Expected Council Action
In November, 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 the southern Kherson and 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. They have also made advances around the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region after Russia redeployed some of its most seasoned troops to the Zaporizhzhia region. In an 8 October intelligence update, the UK’s Ministry of Defence highlighted that Ukraine had “almost certainly” reclaimed at least 125 square kilometres of land over the summer.
Concurrently, Ukrainian troops are defending against Russian offensives in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, with heavy fighting reported near the village of Avdiivka. Hostilities also continue near the cities of Kupiansk and Lyman in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, respectively.
Meanwhile, Russia and Ukraine have continued their air, missile, and drone attacks against each other. On 5 October, a Russian missile struck a shop and café in the village of Hroza, located in the northeastern Kharkiv region. Over 52 people—nearly one-sixth of Hroza’s population—were reportedly killed in the attack. The Security Council held a briefing on 9 October at Ukraine’s request, supported by Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. At the briefing, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo emphasised that “[a] just solution to the war lies in adhering…with deeds, not just with words” to the principles of the UN Charter, including “respect for the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all member states”. Council members also convened on 31 October for a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, at the request of Ecuador and France.
For its part, Russia called for two Council meetings to discuss the issue of Western weapons supplies to Ukraine, which took place on 13 and 27 October. The latter followed reports that Ukraine had deployed US-supplied long-range tactical missile systems (ATACMS) to strike airfields in Russian-held territories in eastern and southern Ukraine on 17 October. The attacks resulted in the destruction of helicopters, the neutralisation of a Russian air defence missile launcher, and damage to runways.
During these meetings, Russia criticised Western countries for hypocritically calling for an end to the conflict while “pumping Ukraine full of weapons and talking the Kiev regime out of adopting realistic scenarios of resolving this crisis”. In response, several Council members defended the arms supplies to Ukraine, citing the country’s fundamental right to self-defence as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. Some members also criticised Russia for allegedly sourcing armed drones from Iran and procuring arms from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), actions they claimed contravene multiple Security Council resolutions. (For more, see our What’s in Blue stories of 12 October and 30 October.)
On 12 October, US military officials reportedly presented to UN member states what they claimed to be fragments of Iranian drones found in Ukraine. Tehran has rejected Western claims that it is providing Russia with significant numbers of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) for use in Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.
On 13 October, the US alleged that the DPRK had supplied Russia with over 1,000 containers of military equipment and munitions for the war in Ukraine, citing a series of satellite images as evidence. US-based analysts observed a significant surge in train traffic between the DPRK and Russia, particularly after Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted DPRK leader Kim Jong-un in Moscow in mid-September. US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby voiced concerns on 13 October that Kim Jong-un might be procuring advanced Russian weapon technologies in exchange for munitions. To address these developments, officials from the US, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and Japan convened in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 17 October to discuss the DPRK’s increasing ties with Russia. In a related event, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov travelled to the DPRK on 18 October for a two-day trip.
On 25 October, the Russian parliament passed a bill withdrawing its ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), albeit maintaining its cooperation with the treaty’s verification system. The CTBT, adopted in 1996, prohibits states parties from conducting “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion”. Despite being nearly universally recognised, the treaty has not yet entered into force. To date, 187 states have signed the treaty, and 178 have ratified it. Russia ratified the CTBT in June 2000. China and the US have signed but not ratified the treaty.)
On 28 and 29 October, Malta hosted the third round of talks on Zelenskyy’s peace formula. This followed earlier meetings held on 24 June in Copenhagen, Denmark, and on 5 and 6 August in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The gathering in Malta saw the participation of 66 countries, including several that have not condemned the Russian aggression. Russia was not invited. Zelenskyy described the turnout as “a good result”. Notable absences included China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), both of which participated in the Jeddah meeting. During the meeting in Malta, Canada proposed to create an international coalition of countries aimed at “facilitating the return of Ukrainian children who have been deported or forcibly displaced by Russia from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova dismissed the meeting in Malta as “futile and counterproductive” to a settlement of the conflict, describing it as “a purely biased, openly anti-Russia event”.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 19 October, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine submitted its report to the General Assembly pursuant to resolution A/HRC/RES/52/32 of the Human Rights Council (HRC). The report provided additional evidence documenting that Russian authorities have committed “indiscriminate attacks and the war crimes of torture, rape and other sexual violence, and deportation of children to the Russian Federation”. The COI reiterated that additional investigations confirmed its previous findings that Russian authorities had used torture in a “widespread and systematic way”. The report noted three cases in which the COI’s investigations have documented human rights violations committed by Ukrainian authorities against persons accused of collaboration with the Russian authorities.
In a 13 October statement, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed deep concern about Russia’s issuance of arrest warrants against senior judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The statement called these actions “unacceptable” and urged Russia to withdraw them.
On 9 October, the HRC held an interactive dialogue during its 54th session on the oral update of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the findings of OHCHR’s periodic report on the situation of human rights in Ukraine. In her statement, Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said that 18 months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world continued to witness “blatant and unabated violations of human rights”. The report documented abuses ranging from “widespread torture and arbitrary detention to conflict-related sexual violence and denial of the right to an adequate standard of living”. Al-Nashif noted that in the territories reclaimed by Ukraine, the Ukrainian authorities have opened roughly 6,000 criminal cases concerning “collaboration activities” and continued “render[ing] a high number of guilty verdicts”.
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 emphasised de-escalation and diplomacy, with some calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities without any preconditions, a move that could freeze the front lines of the conflict, leaving Russia in control of a significant amount of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine. Most members continue to express concern over the mounting toll of the conflict on civilians and civilian infrastructure and the conflict’s global repercussions.
The past month saw growing worries in Kyiv regarding the possibility of diminishing Western support for Ukraine, in light of disagreements within the US House of Representatives over US spending on Ukraine. A temporary spending bill approved by the US government on 30 September did not include additional aid for Ukraine because of opposition from members of the Republican party. US President Joe Biden denounced the move, stressing that “[w]e cannot under any circumstance allow America’s support for Ukraine to be interrupted”.
On 20 October, Biden appealed to Congress to endorse a $106 billion emergency aid package to Israel, Ukraine, and the southern US border. This includes $61.4 billion earmarked for Ukraine, with $44.4 billion intended for defence equipment provision. However, on 26 October, the newly elected House Speaker, Mike Johnson, stated that the consensus among the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives is that funding requests for Ukraine and Israel should be addressed separately. In a 30 October interview, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba acknowledged the “considerable political resistance” within the US House of Representatives, but said he was confident the request for aid to Ukraine would be approved by Congress.
The escalating situation in the Middle East, following the 7 October large-scale attack by Palestinian armed group Hamas on Israel, has also raised doubts regarding Western countries’ ability to sustain the level of their commitment to Ukraine. Some experts believe that the urgent circumstances in Israel might redirect both resources and focus away from Ukraine. Additionally, there are arguments suggesting that the US’ backing of Israel might impede its efforts to maintain political support for Ukraine within the UN. On 18 October, the US vetoed a Brazilian draft humanitarian resolution on the recent escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza and the ensuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 16 October.) Some analysts have argued that for many countries in the Global South, the situation in the Middle East exposes perceived Western double standards: while Western countries have been urging member states for months to condemn Russian actions in Ukraine, they have concurrently expressed steadfast support for Israel, despite the significant civilian casualties and the extensive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|31 October 2023S/PV.9464||This was a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, requested by Ecuador and France.|
|27 October 2023S/PV.9457||This was a briefing on Ukraine, requested by Russia.|
|13 October 2023S/PV.9436||This was a briefing on Ukraine, requested by Russia.|
|9 October 2023S/PV.9431||This was a briefing requested by Ukraine, with support from several Council members, including Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.|