Ukraine: Meetings under the “Threats to International Peace and Security” Agenda Item
This afternoon (27 October), the Security Council will convene for two meetings on Ukraine under the agenda item “Threats to international peace and security”, both of which were requested by Russia. In requesting the first meeting, which will be held as an open briefing, Russia cited allegations of military biological activities in Ukraine. The expected briefers are Adedeji Ebo, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs. Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
The second meeting is a private meeting on general nuclear issues, including the safety and security of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and other nuclear sites in Ukraine. Prior to requesting this meeting, Russia has levelled allegations against Ukraine for developing and planning to detonate a “dirty bomb” on its own territory, with the aim of accusing Russia of launching a tactical nuclear weapon attack. (A dirty bomb is a weapon comprised of radioactive materials mixed with conventional explosives.) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi is the anticipated briefer. Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Open Briefing on Military Biological Activities
On 6 March, Russian Ministry of Defence Spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov informed journalists that Russia’s military had uncovered evidence of US-funded military biological programmes in Ukraine, including documents confirming the development of “biological weapons components”. Speaking to journalists at a press conference on 10 March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the US had established several military biological laboratories in Ukraine in violation of the 1972 BWC. The experiments conducted in these laboratories, he added, “were absolutely not peaceful”. Ukraine and the US have rejected the Russian allegations.
Since then, Russia has initiated three formal meetings at the Security Council (on 11 March, 18 March and 13 May) and one meeting under “any other business” (on 22 March) to discuss its allegations of biological military activities in Ukraine. It also organised an Arria-formula meeting on 6 April titled “Threats to international peace and security emanating from military biological activities in regions across the globe”. (For background, see our 11 March and 5 April What’s in Blue stories.)
Briefing the Council during the 11 and 18 March meetings, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu said that the UN was not aware of any biological weapons programmes in Ukraine. She emphasised that both Ukraine and Russia are parties to the BWC, which prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons. Noting that the BWC has procedures to defuse tensions and resolve concerns relating to compliance with the convention, Nakamitsu encouraged the parties to consider making use of these mechanisms, including the convening of a formal consultative meeting in accordance with article V. (Article V requires BWC states parties to consult bilaterally and cooperate in solving any problems which may arise in relation to the objective or application of the BWC.)
On 29 June, Russia submitted a request for the convening of a formal consultative meeting under article V of the BWC and the Final Declarations of the Convention’s Second and Third Review Conferences. This was the second time in the history of the BWC that a state party requested article V consultations. (The first formal consultative process took place in 1997 at the request of Cuba.) Participants at the meeting, which took place from 5 to 9 September, were unable to reach consensus on an outcome.
In a 24 October letter to the Security Council president, Russia lodged a formal complaint to the Council, in accordance with article VI of the BWC, arguing that Ukraine and the US have not provided “necessary explanations” that could completely allay doubts concerning their activities in Ukraine. (Article VI provides that BWC states parties have the right to request the Security Council to investigate alleged breaches of the BWC. It stipulates that state parties undertake to cooperate in carrying out any investigation initiated by the Council.) In the letter, Russia expressed its intention to table a draft Security Council resolution on the matter. The letter contained a draft of the resolution, which proposes the creation of a commission to investigate Russia’s allegations and calls on it to submit a report to the Council by 30 November.
It appears that Russia convened one round of negotiations on the draft text yesterday (26 October) and may put it to a vote next week. If adopted, this will mark the first time that article VI of the BWC has been activated. However, at the time of writing, it appeared unlikely that the draft resolution would garner the requisite votes. Absent a veto, a draft resolution on non-procedural matters requires nine out of 15 votes to be adopted.
At this afternoon’s briefing, most Council members are expected to call on all parties to uphold their commitments under the BWC. Some members—particularly China and Russia—may accuse Ukraine and the US of failing to fulfil their obligations under the BWC by not providing clarifications on their domestic and foreign biological military activities, respectively. Several other members—including the US and European Council members—are expected to denounce Russia’s accusations and argue that Moscow is exploiting the BWC for political purposes and to further its disinformation campaign.
Many of these members have emphasised that, in accordance with article X of the BWC, states parties may cooperate on research related to the use of biological agents and toxins for peaceful purposes, while suggesting that Russia has not offered sufficient evidence indicative of biological warfare activities taking place in Ukraine. At the formal consultative meeting in early September, the UK said that it is hard to take Russia’s allegations seriously “when their presentation…contains no more than misrepresentations of assorted public documents quoted incorrectly or out of context, and copy-pasted images [from] Wikipedia”.
Private Meeting on General Nuclear Issues
On 23 October, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu conducted telephone conversations with his counterparts in several foreign countries—including P3 Council members (France, the UK and the US)—to discuss Russian allegations that Ukraine is developing and planning to detonate a “dirty bomb” on its own territory in order to accuse Moscow of launching a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine. On 24 October, Russia put its forces on alert for a possible biological, chemical or nuclear attack. On the same day, Russia sent a letter to the Security Council president claiming that Kyiv ordered Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Nuclear Research and the Vostochniy Mining and Processing Plant to develop a dirty bomb. Noting that “the works are at their concluding stage”, the letter said that the attack “may be carried out with the support of the Western countries”. On 25 October, the Security Council held a meeting under “any other business”, at Russia’s request, to discuss these allegations. There was no briefer at the meeting,
At this afternoon’s meeting, Grossi is expected to confirm that both locations mentioned by Russia in its letter are under IAEA safeguards and have been visited regularly by IAEA inspectors. In a 24 October statement, the IAEA quoted Grossi as saying that one of the locations was inspected by the IAEA a month ago, and that “no undeclared nuclear activities or material were found there”. On the same day, Ukraine sent a letter to the IAEA, inviting inspectors to carry out verification activities at the two locations.
Grossi is also likely to update the Council on his efforts to facilitate an agreement between the parties on the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone around the ZNPP. Grossi held meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin on 6 October and on 11 October, respectively, to discuss his proposal. In October, shelling damaged power lines supplying electricity to the plant’s nuclear reactors, on several occasions forcing the reactors to rely temporarily on emergency diesel generators for cooling and other nuclear safety functions.
Several Council members are expected to welcome the work of the IAEA in ensuring the protection of Ukraine’s nuclear plants and call for all parties to de-escalate nuclear rhetoric. These members may also call for the establishment of the protection zone around the ZNPP. Several members—including the US and European members—are likely to caution that Russia’s allegations could be a pretext for further Russian escalation and the possible use of a dirty bomb in Ukraine by Russian forces. However, the Pentagon has acknowledged that it has no indications that Moscow is preparing to deploy such a weapon.