Tomorrow morning (29 July), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief. Ukraine will participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Albania and the US, the penholders on Ukraine, requested the meeting, which will apparently have a double focus: on the implications of the war in Ukraine on the UN Charter, and on the protection of civilians and civilian objects. It seems that in organising this meeting, these members seek to emphasise that Russia’s invasion constitutes a violation of the UN Charter, and to bring to the Council’s attention the alarming trend witnessed in recent weeks of missile attacks against residential and commercial buildings, which have resulted in dozens of civilian casualties.
Tomorrow’s briefing will be the first meeting of the Council on Ukraine since the Black Sea Grain Initiative was signed on 22 July. As such, several Council members are expected to express their views on the initiative. It will also be the Council’s first formal meeting on Ukraine since 28 June. Two Arria-formula meetings—an informal format—were held in July: one convened by Russia on 11 July, and the other by Albania and Poland, in cooperation with Ukraine, on 15 July. (For more information, see our 8 July and 14 July What’s in Blue stories.) Although Brazil, as July’s Council president, had planned to convene a private Council meeting on 5 July that would have focused on the negotiations on the Ukraine grain exports deal, it decided to call off the meeting over concerns that a premature Council discussion on this topic could jeopardise the negotiations.
Following months of backdoor diplomacy led by Türkiye and the UN, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement on 22 July to facilitate the export of grain and related foodstuffs and fertilisers from Ukrainian ports. The agreement, signed separately by Russia and Ukraine, assumes that the two countries will provide maximum assurances for the safe and secure navigation of vessels transporting grain from ports in the cities of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhne. In this regard, Russia and Ukraine agreed not to undertake any attacks against relevant commercial ships, civilian vessels and port facilities.
In addition to this agreement, Russia and the UN signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the UN’s scope of engagement to facilitate unimpeded exports of Russian food products and fertilisers to global markets. In this regard, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), headed by Rebeca Grynspan, in coordination with the Permanent Mission of Russia to the UN, are tasked with engaging with relevant authorities and the private sector to remove impediments that may arise in the sectors of finance, insurance and logistics.
One day after the signing of the agreement and the MoU, on 23 July, Russia launched a cruise missile attack on Odesa. The attack struck port facilities and no casualties were reported. Although Moscow initially denied it carried out the attack, Russian officials later claimed that it targeted military infrastructure. The attack sparked widespread condemnation and concerns about the future of the grain export agreement. In a 23 July statement, Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attack, noting that the agreement’s “full implementation by [Russia], Ukraine and Türkiye is imperative”.
The Odesa attack also complicated negotiations among Council members on a Council product seeking to welcome the agreement and the MoU. There were several proposals by Council members for a draft presidential statement, including one by France, another by several non-permanent members, which were merged into an E10 (elected members) draft, and another by Mexico and Norway. All of these initiatives failed to garner the requisite support because of disagreement over several issues, including on how to address the Odesa attack.
Despite concerns about the future of the grain export deal following the 23 July attack, it seems that steps are being taken to implement the agreement. On 27 July, a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC)—consisting of senior representatives from Russia, Türkiye and Ukraine—was established in Istanbul under the UN’s auspices to conduct general oversight of the agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, Ukraine’s Black Sea ports will not be demined. Instead, Ukrainian pilot vessels will guide merchant ships through a maritime humanitarian corridor established in the Black Sea from the ports to the Bosphorus Strait. At a Turkish port, inspection teams comprised of representatives from Russia, Türkiye and Ukraine will check for unauthorised cargoes and personnel on board all commercial vessels bound for Ukraine. To prevent provocations and potential incidents, the agreement precludes military ships, aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles from approaching the maritime humanitarian corridor without JCC authorisation. The movement of merchant ships will be monitored remotely.
During a virtual press briefing on the Black Sea Grain Initiative on 28 July, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths said that the JCC is currently working out “standard operating procedures” based on the agreement signed on 22 July. Without these procedures, “we cannot manage a safe passage of vessels”, he noted.
At tomorrow’s meeting, DiCarlo may note that heavy fighting continues to affect civilians throughout the country. In July, missile attacks were reported on almost a daily basis, often striking residential and commercial areas, with some resulting in dozens of civilian casualties. For example, the shelling of a residential building and a recreation centre in Serhiivka in the Odesa region on 1 July resulted in 21 civilian deaths. On 9 July, a missile strike on the city of Chasiv Yar in Donetsk destroyed a residential building, killing 48 civilians and injuring nine others. More recently, a 14 July missile strike on the city of Vinnytsia in west-central Ukraine reportedly resulted in 25 civilian deaths and over 200 injuries. Since 24 February, the World Health Organization (WHO) Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care (SSA) has documented 414 attacks on healthcare facilities. As at 27 July, the WHO had verified 185 casualties, including 85 deaths, related to such attacks.
At tomorrow’s briefing, many Council members are expected to welcome the agreement on the Black Sea Grain Initiative and commend Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for their diplomatic efforts to facilitate the negotiations. Some members are also likely to condemn Russia’s 23 July attack on Odesa and call on it to fully commit to the implementation of the agreement. These members may also accuse Russia of deliberately exacerbating the global food crisis, including by stealing grain and sabotaging Ukrainian farmland and agricultural infrastructure. Russia, for its part, has argued that Western sanctions are to blame for exacerbating global food insecurity.
Several Council members—including Brazil, China and Kenya—are likely to welcome the MoU signed between Russia and the UN, noting the importance of removing all impediments regarding the free flow of Russian food and fertiliser to global markets. These members may urge Western countries to work closely with Grynspan to ensure that unilateral sanctions do not in any way block the export of these goods.