What's In Blue

Ukraine Briefing*

Tomorrow morning (24 August), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The meeting, which was requested by Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US, will mark six months since the outbreak of hostilities on 24 February. The meeting also coincides with the anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991. Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to provide introductory remarks and Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo will brief. Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy may represent his country at tomorrow’s meeting via videoconference (VTC).

The US and European Council members requested tomorrow’s meeting with the aim of providing a comprehensive update on the political and humanitarian aspects of the war since Russia launched its military incursion. Recent developments—including the safety of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP), the impending trial of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Mariupol, and the UN’s fact-finding mission to investigate the circumstances of the 29 July explosion at a detention centre near Olenivka in the Donetsk region—are likely to be a key focus of many Council members’ interventions. In addition, many members are expected to emphasise the urgent need for all parties to return to the path of dialogue and diplomacy for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

The Council held a briefing on the ZNPP this afternoon (23 August), at the request of Russia. DiCarlo briefed at the meeting, which was held under the agenda item “threats to international peace and security”. This was the second meeting on the safety of the ZNPP requested by Russia in the past two weeks. The previous meeting was held on 11 August.

Russia and Ukraine have exchanged accusations regarding the nature of the recent security incidents at the plant. Russia has blamed Ukrainian forces for launching strikes against the ZNPP, which have reportedly caused damage to non-critical infrastructure. Ukraine has denied Russia’s accusations. It blames Russian forces for carrying out attacks on the plant, while claiming that these forces have moved military equipment inside the ZNPP in violation of several nuclear safety protocols. Russian forces have had control over the ZNPP since March, while Ukrainian technicians continue to operate the facility.

At the 11 August and 23 August meetings, several Council members—including the European members and the US—called on Russia to return full control of the ZNPP to Ukraine, which they claim would facilitate the restoration of the safe and secure operation of the facility. These members argue that Russia bears full responsibility for the critical situation surrounding the ZNPP. They also contend that Russia aims to disconnect the ZNPP from Ukraine’s energy grid and cut off electricity to Ukrainian government-controlled areas in the south of the country. The ZNPP, which is the largest nuclear power station in Europe, provides 20 percent of Ukraine’s electricity. At a press briefing on 19 August, Guterres said that the electricity generated at the ZNPP belongs to Ukraine and demanded that this principle be fully respected. Russia has reportedly rejected a proposal by Ukraine, which was endorsed by the UN, to demilitarise the area around the plant.

A proposed visit by a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the ZNPP has been complicated by the precarious security situation around the plant and the lack of agreement between Russia and Ukraine on the modalities for such a visit. Ukraine has reportedly objected to the idea of the IAEA team entering the ZNPP through Russian-occupied territory over concerns that doing so would legitimise Russia’s claim to the plant. However, the UN opposed the idea of the IAEA mission entering the plant through the front lines, citing security concerns. Today (23 August), the IAEA issued a statement confirming that “the mission is expected to take place within the next few days if ongoing negotiations succeed”.

At this afternoon’s meeting, Russia denied that it is using the ZNPP for military purposes. It also accused Ukraine of being responsible for the alleged murder on 20 August of Russian journalist Darya Dugina, daughter of Russian ideologue Alexander Dugin. Russia called on the Council to condemn the crime as an intentional act of terrorism which targeted a civilian.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Guterres is expected to brief on his recent trip to Ukraine (where he visited Lviv and Odesa), Chisinau, and to Istanbul, which took place from 17 to 20 August. This was the second time that Guterres travelled to Ukraine since the start of the war, having previously visited Kyiv on 28 April. At a press briefing following a trilateral meeting between Guterres, Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on 18 August, the Secretary-General described the Black Sea Grain Initiative as “a victory for diplomacy [and] for multilateralism”, noting that in less than one month, 21 ships have departed from Ukrainian ports, carrying over 560,000 metric tons of food supplies to world markets. Guterres also urged the re-establishment of the ZNPP “as purely civilian infrastructure”, confirming that the UN Secretariat has “the logistics and security capacity to support any IAEA mission to the [ZNPP] from Kyiv, provided both Russia and Ukraine agree”.

At the press briefing, Guterres also discussed the investigation of the incident at the detention facility in Olenivka on 29 July, in which over 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war were reportedly killed. Many of the prisoners in the detention centre had fought in the city of Mariupol and were besieged in the Azovstal steel plant until their surrender in May. Guterres said that the terms of reference of the fact-finding mission that he established on 3 August, including the team’s make-up and leadership appointment, had been shared with Russia and Ukraine. At tomorrow’s briefing, Guterres may update the Council on his efforts to secure the necessary assurances to guarantee the team’s safe access to Olenivka.

DiCarlo is likely to expand on many of the abovementioned issues. She may express concern over reports that Russia is planning to try Ukrainian prisoners of war in what is being called an “international tribunal” in Mariupol. At a press briefing on 23 August, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani stressed that under international law, individuals considered prisoners of war “have combatant immunity and cannot be prosecuted for having participated in hostilities or for lawful acts of war committed in the course of the armed conflict, even if such acts would otherwise constitute an offence under domestic law”. Shamdasani called on Russia to grant independent monitors full access to all individuals detained by Russia in relation to the war in Ukraine.

DiCarlo may also describe the war’s ongoing deleterious effects on civilians. As at 22 August, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 13,477 civilian casualties, including 5,587 deaths. Moreover, as at 17 August, over 13.35 million people have been forcibly displaced by the hostilities, according to a 17 August OCHA humanitarian impact situation report. That figure includes 6.65 million internally displaced people and 6.7 million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries.

Several Council members—including the US and European members—are expected to condemn Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, calling it an illegal and unprovoked invasion and a clear violation of the UN Charter. Others are likely to pursue a more neutral stance on the issue, stressing the importance of de-escalation and the need to promote dialogue and diplomacy without condemning Russia. For its part, Russia is expected to reiterate its justifications for its invasion of Ukraine, while condemning Ukraine’s western allies of supplying Ukraine with weapons and allegedly influencing Kyiv to avoid engaging in diplomatic talks.

It seems that there may be some opposition to Zelenskyy’s participation via VTC at tomorrow’s meeting and a procedural vote on the matter might be requested. (Procedural votes require a minimum of nine votes in favour to be adopted and are not subject to a veto by permanent Council members.) In a letter dated 30 June (S/2022/528), Russia accused Albania of abusing its prerogative as Council president when it permitted Zelenskyy’s virtual participation during a 28 June open briefing on Ukraine. Russia argued that all member states invited to address the Council under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure must be physically present in the Council chamber. In the letter, Russia expressed its disappointment that by granting Zelenskyy’s virtual participation, Albania had ignored established practice and had repeated actions taken by the UK during its Council presidency in April, when Zelenskyy was given an opportunity to address the Council for the first time during an open briefing on 5 April.


*Post-script: Russia requested a procedural vote on the participation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the meeting via videoconference (VTC). Prior to the vote, Russia said that according to the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, a representative of a member state participating under rule 37 must attend the meeting in person. Albania countered that virtual participation under rule 37 should be allowed on an exceptional basis when extraordinary circumstances, such as those faced by Ukraine, prevent a representative of a member state from participating in person.

The proposal to extend an invitation to Zelenskyy to participate in the meeting via VTC under rule 37 was adopted with 13 votes in favour, one against (Russia) and one abstention (China).

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