What's In Blue

Posted Mon 20 May 2019

Possible Ukraine Briefing*

This afternoon (20 May), the Security Council may hold a meeting on Ukraine. Russia requested the meeting last Friday (17 May), to raise concerns with the recently enacted Ukrainian language law that it claims runs counter to the spirit of the Minsk agreements and resolution 2202.

At press time, the meeting is scheduled to take place this afternoon. However, some members, mainly the EU members and the US, appear to have questioned the need for an urgent meeting on this issue, which they do not perceive as connected to the Minsk agreements or related to international peace and security. These members seem to have advocated that the meeting be postponed, giving them more time to examine the issue and to make informed interventions. Should the push to postpone the meeting gain enough momentum among Council members, there is a possibility of a procedural vote on whether to hold the meeting today. (A procedural motion requires at least nine affirmative votes to pass, and the veto does not apply.)

Ukraine would most likely take part in the meeting under rule 37 of the provisional rules of procedure, which allows member states not on the Council to participate in meetings if their interests are “specially affected”. If the meeting goes ahead today, briefings would most likely be provided by Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Lamberto Zannier.

The Ukrainian parliament approved the Ukrainian language bill on 25 April, and it was signed into law by then-president Petro Poroshenko on 15 May. The law institutes Ukrainian as the official language of the country, requiring that it be used in the public sector.

Russian is spoken mainly in the eastern parts of the country, including the separatist-held areas of Lugansk and Donetsk. While Russia argues that the law is a prohibition of Russian and the languages of other ethnic groups in Ukraine, Ukraine emphasises that the law does not restrict the use of Russian or other languages in private and religious settings.

The timing of the meeting would coincide with the inauguration of the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who formally assumed the position earlier today. In the 21 April presidential elections, Zelenskiy won over then-President Poroshenko by a wide margin.

During his campaign, Zelenskiy focused mainly on the fight against corruption and ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine. A native Russian speaker, Zelenskiy has said that he would undertake a “careful analysis” of the law to make sure that “it respects the constitutional rights and interests” of all Ukrainians.


Post-script (20 May 2019): There was a procedural vote proposed by those objecting to holding the meeting. Five Council members (China, the Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Russia and South Africa) voted in favour of holding it , 6 (Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, the UK, and the US) voted against, and 4 (Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Kuwait and Peru) abstained. The meeting was not held, as only 5 members supported convening it.

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