Ukraine: Vote on Draft Resolution*
This afternoon (25 February), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Today’s vote follows a severe escalation in violence since 24 February, when Russia launched a large-scale attack targeting numerous cities in Ukraine. The attacks, which involve aerial and ground operations, have thus far resulted in at least 25 civilian deaths and injured approximately 100 people, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The US and Albania, co-penholders on Ukraine, circulated a draft resolution addressing the recent developments to Council members yesterday morning (24 February). Following bilateral negotiations with some members, the co-penholders placed a revised draft in blue yesterday (24 February) evening. The draft text is open for co-sponsorship by the wider UN membership. At the time of writing, at least 59 member states are expected to co-sponsor the draft resolution.
On 23 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. Shortly after the announcement, explosions were heard across several cities in central and eastern Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Since 24 February, Russia has been attacking Ukraine on multiple fronts—including western cities such as Lviv and the southern city of Kherson—from the land, air and sea. The Russian military has been carrying out rocket attacks targeting airports and military installations and ground forces are reportedly using missiles and long-range artillery as they advance into mainland Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that 137 civilians and military personnel were killed yesterday. An OHCHR spokesperson said today (25 February) that its count of 25 civilian deaths may be an underestimate because of difficulty corroborating data on the ground.
According to media reports, Russian forces began advancing into Kyiv this morning, with heavy fighting reported in the city’s northern districts. Zelenskyy has warned that Russia seeks to target him in a bid to topple his administration and install a pro-Russian government. In a video address today, Zelenskyy noted that Ukraine is willing to hold talks on “security guarantees for our country and its neutral status”. In response, Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov reportedly said that Putin is willing to send a Russian delegation to Minsk to negotiate with a Ukrainian delegation.
The Russian aggression against Ukraine has been met with widespread international opprobrium. In a 24 February statement, Secretary-General António Guterres called the Russian military offensive “unacceptable” and asserted that it violates the UN Charter. He appealed to Putin to stop the military operation and withdraw the Russian troops from Ukrainian territory. On the same day, the EU issued a statement which strongly condemned the “unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by armed forces of the Russian Federation”, calling it a violation of international law. It further condemned Belarus’ involvement in the aggression against Ukraine and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. The AU expressed extreme concern about the “dangerous situation created in Ukraine” in a 24 February statement. It called on Russia and any other international actor to respect international law and Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Numerous international actors—including Australia, Japan, the UK, the US, and the EU—have announced new sanctions on Russia. In addition, Germany has announced the suspension of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.
The aggression against Ukraine follows several months of heightened tensions resulting from Russia’s build-up of military forces near Ukraine’s borders. The Security Council held four meetings on the situation in Ukraine in the past month. The Council met on 31 January at the request of the US. On 17 February, Russia organised a briefing to mark the seventh anniversary of the Minsk II agreement of 12 February 2015, which outlined steps for ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine through a political settlement. On 21 February, the Council convened for an open meeting at the request of Ukraine, with support from several Council members, including Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US. That meeting followed Russia’s decision to recognise the independence of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine and an escalation of fighting in and around those areas. (For more information, see our 31 January, 16 February and 22 February What’s in Blue stories.)
In the evening of 23 February, the Council again held an extraordinary meeting at the request of Ukraine, after the authorities of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics requested military assistance from Russia. At that meeting, the US announced that it would table a draft resolution on Ukraine. While the Council was in session, Putin announced the commencement of the “special military operation” in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
Earlier on 23 February, the General Assembly held a regular session on the agenda item, “The situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”. At that meeting, Guterres reiterated that Russia’s actions constituted a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and were inconsistent with the principles of the UN Charter. Russia expressed regret regarding the Secretary-General’s views and argued that his statements “do not meet his status and authorities as defined by the UN Charter”. Ukrainian Minister for Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said that Putin is trying to “prove that the UN is weak, indecisive and unable to defend its core principles” and warned that, if member states fail to hold Russia accountable, Russia’s acts of aggression will inspire others to follow suit.
The draft resolution in blue condemns Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, calling it a violation of article 2 in paragraph 4 of the UN Charter, which states that all member states shall refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the UN.
Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the draft text determines that the situation in Ukraine constitutes a breach of international peace and security, and that Russia has committed acts of aggression against Ukraine. It appears that during the negotiations, China expressed a preference for a Chapter VI resolution. (Chapter VI addresses the pacific settlement of disputes and Chapter VII deals with threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression. Chapter VII allows the Council, once it determines a threat to the peace, a breach of the peace or an act of aggression, to take measures, including the use of force.)
The draft resolution also reaffirms the Council’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and condemns Russia’s military operation. In this regard, the text decides that Russia shall immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine and completely withdraw its military forces from within Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders. Condemning Russia’s decision to recognise the independence of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, the draft resolution decides that Russia should unconditionally reverse its decision and work towards the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.
In addition, the draft text in blue expresses concern regarding reports of civilian casualties; calls for ensuring humanitarian access and respect for the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law and human rights; and encourages continued engagement by the Secretary-General, member states and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
At the time of writing, it seems that the resolution has the support of 11 Council members. While Russia is expected to use its veto, China’s position remains unclear. Its statements at Security Council meetings on Ukraine indicate that it shares Russia’s concerns over NATO’s expansion. During the 17 February briefing on Ukraine, China argued that “regional security should not rely on muscling up or even expanding military blocs” and that this applied as much to Europe as to other regions of the world. In its statement, China complained of a certain country that has been “ganging up in the Asia Pacific region, creating trilateral and quadrilateral small cliques, and bent on provoking confrontation”. These reservations may lead China to use its veto or abstain on the resolution.
A Russian veto will prevent the resolution from being adopted. If this happens, members are anticipating a possible vote on a similar resolution in the General Assembly. Ukraine has asked for an “emergency special session” of the General Assembly pursuant to General Assembly resolution 377 (V) of 3 November 1950, also known as “Uniting for Peace”. This resolution states that “in any cases where the Security Council, because of a lack of unanimity among its five permanent members (P5), fails to act as required to maintain international peace and security, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately and may issue appropriate recommendations to UN members for collective measures, including the use of armed force when necessary, in order to maintain or restore international peace and security”. This action can be triggered either by a resolution from the Security Council, or the General Assembly.
There have been seven instances when following a veto, the Council then adopted a resolution referring the situation to the General Assembly. The period of time for the Council to vote on such a resolution in these seven cases, which cover the period from 1956 to 1982, ranged from adoption on the same day as the vetoed resolution, to two weeks later. (A Council resolution referring the issue to the General Assembly is considered procedural and as such not subject to a veto.) In several instances, the General Assembly requested a meeting under Uniting for Peace to consider a matter that the Council had not been able to address. Such a resolution needs the votes of the majority of General Assembly members to pass.
*Post-script (25 February, 3 pm): After the issuance of this story, the vote—which was initially scheduled for 3 pm est—was postponed to an unspecified time. It appears that Council members may be negotiating changes to the draft text.
**Post-script (25 February, 5 pm): The draft resolution on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine failed to be adopted because of a veto cast by Russia. Eleven members voted in favour, one against (Russia) and three members abstained (China, India and the United Arab Emirates). The draft text was co-sponsored by 81 member states. Prior to the vote, and after the issuance of the story, the penholders amended the text and placed a new draft in blue, in an apparent attempt to address China’s concerns and to garner more support for the text. The draft resolution voted on was a Chapter VI resolution, after the late revisions removed Chapter VII language. In addition, language in the previous draft in blue condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its decision to recognise the independence of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics was softened. Instead, the resolution which was voted on “deplores” Russia’s actions.