What's In Blue

Posted Wed 4 May 2022

Ukraine Briefing

Tomorrow (5 May), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The expected briefers are Secretary-General António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, OCHA’s Acting Operations Director Ghada Eltahir Mudawi and a civil society representative. Ukraine will participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

A procedural vote on having Bachelet as a briefer at tomorrow’s meeting is a possibility. At the time of writing, it appears that Bachelet’s participation would garner the requisite support. (Procedural votes require a minimum of nine votes in favour to be adopted and are not subject to a veto by permanent Council members.)

As May’s Security Council president, the US has initiated this meeting with the aim of providing a comprehensive update on the political and humanitarian aspects of the war in Ukraine. Recent developments—including the Secretary-General’s meetings in Moscow and Kyiv and the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol—are likely to be a key focus of many Council members’ interventions.

Guterres is expected to brief on his recent diplomatic engagement aimed at addressing the crisis in Ukraine. The Secretary-General travelled to Ankara, Moscow and Kyiv on 25 April, 26 April and 28 April, respectively. This was the first time that Guterres had travelled to the conflict’s region since the start of the war on 24 February. During his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Guterres expressed support for Ankara’s ongoing diplomatic efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement to the war in Ukraine. Turkey has hosted the peace talks since early March.

In his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Guterres discussed the need to establish a Humanitarian Contact Group—a UN-facilitated mechanism which would support dialogue between Russian and Ukrainian authorities on humanitarian issues. Moreover, the Secretary-General discussed proposals for a humanitarian ceasefire in Mariupol, involving the UN and the ICRC, to which Putin agreed in principle.

In Ukraine, Guterres visited the Kyiv suburbs of Borodyanka, Bucha and Irpin, where Russian forces had allegedly committed atrocities against civilians while in control of these areas. During a 27 April press briefing, Guterres urged Russia to cooperate with the ICC on investigations into possible war crimes committed during the war. On 28 April, shortly after Guterres met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Russia fired two cruise missiles into the city. The missiles hit a residential building, killing one person and injuring at least ten. Guterres and his team were not harmed by the strike. In a 29 April interview, however, the Secretary-General said that he was shocked when he was informed about the attack. Russia’s Defence Ministry claimed that the strike targeted a rocket production facility.

On 1 May, the UN and the ICRC, in coordination with Russian and Ukrainian authorities, successfully evacuated 101 civilians from the Azovstal industrial complex in Mariupol, where hundreds of civilians and Ukrainian troops have been trapped since March. During a 3 May press briefing, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine Osnat Lubrani noted that despite the recent evacuation, there are civilians who remain trapped in the Azovstal plant and that some of them are too afraid to leave. According to media reports, the Russian Ministry of Defence said today (4 May) that it would observe a three-day ceasefire starting tomorrow (5 May) to allow civilians to safely evacuate from the Azovstal plant. Also today, Zelenskyy appealed to the Secretary-General to further assist in “the removal of all the wounded from Azovstal”. At tomorrow’s meeting, some briefers and Council members may welcome the 1 May evacuation, while stressing the need to observe the planned ceasefire to facilitate the safe evacuation of civilians who remain trapped in the Azovstal plant and in other besieged areas in Mariupol.

The 1 May evacuation of civilians from the Azovstal plant is viewed by many as an important diplomatic achievement for Guterres, who has been largely absent from the negotiations process between the parties. At the outset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Secretary-General called Russia’s military offensive “unacceptable” and asserted that it violates the UN Charter. As a result, Moscow apparently did not find Guterres acceptable as an impartial mediator, limiting the UN’s involvement in the facilitation of dialogue between the sides—a role which has been taken up by other international interlocutors such as Turkey. In a 29 April interview, the Secretary-General regretted that “the UN was always kept out of the political negotiations” between the parties and that “[its] presence was considered not useful”. Russia has denied this narrative, however. In a 25 April press briefing, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitriy Polyanskiy suggested that the Secretary-General had not previously asked for a meeting or call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Guterres may also refer to his trip to West Africa that concluded today (4 May). During the trip, which included stops in Senegal, Niger and Nigeria, the Secretary-General highlighted the war’s effects on the African continent. While in Senegal, Guterres stressed that the war in Ukraine is exacerbating a “triple food, energy and financial crisis” in Africa. The UN estimates that 250 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year because of the war in Ukraine and its effects on global food and fuel prices. UN officials have expressed concern that rising costs and food prices could lead to social unrest in parts of Africa.

Bachelet is expected to brief Council members on the human rights situation in Ukraine. This will be the first briefing by Bachelet on Ukraine in a formal Council meeting. She previously briefed Council members during a 27 April Arria-formula meeting on “Ensuring accountability for atrocities committed in Ukraine” which was organised by Albania and France. (For more details, see our 26 April What’s in Blue story.)

Bachelet has repeatedly called on all parties to respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law, particularly the rules governing the conduct of hostilities. On 22 April, she accused Russian troops of having “indiscriminately shelled and bombed populated areas, killing civilians and wrecking hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure” and said that these actions may amount to war crimes. Russia has categorically denied allegations of indiscriminate killing and torturing of civilians by its forces and has blamed Ukraine and the West for fabricating evidence and spreading false narratives. This issue is expected to be a key focus of Russia’s Arria-formula meeting on Friday (6 May).

At tomorrow’s briefing, several Council members are expected to commend the Secretary-General for his diplomatic achievement of securing a humanitarian corridor in Mariupol. They may call for greater UN involvement in facilitating dialogue between Russia and Ukraine on humanitarian issues and in supporting the peace talks. Some Council members may condemn Russia for launching missiles targeting Kyiv while Guterres was present in the city.

It seems that Mexico and Norway have circulated to Council members a draft presidential statement on Ukraine, which may be put under silence following tomorrow’s meeting. The draft text apparently expresses the Council’s support for the Secretary-General’s efforts and the offer of his good offices in the search for a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine.

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