Tomorrow afternoon (16 November), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. Albania and the US—the political co-penholders on Ukraine—requested the meeting with the aim of providing a comprehensive update on the political and humanitarian aspects of the war 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. Other regional states may also participate under rule 37 at tomorrow’s meeting.
Tomorrow’s briefing will take place against the backdrop of a major Russian military setback in the war and continued Russian air and missile attacks targeting critical infrastructure in Ukraine. On 9 November, Moscow announced the withdrawal of Russian troops from the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine. Kherson city, which had been occupied by Russian forces since 2 March and was the sole regional capital seized since the start of the war, offered a critical foothold west of the Dnipro River.
According to media reports, retreating Russian forces have left thousands of mines in Kherson. On 12 November, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that “before fleeing from Kherson, the occupiers destroyed all critical infrastructure—communication, water supply, heat, electricity”. The UN, which had been unable to access Kherson since the start of the war, delivered aid to thousands of residents yesterday (14 November). Speaking to reporters on the same day, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine Denise Brown said that “the people of Kherson are struggling to meet their basic needs”, adding that civilians have been left without access to power, water and telecommunication services.
Meanwhile, Russia has continued to launch air and missile assaults targeting civilian infrastructure across Ukraine. Since early October, Russia has fired hundreds of missiles at energy facilities and hydroelectric power stations. The attacks, which have reportedly damaged more than 40 percent of Ukraine’s power grid, have led to massive blackouts, telephone and internet outages and a reduction in water supplies throughout the country. Today (15 November), Russia reportedly launched one of its biggest waves of missile attacks, firing over 100 rockets at targets across Ukraine, including in its capital Kyiv. According to media reports, while the attacks mainly targeted energy infrastructure, several residential buildings were also hit, resulting in at least one death.
Russia’s latest missile barrage has also affected Ukraine’s neighbouring countries. The attacks led to significant power outages across Moldova, after a main power line was automatically disconnected as a safety precaution. Stray Russian missiles reportedly landed in Przewodów, a Polish village located approximately 24 kilometres from the Ukrainian border, killing two civilians. Russia has denied launching missiles near the Ukrainian-Polish border, instead accusing Polish media and officials in a 15 November Telegram post of creating provocations to escalate the situation.*
At tomorrow’s briefing, DiCarlo is expected to provide an overview of the security situation in Ukraine, including its adverse effects on civilians. She may also provide an update on the humanitarian situation in the country, noting that extensive damage to key energy facilities ahead of the upcoming winter raises concerns about the protection of civilians, particularly vulnerable populations. At a 21 October Council briefing on Ukraine, DiCarlo stressed that “the deprivation caused by [Russia’s] attacks threatens to expose millions of civilians to extreme hardship and even life-endangering conditions this winter”.
Several Council members—including the US and European members—are expected to condemn Russia for its airstrikes targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. These members are likely to emphasise the need for accountability for crimes committed in the context of the war in Ukraine. In this regard, they may welcome the General Assembly’s adoption on 14 November of resolution A/ES-11/L.6, which recommends the creation of an international register of damages and a reparations mechanism for Ukraine. The resolution received 94 votes in favour, 13 against, and 74 abstentions. Among Council members, nine members voted in favour (Albania, France, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Norway, the UK and the US), two against (China and Russia), and four members abstained (Brazil, Gabon, India, and the United Arab Emirates).
Most Council members are expected to urge both parties to respect international humanitarian law and avoid attacks targeting civilians and critical civilian infrastructure. As at 14 November, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 16,631 civilian casualties, including 6,557 deaths. Noting that most of these casualties have been caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects, some members, particularly Ireland, may appeal to member states to support the political declaration to protect civilians from explosive weapons in populated areas, which will be launched at an endorsement conference in Dublin on 18 November.
Several Council members are also expected to call for a return to dialogue and diplomacy. The cold of winter, which analysts have suggested may bring a pause in the fighting, has renewed hopes for the resumption of peace talks, as Russian and Ukrainian officials have made public comments in recent days about possible peace negotiations. In a virtual address to world leaders at the G20 summit in Bali on 15 November, Zelenskyy underscored that “now is the time when the Russian destructive war must and can be stopped”, adding that “if Russia says that it supposedly wants to end this war, let it prove it with actions”. However, following Russia’s massive missile barrage on 15 November, Zelenskyy said that Russia had responded to his peace proposal with missiles.
Some members are expected to urge all parties to ensure the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative ahead of its expiry on 19 November. At the end of October, Russia suspended its participation in the initiative for several days, arguing that Ukraine was misusing the humanitarian corridor for military purposes by targeting Russian ships in the Black Sea. Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Vershinin met with UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths in Geneva on 11 November to discuss the renewal of the initiative. In an interview on 12 November, Vershinin described the meeting as positive, while stressing that Russia has yet to make its final decision on extending the grain deal. He also noted that reconnecting the Russian Agricultural Bank to the SWIFT payment system is a key issue that must be resolved before Russia agrees to renew the agreement. At the G20 summit, Secretary-General António Guterres said that the UN is “working nonstop to resolve all remaining issues, chiefly around payments, and to renew the Black Sea Grain Initiative”.
*Post-script (16 November, 10:00 am): On the morning of 16 November, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “[o]ur preliminary analysis suggests that the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defence missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks.”