What's In Blue

Posted Thu 12 Jan 2023

Ukraine: Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (13 January), 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 and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths are expected to brief. Ukraine, represented by First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova, 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.

More than a month has passed since the Council last met to discuss Ukraine on 9 December 2022. Hostilities remain concentrated in eastern Ukraine as Russian forces attempt to advance towards the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. On 10 January, the head of the Russian private security company the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed that his forces had taken control of Soledar, a town roughly 15 km north of Bakhmut. Ukraine has denied this claim, saying that combat operations are ongoing. While some analysts have argued that Soledar and Bakhmut hold little strategic value for Moscow’s broader objective of securing the entire Donbas region, a Russian advance would be a symbolic victory, marking the first Russian battlefield success since July 2022.

Meanwhile, Russia has continued to launch air and missile assaults targeting civilian infrastructure across Ukraine. Since the Council’s 9 December 2022 meeting on Ukraine, Russia has launched six large-scale missile barrages against energy facilities in the country. The attacks have triggered massive blackouts and a reduction in water supplies throughout the country. Moscow says that its assaults are aimed at weakening Ukraine’s military potential, while Kyiv alleges that Russia is employing “terrorist tactics” that violate international humanitarian law.

On 21 December 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy travelled to the US in his first known trip outside Ukraine since the start of the war. During his trip, Zelenskyy held a meeting with US President Joe Biden, in which the leaders reportedly discussed strengthening cooperation, particularly regarding Ukraine’s defence capabilities. On the same day, the US announced an additional $1.85 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, including the transfer of the Patriot air defence system, which is expected to provide Ukraine with enhanced protection from Russian missile attacks. On 10 January, Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder confirmed that Ukrainian troops are expected to begin training on operating the Patriot system as soon as next week at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

At tomorrow’s meeting, DiCarlo is expected to provide an overview of the security situation in Ukraine. She is likely to emphasise that hostilities and heavy fighting in the country’s east and south continues to significantly affect civilians, particularly those on the front lines and those who have lost access to heat, water, and essential services. She may highlight that every major Ukrainian power plant and electricity transmission system has suffered damage due to Russian bombing.

Griffiths is expected to provide an update on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. As at 19 December, over 13.42 million people had been forcibly displaced by the hostilities, according to a 20 December 2022 OCHA humanitarian impact situation report. That figure includes 5.59 million internally displaced people and 7.83 million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries. Moreover, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 18,096 civilian casualties, including 6,952 deaths, as at 10 January.

Griffiths may emphasise the effects of the hostilities on humanitarian workers in the country and their ability to deliver assistance. On 15 December 2022, an aid distribution centre in the southern city of Kherson was hit by Russian missiles, killing at least two people, including a humanitarian worker. Griffiths may note that while the UN has provided winter assistance to over 630,000 civilians and distributed 400 generators to essential facilities, supporting civilians on the front lines has proved difficult. Roughly 7,500 residents remain in the cities of Bakhmut and Soledar, according to local authorities. During his 11 January daily press briefing, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said that “[d]ue to continuing fierce fighting, the possibility of delivering assistance or evacuating the remaining residents” in the two cities is “very limited”.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be the first on Ukraine for the five new elected members (Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, and Switzerland). These members, except for Mozambique, voted in favour of every General Assembly resolution on Ukraine in 2022 and co-sponsored the 25 February 2022 draft Security Council resolution tabled by Albania and the US condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which failed to be adopted because of a Russian veto. Mozambique has abstained on every General Assembly resolution on Ukraine since the start of the war. (For more information on the incoming members’ potential positions on the Ukraine file, see our January Forecast brief.)

At tomorrow’s meeting, Several Council members—including Albania, France, the UK, and the US—are expected to condemn Russia for violating international humanitarian law, including for its attacks on civilian infrastructure. Several of these members, particularly the P3 (France, the UK, and the US), may raise the issue of alleged arms transfers from Iran to Russia, which they claim violate Security Council resolution 2231 of 20 July 2015 that endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme. These members also allege that Russia has been using Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to carry out attacks in Ukraine and have expressed support for an investigation into the allegations by the UN Secretariat.

Several members are also expected to emphasise the need for accountability for crimes committed in the context of the war in Ukraine. Member states have been negotiating a draft General Assembly resolution in this regard. Dzhaparova noted during a press stakeout this afternoon (12 January) that the “accountability resolution might be considered later on this year”. Instead, Ukraine will be prioritising a draft General Assembly resolution intended “to enshrine the very idea of [Zelenskyy’s] peace formula, its [ten] points, vision and philosophy”, which is expected to be tabled for a vote in February. Zelenskyy presented his ten-point peace formula during a Group of 20 (G20) summit on 15 November 2022. The peace formula includes calls for nuclear safety, food and energy security, the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the release of all prisoners and deportees, and the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes.

Several members are expected to stress the need for de-escalation and the resumption of diplomatic engagement between Russia and Ukraine. In this regard, Russia is likely to accuse Ukraine of breaking a 36-hour ceasefire unilaterally declared by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 5 January to allow the observance of Orthodox Christmas from 6 to 7 January. Kyiv and Moscow have blamed each other for breaking the ceasefire.

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