Ukraine: Vote on Draft Resolution on Referendums in Ukraine*
This afternoon (30 September), the Security Council is expected to vote on a draft resolution titled “Illegal So-Called Referenda in Ukraine”. The draft text in blue condemns Russia’s referendums held in its occupied territories in Ukraine from 23 to 27 September and declares that such referendums have no validity and may not form the basis for Russia’s annexation of these regions.
Albania and the US, political co-penholders on Ukraine, circulated an initial draft to Council members on Tuesday (27 September). Following bilateral negotiations, the co-penholders placed a revised draft in blue yesterday evening (29 September). At the time of writing, it seemed unlikely that the draft resolution would be adopted. While the text in blue appears to have the support required for adoption, Russia is expected to veto the draft resolution. (Absent a veto, a draft resolution on non-procedural matters requires nine out of 15 votes to be adopted.)
On 21 September, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to conduct referendums from 23 to 27 September in the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia regions and to partially mobilise military reserves to support Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. These announcements came as Russian forces were sustaining significant military setbacks due to Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the northern Kharkiv region and the southern Kherson region. In a 13 September address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Ukrainian forces have retaken roughly 8,000 square kilometres since launching their counteroffensive in early September. Russian forces have since reportedly struggled to re-establish an effective front line along the Oskil River in eastern Ukraine.
Following Putin’s announcement on 21 September, Albania and the US requested a Security Council meeting to discuss what they view as an escalation of the conflict by Russia. (For more information, see our 26 September What’s in Blue story.)
Today (30 September), Putin signed treaties formally annexing the four regions currently occupied by Russian forces, which constitute 15 percent of Ukraine’s territory. In a speech delivered this morning, Putin said that “People living in Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens. Forever.” Citing Article 1 of the UN Charter, which outlines the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, Putin stressed that the referendums on Russia’s annexation of the four occupied regions in Ukraine are “an inherent right of the people…based on our historical affinity”.
Western countries and the UN have strongly condemned Russia’s referendums and annexation. In a 22 September press release, the North Atlantic Council (NATO’s decision-making body) described Russia’s referendums and partial mobilisation as “further escalation in Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine”, emphasising that “no territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal”. Similarly, on 29 September, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell issued a declaration on behalf of the EU, condemning the “illegal sham referenda” and noting that their outcome “is null and void and cannot produce any legal effect whatsoever”. On the same day, Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a strong retort to Moscow during a press briefing at UN Headquarters. Noting that Russia’s annexation has “no legal value” and that it “flouts the purposes and principles of the UN Charter”, Guterres stressed that Moscow’s escalation “deserves to be condemned…[and] must not be accepted”.
At a 27 September media stakeout, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (US) announced that the US, together with Albania, would table a Security Council draft resolution condemning Russia’s referendums. She said that “if nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, then we are putting at risk everything that [the UN] stands for”. Thomas-Greenfield acknowledged that the US was “hoping to see the rest of the Council stand strong in refusing to accept the redrawing of borders through the use of force by any country”.
The draft resolution in blue contains similar elements to the draft Security Council resolution (S/2014/189) tabled by the US on 15 March 2014 in anticipation of the 16 March 2014 Crimean status referendum. The draft text in blue condemns Russia’s “illegal so-called referenda”, noting that they had not been authorised by Kyiv, and declares that any actions taken by Russia on the basis of the referendums, including annexation of its occupied regions in Ukraine, have no validity.
Noting that the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions are under Russian control as a result of its invasion, the draft text also reaffirms that no territorial acquisition from the threat or use of force shall be recognised as legal. It determines that Russia’s annexation constitutes a threat to international peace and security. In this regard, the draft resolution calls on all member states, international organisations and specialised agencies to not recognise any change to the status of the four regions.
Reaffirming Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, the resolution calls on Russia to immediately and unconditionally withdraw its troops from Ukraine to enable a peaceful settlement of the conflict through reengaged dialogue and diplomatic negotiations. In this regard, the draft text in blue expresses the Council’s support for the Secretary-General’s efforts to de-escalate the conflict.
Albania and the US circulated an initial draft to each Council member separately on Tuesday (27 September) for comments. It appears that, while the co-authors received comments from several Council members, a number of Council members did not engage on the draft text, with at least one member citing concerns about the consultation process. It seems that Russia provided extensive comments to the draft. Following bilateral negotiations, the co-penholders placed a revised draft in blue yesterday (29 September). Several references to Crimea and a preambular paragraph citing Chapter VII of the UN Charter were omitted in the revised draft. Language describing the referendums as “sham” was also revised. As Russia’s comments were not fully incorporated into the revised text, it is possible that Russia may table a competing draft resolution.
At the 27 September Council meeting, several Council members—including Albania, Brazil, France, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Norway, the UK, and the US—condemned Russia for holding the referendums. Some members—including China, Gabon, India, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—refrained from doing so. Many of these members did not even mention the referendums in their statements. While Mexico did not explicitly condemn Russia, it articulated its position by citing General Assembly resolution 1514, noting that any attempt to disrupt the national unity and territorial integrity of a UN member state is incompatible with the UN Charter. Mexico has previously condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine as well as attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
At the time of writing, it appears that the resolution has the support of at least 11 members of the Council. It seems that Russia is likely to use its veto, while the positions of China, India and the UAE remain unclear. At the 27 September media stakeout, Thomas-Greenfield implied that she expected a Russian veto, saying “we know how one country will feel about this resolution”. She added that should Russia employ its veto “to shield itself from accountability, we will then look to the General Assembly to send an unmistakable message to Moscow”.
*Post-script: The draft resolution condemning Russia’s referendums (S/2022/720) failed to be adopted because of a veto cast by Russia. Ten members voted in favour, one against (Russia) and four members abstained (Brazil, China, Gabon, and India).