Ukraine: Vote on Draft Resolution*
This afternoon (2 November), following the debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Security Council is expected to vote on a Russian-proposed draft resolution invoking article VI of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The BWC prohibits the development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use of biological and toxin weapons. If the draft resolution is adopted, it will establish the first Security Council-mandated investigation into alleged breaches of the BWC.
At the time of writing, it appeared unlikely that the Russian draft Security Council resolution would garner the requisite support. Absent a veto, a draft resolution on non-procedural matters requires nine out of 15 votes to be adopted.
Shortly after its invasion of Ukraine, Russia announced on 6 March that its 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 BWC. The experiments conducted in these laboratories, he added, “were absolutely not peaceful”.
Ukraine and the US have rejected the Russian allegations and many Council members have been sceptical of Russia’s claims. Some members—including Albania, France and the US—have expressed concern that Russia is using disinformation tactics as a pretext for possibly using biological or chemical weapons against Ukrainians.
Russia has initiated four formal meetings at the Security Council (on 11 March, 18 March, 13 May and 17 October) and one meeting under “any other business” (on 22 March) to discuss its allegations of biological military activities in Ukraine. It has 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, 5 April and 27 October What’s in Blue stories.)
In a 24 October letter to the Security Council president (S/2022/796), 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 concerns regarding 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 states parties undertake to cooperate in carrying out any investigation initiated by the Council.) 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.
After circulating the initial draft text on 24 October, Russia convened two rounds of negotiations, on 26 and 31 October. It then put the draft resolution in blue on 1 November, without making any amendments to the initial draft.
It seems that many Council members did not engage on the content of the Russian draft text. During the negotiations, the P3 members (France, the UK and the US) apparently accused Russia of undermining the BWC and using the Council as a platform to promote its disinformation campaign against Ukraine and its allies. These members—along with Albania, Ireland, Mexico, and Norway—have argued that Russia has not provided sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation under article VI of the BWC, particularly in view of repeated statements by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) that the UN is not aware of any biological weapons programmes in Ukraine. At the 27 October Security Council briefing on this matter, some of these members also suggested that the appropriate forum for discussing Russia’s concerns is the ninth review conference of the BWC, which will take place in Geneva later this month.
It appears that some Council members expressed concern over the draft resolution’s language describing the investigative commission. Since article VI of the BWC has never been activated, some members suggested that the draft text should explicitly outline the precise mandate, structure and modalities of the commission, as it would set a precedent for subsequent Security Council-mandated investigations under this provision of the convention. However, Russia apparently did not incorporate this suggestion in the draft text in blue.
At the time of writing, it appeared unlikely that the Russian draft Security Council resolution would have the support required for adoption. However, some members may choose to join Russia in voting in favour of the draft text. At the 27 October briefing, some members—particularly China and Gabon—indicated that they might support Russia’s initiative. China said that “the international community could consider invoking Article VI of the Convention to facilitate the solution of the issue”, while Gabon called for “a transparent and impartial independent inquiry to be conducted into the allegations put forward” by Russia. Both members abstained during the 30 September vote on an Albania-US draft Security Council resolution (S/2022/720) condemning Russia for organising “illegal so-called referendums” in the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia regions. Brazil and India also abstained, while ten Council members voted in favour and Russia cast a veto.
The other members of the A3 (Ghana and Kenya) have also signalled openness to an investigation into the matter. At the 27 October briefing, Ghana maintained that “independent and impartial investigations by internationally-recognised and mandated bodies should be the only way to establish the facts and reports concerning the threat of use or potential use of biological or chemical weapons”. Kenya called on all states parties to the BWC “to make use of the established mechanisms to ensure there is no ambiguity of the presence of these dangerous weapons”. Kenya has recently expressed support for greater use by the Security Council of the UN’s fact-finding mechanisms. Citing General Assembly resolution 46/59 of 9 December 1991, which recognised the need for the Security Council to have knowledge of all relevant facts in performing functions relevant to its mandate, Kenya called for the creation of a UN fact-finding and verification mission to investigate the 29 October drone attack on vessels in the Black Sea that Russia blames on Ukraine. At the 31 October briefing on this issue, Kenya suggested that independent UN-led investigations are the most suitable way to tackle the often-competing claims made by Council members on the situation in Ukraine.
While the P3 are likely to abstain on the resolution, these members may choose to vote against it to underscore their objection to what they view as attempts by Russia to undermine the BWC. Absent the requisite nine out of 15 votes for adoption, a vote against the draft text by a permanent member of the Council does not constitute a use of the veto.
*Post-script: The draft Security Council resolution (S/2022/821) prepared by Russia failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite support. It received two votes in favour (China and Russia), three votes against (France, the UK and the US) and ten abstentions.