Expected Council Action
In January 2024, 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 Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine. In December 2023, Ukrainian troops continued operations on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson. A 20 December intelligence update by the UK’s Ministry of Defence said that Ukrainian forces are assuming “a more defensive posture along much of the front line”. Concurrently, Russian forces conducted offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line and near the cities of Avdiivka, Bakhmut, and Donetsk in the Donetsk region. In a 30 November 2023 interview, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the war in Ukraine has entered a new phase, with winter slowing the intensity of hostilities along the front lines. He also acknowledged that the counteroffensive launched by Ukrainian forces earlier last year “did not achieve the desired results”.
In a 14 December 2023 op-ed, however, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba maintained that Ukrainian military objectives remain feasible despite Ukraine’s counteroffensive having failed to “achieve the lightning-fast liberation of occupied land”. Kuleba identified three requirements for Ukraine to achieve victory: adequate military aid, including advanced weaponry and equipment; rapid development of industrial capacity in the US, Europe, and Ukraine to cover military needs and replenish defence stocks; and a principled, realistic approach to negotiations with Russia.
Meanwhile, Russia has intensified its air, missile, and drone attacks, targeting military and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. On 13 December 2023, Russia launched a large missile attack on Kyiv, reportedly injuring at least 53 people and damaging critical infrastructure, including energy and water systems. A 14 December OCHA flash update said that the uptick in airstrikes is expected “to lead to a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Ukraine and impact the [UN’s] response, similarly to last winter”. It also noted that Ukraine’s largest mobile network operator, Kyivstar, had been the target of a major cyberattack, affecting “millions of people’s access to vital public services…including the banking system, postal services, as well as air raid notification systems”.
In December 2023, the Security Council maintained its regular focus on Ukraine, holding five meetings, consistent with its level of engagement in previous months. At France’s request, Council members convened on 6 December for a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. On 11 December, the Council held a meeting to discuss the issue of Western weapons supplies to Ukraine at Russia’s request. Russia also organised an Arria-formula meeting on 27 December, which focused on the history of Maidan. (The Maidan, or Euromaidan, protests in 2013 and 2014 led to the ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.) (For more, see our 26 December What’s in Blue story.)
On 29 December, Russia launched one of its largest waves of drone and missile attacks against Ukraine since the start of the war, reportedly killing over 30 civilians and damaging critical infrastructure. The Security Council held a briefing on 29 December to discuss these attacks. The meeting was requested by Ukraine with the support of over 40 member states. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific Mohammed Khaled Khiari briefed. On 30 December, at Russia’s request, the Council convened for a meeting to discuss an incident that occurred on 30 December, in which Ukrainian forces allegedly shelled the Russian city of Belgorod, reportedly killing 14 people and injuring at least 100 others.
Also in December 2023, Ukrainian officials expressed persistent concerns about the potential reduction in Western financial support for Ukraine as the ongoing crisis in the Middle East, triggered by the 7 October attack by the Palestinian armed group Hamas on Israel, continued to divert attention from the war in Ukraine. Furthermore, competing political agendas in the US and the EU continued to threaten the continuity of Western military aid to Ukraine.
In the US, additional aid to Ukraine has encountered opposition from members of the Republican party, who have demanded that the Democratic party agree to stringent restrictions on immigrants and asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border. In October 2023, US President Joe Biden appealed to the US Congress to endorse a $106 billion emergency aid package for Israel, Ukraine, and the southern US border. On 2 November, however, the US House of Representatives passed a $14.3 billion standalone aid package for Israel, which was subsequently blocked by Democrats in the US Senate on 14 November. On 9 December, bypassing Congress, Biden authorised the emergency sale of $106 million in tank ammunition to Israel. On 6 December, Republicans in the US Senate blocked a supplemental funding bill that included financial aid for Ukraine, insisting on stricter border regulation in exchange for their support.
Regarding the EU, Hungary vetoed a proposal for the bloc to provide 50 billion euros to Ukraine through 2027 during the final summit of EU leaders in Brussels on 14 and 15 December 2023. This veto came shortly after the EU agreed to initiate membership talks with Ukraine. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán left the room during the vote, effectively abstaining from the decision. Zelenskyy lauded the EU’s decision to open membership talks, describing it as “a truly remarkable result for Ukraine and for the whole of Europe”. In contrast, Russia criticised the move, labelling it “an important step towards [the] self-destruction” of the EU. The EU is expected to hold an extraordinary summit on 1 February 2024 to reconsider funding for Ukraine.
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 are also concerned about the mounting toll of the conflict on civilians and civilian infrastructure and the conflict’s global repercussions. 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. Russia maintains that any settlement of the conflict must take current realities into account.
The advent of five new elected Council members in 2024—Algeria, Guyana, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Sierra Leone, and Slovenia—appears unlikely to change the difficult dynamics underlying Security Council inaction on the situation in Ukraine. The direct involvement of a permanent member in the conflict will continue to limit the Council’s options in this regard.
The five new members replaced Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which completed their terms in 2023. Albania informally assumed the co-penholdership, together with the US, on political issues in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion. It has tabled three draft resolutions on Ukraine, including resolution 2623 of 27 February 2022, a “Uniting for Peace” resolution which established the 11th Emergency Special Session (ESS) of the General Assembly on Ukraine. It appears that Slovenia will assume Albania’s co-penholder role in 2024.
The ROK and Slovenia are expected to align themselves with the Western and other like-minded Council members that have expressed support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity while voicing strong criticism of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. In addition to imposing economic sanctions on Russia, both countries co-authored and voted in favour of all substantive draft General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, they voted against the draft amendments to General Assembly Resolution ES-11/6 of 23 February 2023, proposed by Belarus and Nicaragua, which sought to remove the resolution’s sole critical reference to Russia and to include language calling on member states to refrain from sending weapons to the conflict zone.
Algeria is likely to adopt a position less critical of Russia. It has abstained on all substantive draft resolutions on Ukraine in the General Assembly except for a vote against resolution ES-11/3 of 7 April 2022, which suspended Russia from the Human Rights Council (HRC). Russia is Algeria’s leading arms supplier, accounting for 73 percent of Algeria’s total arms trade from 2018 to 2022.
Guyana has voted in favour of General Assembly resolutions condemning Moscow but has abstained on those seeking to impose punitive measures against Russia, such as suspending the country from the HRC and establishing a compensation mechanism on reparations for Ukraine. This might suggest a departure from the position of Western and other like-minded member states on whether and how to hold Russia accountable for its invasion of Ukraine.
During its Security Council term, Guyana intends to position itself as a member of the “A3 plus one” grouping. While the three African members of the Council (A3) often vote as a unified bloc to project Africa’s voice in the decision-making of the Security Council, the A3 members have not held a shared position on the war in Ukraine. Gabon, for example, abstained on Security Council draft resolution S/2022/720 of 30 September 2022, which condemned the referendums organised by Russia in the occupied territories of Ukraine, while Ghana and Kenya (which served on the Council in 2021-2022) voted in favour. Unlike Gabon, these members also explicitly condemned the invasion.
The divisions among the A3 on the war in Ukraine are expected to continue into 2024. Members from the Global South are likely to continue pursuing a multi-aligned approach to the conflict, cultivating ties with both Moscow and Kyiv and its allies, to maximise their national interests in the midst of a shifting world order.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Meeting Records
|11 December 2023S/PV.9501
|This was on the issue of Western weapons supplies to Ukraine, requested by Russia.
|6 December 2023S/PV.9494
|This was a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, requested by France.