What's In Blue

Posted Thu 19 Jan 2023

Ukraine: Arria-formula Meeting

Tomorrow (20 January) at 10 am EST, Russia will convene an Arria-formula meeting titled “The systematic war of Ukraine against the residents of Donbass: 2014 and Onwards”. The expected briefers include Arnaud Develay, a French attorney; Enrique Refoyo, a Spanish political scientist; and Maya Pirogova, a social activist from the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine. The meeting, which will take place in the ECOSOC chamber, is open to representatives of all UN member states. Contingent on approval by Security Council members, the event will be broadcast on UN TV.

According to the concept note prepared by Russia, tomorrow’s meeting aims to provide participants with a “comprehensive analysis of the background, root causes, course and the present state of the systematic war of the Kiev regime against people of Donbass”. The concept note contends that Western media “promotes a distorted picture” of the situation in the region, marked by “disinformation and fake news”. It says that the meeting will provide an opportunity for participants to hear the first-hand accounts and views of political scientists, journalists, and residents of the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine.

Russia has long accused Ukrainian authorities of systematically subverting the interests of ethnic Russian minorities living in Ukraine. It has claimed that threats against Russian-speakers in Ukraine had intensified following the Maidan protests in 2013 and 2014 (which led to the ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014). Moscow has blamed Ukraine for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine (comprised of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions), where conflict ensued shortly after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014. Russia has sought to justify its invasion of Ukraine, which started on 24 February 2022, by citing the need to protect the population of the Donbas region, and by framing its military campaign as an attempt to demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine. Kyiv and its allies have strongly rejected this narrative.

Russia has also blamed Western countries for fomenting the Maidan protests and for turning a blind eye to Ukraine’s alleged violations in the Donbas region. More recently, Moscow has argued that Western arms supplies to Ukraine have enabled Kyiv to shell civilian infrastructure in the Donbas region.

In convening tomorrow’s meeting, Russia also apparently seeks to present its perspective on the situation in Ukraine to the new Council members—Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, and Switzerland—which started their 2023-2024 term in January. At a 13 January Security Council briefing on Ukraine, Russia’s Permanent Representative, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, said that Russia believes “that all states, and first of all the new members of the Council” will find tomorrow’s Arria-formula meeting “very useful”, as it will provide “first-hand accounts by eyewitnesses, foreign journalists, and researchers who visited Donbas”. Moreover, it seems that the format of the meeting was chosen because of its flexibility, with Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy noting in a 11 January Telegram post that “such meetings, unlike the formal meetings of the Security Council” allow organisers to “demonstrate video and photo materials”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members—including European members and the US—are likely to reiterate their established position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which they consider a violation of international law and the UN Charter. These members may also emphasise that Ukraine is defending itself from Russia’s aggression, in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter. In this regard, they may condemn Russia for its attacks on critical civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. Since 9 October 2022, Russia has launched 19 large-scale missile barrages against energy facilities in the country. Most recently, on 14 January, a Russian missile hit a residential building in the south-eastern city of Dnipro, killing at least 45 civilians. Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attack in a 16 January statement, emphasising that attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure violate international humanitarian law and “must end immediately”.

Some members may also criticise Russia for what they consider a misuse of the Arria-meeting format to spread false narratives and disinformation. These members view tomorrow’s meeting as a cynical attempt by Russia to justify its invasion of Ukraine and as part of a broader strategy to divert the international community’s attention from Russia’s violations of the UN Charter. Tomorrow’s Arria-formula meeting comes days after a formal Security Council briefing on 17 January, that was requested by Russia and focused on its allegations that Ukraine is attempting to “destroy” the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is canonically linked to the Moscow Patriarchate. The Council was briefed at that meeting by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and head of the UN Human Rights Office in New York Ilze Brands Kehris and Metropolitan of Volokolamsk Anthony, Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

The original idea behind the Arria-formula meeting was for Council members to receive crucial information that might not otherwise be available to them, particularly through civil society briefers, to help enhance their awareness of complex problems and inform their decision-making. In this regard, Arria-formula meetings were envisioned as closed meetings conducive to a frank exchange of ideas. In recent years, however, members have often chosen to convene Arria-formula meetings in an open format, which provides organisers with a platform to amplify messages on issues of importance to them. These meetings have occasionally served as a battleground for alternative narratives promoted by Security Council members. (For a full list of Arria-formula meeting held since 1992, please see our website. For more information on Council members’ use of the Arria-formula format, see our 30 April 2021 In Hindsight, titled “Is There a Single Right Formula for the Arria Format?”.)

Since 2014, Council members whose positions are closely aligned with that of Ukraine have used the Arria-formula format to promote discussions on different aspects of the situation in Crimea. These members—usually European Council members and the US, in cooperation with Ukraine—have convened meetings each March on the anniversary of the Russian annexation of Crimea. In May 2020, Russia organised its first Arria-formula meeting on the situation in Crimea; up until the February 2022 invasion, Russia had used the Arria-formula format five additional times to discuss the situation in Ukraine more broadly.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be the fifth Arria-formula meeting on Ukraine convened since Russia’s invasion in February 2022. Two of last year’s four meetings were organised by Russia, on 6 May and 11 July 2022. (For more information, see our What’s in Blue stories of 5 May 2022 and 8 July 2022.) Albania organised the other two meetings, one with France on “ensuring accountability for atrocities committed in Ukraine”, which was held on 27 April 2022, and another with non-Council member Poland on “the destruction of cultural heritage as a consequence of the Russian aggression against Ukraine”, held on 15 July 2022. (For more information, see our What’s in Blue stories of 26 April 2022 and 14 July 2022.)

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