What's In Blue

Posted Thu 20 Oct 2022

Ukraine: Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (21 October), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. France and Mexico—the humanitarian co-penholders on Ukraine—requested the meeting, which will focus on the protection of civilians and critical infrastructure in Ukraine. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine Denise Brown are expected to brief. Ukraine will participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Tomorrow’s briefing will be the first meeting of the Council on Ukraine since the 30 September vote on a draft resolution tabled by Albania and the US—the political co-penholders on Ukraine—which denounced as illegal Russia’s referendums in its occupied territories in Ukraine from 23 to 27 September. The draft resolution 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). (For background, see our 30 September What’s in Blue story.)

On 3 October, Albania and Ukraine submitted a letter to the President of the General Assembly requesting the resumption of the 11th Emergency Special Session (ESS) on Ukraine. On the final day of the current ESS, which took place from 10 to 12 October, the General Assembly adopted resolution A/ES-11/L.5, which condemned Russia for organising “illegal so-called referendums” in the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia regions, while calling on all member states to reject their validity and not to recognise any change to the status of the four regions. The resolution—which was prepared by the EU, together with a cross-regional drafting group—also reaffirms the General Assembly’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. It received 143 votes in favour, five against (Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nicaragua, Russia, and Syria), and 35 abstentions. Ten member states did not vote. 

Tomorrow’s briefing will take place against the backdrop of intensified Russian air and missile attacks targeting critical infrastructure across Ukraine. This escalation began two days after the Kerch Strait bridge—which connects Russia to the annexed Crimean Peninsula—was reportedly damaged by an explosion on 8 October. The bridge has served as the main supply route for Russian forces fighting in southern Ukraine. On 10 October, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the explosion as a “terrorist act” carried out by Ukrainian special forces, adding that it was “directed at the destruction of critically important civilian infrastructure”. Ukraine did not claim responsibility for the attack.

Following the Kerch Strait bridge explosion, Russia launched one of its most intense missile and airstrike barrages since the war’s outset. The attacks, carried out during the morning rush hour on 10 October, targeted key infrastructure in Ukraine’s urban centres, including in the capital, Kyiv. Ukrainian authorities documented at least 75 casualties, including 11 deaths and 64 injuries. They also reported damage to 11 infrastructure facilities across eight regions in Ukraine. According to a 10 October OCHA situation report, the attacks left thousands of civilians without access to power, water and telecommunications services.

Russia’s attacks have sparked strong criticism. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting energy facilities to foster “unbearable conditions for civilians”. In a 10 October statement, Secretary-General António Guterres called the air assaults “another unacceptable escalation of the war”. UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine Denise Brown also issued a statement on the same day, expressing horror at the wave of Russian attacks and affirming that despite the strikes the UN will continue to deliver humanitarian assistance to people in need of support.

Since 11 October, Russia has continued to launch missile and air attacks targeting military and power infrastructure across Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on 18 October that “30 percent of Ukraine’s power stations have been destroyed, causing massive blackouts across the country”. Russia has reportedly been using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to target critical infrastructure, including in Kyiv. A 17 October attack involving drones which targeted energy facilities in Kyiv struck a residential building, resulting in at least four civilian deaths. The US and several European countries have accused Iran of supplying the drones to Russia, allegations which Tehran denies.

At tomorrow’s briefing, DiCarlo is expected to provide an overview of the security situation in Ukraine, including its adverse effects on civilians. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 680 civilian casualties between 1 and 16 October. DiCarlo may note that most of these casualties were caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects, including shelling from heavy artillery, Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, missiles and air strikes. She may refer to the findings of a report of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine, submitted to the General Assembly on 18 October, which documented indiscriminate attacks by Russian forces using cluster munitions, unguided rockets, and air strikes. As the recent wave of attacks appears to have targeted critical civilian infrastructure, DiCarlo may indicate that these strikes may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law.

Brown is expected to provide an update on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. She may note that extensive damage to key energy facilities ahead of the upcoming winter raises concerns regarding the protection of civilians, particularly vulnerable populations. Brown may also highlight the effects of the attacks on the UN’s ability to provide humanitarian aid to civilians in Ukraine. According to the 10 October OCHA situation report, the Russian missile strikes affected humanitarian operations across Ukraine, “hampering the movement of aid workers and delivery of emergency supplies in the east of the country”.

Several Council members—including the US and European members—are expected to condemn Russia’s intensified attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and its use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. In an 11 October statement, the Group of Seven (G7)—comprised of France, the UK and the US, among others— condemned the attacks and recalled that indiscriminate attacks on civilians constitute a war crime. In this regard, these members, along with other European Council members, are likely to emphasise the need for accountability for crimes committed in the context of the war in Ukraine. Some of these members may also emphasise the need for the creation of a compensation mechanism to register damages arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It appears that a draft General Assembly resolution recommending the creation of such a mechanism may be tabled by Ukraine in the near future. Other members are reluctant to criticise Russia for attacks on critical infrastructure in Ukraine, while emphasising the need for dialogue and negotiations.

The P3 members (France, the UK and the US) may also raise the issue of alleged arms transfers from Iran to Russia, which they claim violates Security Council resolution 2231 of 20 July 2015, endorsing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. Yesterday (19 October), the P3 requested a meeting under “any other business” to discuss this issue. In a 19 October statement, the US stressed that the P3 anticipate “many conversations at the UN on how to hold Iran and Russia accountable for failing to comply with UN Security Council-imposed obligations”.

Russia is expected to justify its recent missile barrage as a legitimate reaction to the Kerch bridge explosion on 8 October. In this regard, it is likely to accuse Western countries and the UN of applying double standards and failing to condemn Ukraine for its alleged attack on Russia’s infrastructure. Russia is also expected to deny allegations that its attacks are indiscriminately targeting civilians. At a 19 October press briefing, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy said that the drones used by Russian forces “are performing high-precision strikes”. He also refuted allegations that the drones used by Russian forces are supplied by Iran, accusing Western countries of “levelling baseless accusations” and “inventing artificial pretext to put pressure on Russia and Iran”.

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