania and the US.|