What's In Blue

Posted Mon 4 Apr 2022

Ukraine Briefing

Tomorrow (5 April), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. Secretary-General António Guterres will provide introductory remarks. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo will brief in person, while Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths—who will be travelling to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv—will brief via videoconference (VTC). Ukraine will participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to participate at tomorrow’s meeting via VTC.

The UK, April’s Security Council president, has initiated this meeting with the aim of providing a comprehensive update on the political and humanitarian aspects of the war in Ukraine. Developments from the past weekend—including allegations that Russia committed war crimes in areas it had previously held in Kyiv’s suburbs—are likely to be a key focus of many Council members’ interventions.

In late March, Russia announced that it would reduce its military activities around Kyiv and Chernihiv and would focus its efforts on the eastern Donbas region. Western officials, including US and NATO representatives, have said that Russia’s move should not be viewed as a withdrawal, but as a repositioning and regrouping of its forces, while warning against the possible intensification of attacks in other parts of Ukraine. On 31 March, Ukrainian forces regained control of several cities and villages near Kyiv that Russia had taken, including Bucha, Irpin and Motyzhyn. Subsequently, Ukrainian officials and several international media outlets shared evidence (including of mass graves) and local testimonials of the indiscriminate killing and torture of civilians by Russian forces while in control of Bucha. Russia has denied these allegations, blaming Ukraine and the West for fabricating evidence and spreading false narratives.

Reports of atrocities in the areas recently retaken from Russian forces have sparked widespread calls for investigation and accountability. In a 3 April statement, Guterres said that he is “shocked by the images of civilians killed in Bucha”, adding that it is “essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability”. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said today (4 April) that reports from Bucha and other areas “raise serious and disturbing questions about possible war crimes as well as grave breaches of international humanitarian law and serious violations of international human rights law”. She called for independent and effective investigations to “ensure truth, justice and accountability, as well as reparations and remedy for victims and their families”. Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq reported today that the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine is “trying to visit these locations without delay”, adding that the UN is also closely monitoring attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in the country.

Several Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, condemned Russia, noting that there is strong evidence of its forces committing war crimes, and called for accountability. UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a 2 April tweet that the UK is working with others to collect evidence and support the ICC’s investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine. On 4 April, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) announced that the US, together with Ukraine and other partners, will promote a resolution at the UN General Assembly seeking Russia’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). She said that Russia’s actions demonstrate its disregard for human rights and, as such, that its participation in the HRC hurts the credibility of the organ and the UN writ large.

On 3 April, Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy (Russia) tweeted that in light of the “provocations of Ukrainian radicals in Bucha”, Russia was requesting a meeting of the Security Council, to be held today (4 April). It appears that Russia did not request any briefer for its proposed meeting. During a 4 April press briefing to introduce the Council’s April programme of work, Ambassador Barbara Woodward (UK), said that the UK decided against convening a separate meeting and instead suggested consolidating the session requested by Russia with tomorrow’s planned briefing. As Russia apparently objected to a consolidated session, the meeting will be held only under the agenda item “Letter dated 28 February 2014 from the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2014/136)”. If the meetings had been consolidated, it would have been held under the Ukrainian letter, as well as the “Letter dated 13 April 2014 from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2014/264)”. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia (Russia) convened a press briefing today following the UK’s press briefing, in which he accused the UK of flouting the Council’s rules of procedure by denying the Russian request for a meeting. He further presented evidence alleging that the violations in Bucha were not committed by Russian forces and said that he would reveal additional evidence refuting the accusations at tomorrow’s meeting.

The recent tensions surrounding the reports from Bucha and other areas near Kyiv may also affect the peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. After visiting Bucha today (4 April), Zelenskyy accused Russia of committing genocide, noting that the recent revelations will make it more difficult to negotiate with Moscow. According to media reports, Zelenskyy said that “the longer the Russian Federation drags out the meeting process, the worse it is for them and for this situation and for this war”. During today’s press briefing, Nebenzia indicated that the allegations levelled against Russia by Ukraine and its Western allies, as well as the attempts to suspend Moscow from the HRC, are likely to hamper the peace talks. Seven rounds of talks have yielded little progress. At the time of writing, it was uncertain when further negotiations might be held.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the US and European members of the Council are likely to condemn Russia’s actions and call for accountability. They may note that the situation in the areas near Kyiv is a striking example of the war’s deleterious effects on civilians across Ukraine and call on Russia to immediately halt hostilities and withdraw its troops.

DiCarlo may note that heavy fighting continues to affect civilians in other parts of the country, including in the south and the east. As at 3 April, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 3,455 civilian casualties from the conflict, including 1,417 deaths, while noting that true figures are likely to be considerably higher. In the besieged southern city of Mariupol, approximately 100,000 people remain trapped with limited access to food, water and medical supplies. Today (4 April), the ICRC reported that an ICRC team attempting to reach Mariupol to evacuate civilians had been stopped, without specifying by whom. This was the fourth day that the ICRC had tried and failed to reach the besieged city.

Griffiths may report on the difficult humanitarian conditions across the country and describe the work by the UN and other humanitarian organisations to alleviate the needs of civilians. A 1 April OCHA Humanitarian Impact Update Report expressed concern about continued difficulty in accessing the most hard-hit areas and the safety and security of humanitarian personnel operating in these areas. It described repeated attacks on NGOs and volunteers, noting that convoys delivering aid to Chernihiv and Kharkiv were attacked on 31 March. At a 28 March press briefing, Guterres announced that he had requested Griffiths to explore “the possible arrangements for a humanitarian ceasefire in Ukraine”. At tomorrow’s meeting, Griffiths—who met with authorities in Moscow today (4 April) and will travel to Kyiv tomorrow (5 April)—may give an update on his engagement with the sides.

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