What's In Blue

Posted Tue 7 Feb 2023

Ukraine: Meeting under the “Threats to International Peace and Security” Agenda Item

Tomorrow (8 February), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on Ukraine under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item. Russia requested the meeting to discuss “the prospects for the peaceful settlement of the crisis around Ukraine in the context of the increasing supplies of Western armaments”. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu and English musician and Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters are expected to brief. Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Tomorrow’s briefing will be the second meeting on Ukraine this week, and the third meeting on the issue of weapons supplies to Ukraine since the start of the war on 24 February 2022. (The other two meetings were held on 8 August and 9 December 2022.) On Monday (6 February), the Council held a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, at the request of Ecuador and France, the co-penholders on humanitarian issues in Ukraine. At that meeting, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths stressed that the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine remains dire nearly one year into the war, with 17.6 million people—almost 40 percent of Ukraine’s population—requiring humanitarian assistance.

Tomorrow’s briefing will take place against the backdrop of a raft of announcements of new military aid to Ukraine. In January and February, several countries—including Germany, the UK, and the US—agreed to deliver tanks, such as the German-made Leopard 2 tank, and sophisticated military equipment to Ukraine. British officials have argued that the tanks will help prevent the conflict from turning into a protracted and static war that may favour Russia’s military.

Russia has criticised these announcements, with Russia’s ambassador to Berlin, Sergey Nechaev, asserting on 25 January that this development has “taken the conflict to a new level of confrontation”. Moscow has accused western governments of waging a proxy war in Ukraine with the ultimate aim of weakening Russia. It has argued that by sending weapons to Ukraine, these countries are party to the conflict. Moreover, Russia has accused Ukraine’s NATO allies of violating the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a multilateral treaty that regulates international trade in conventional arms. The ATT requires state parties to assess the risk of exported weapons being used to violate international humanitarian law.

At tomorrow’s briefing, Nakamitsu is expected to reiterate that the influx of weapons into any situation of armed conflict raises concerns for peace and security, including risks of diversion and escalation. She is likely to call on member states to implement effective arms control measures, emphasising that the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA) remains a key instrument for increasing transparency regarding arms transfers. (The UNROCA is an annual reporting mechanism through which governments voluntarily share information with the UN on weapons they transferred the previous year.)

Waters is expected to criticise the supply of weapons to Ukraine. In a 4 September 2022 open letter to Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska, Waters sought to justify Russia’s invasion, arguing that “extreme nationalists have set [Ukraine] on the path to this disastrous war”. He also suggested that Western armaments will only prolong hostilities. Zelenska reportedly replied to Waters in a 5 September tweet, which has since been deleted, suggesting that he “should ask for peace from the president of another country”. Waters’ participation at tomorrow’s Council meeting is expected to attract a larger audience than usual.

Several members—including Albania, Ecuador, France, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US—are expected to condemn Russia for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Some of these members are likely to raise concerns regarding the humanitarian impact of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), most of the recorded civilian casualties have been caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects. These members may urge others to endorse the “Political Declaration on Strengthening the Protection of Civilians from the Humanitarian Consequences Arising from the Use of EWIPA”. More than 80 member states adopted the political declaration at the Dublin Conference on 18 November 2022, including Council members Brazil, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US.

Council members that have provided military assistance to Ukraine are likely to affirm Ukraine’s inherent right to self-defence, as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. Some of these members—including France, Japan, the UK, and the US—may accuse Iran of transferring unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Russia, and argue that the transfers constitute a violation of resolution 2231 of 10 July 2015, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme. These members may also reiterate calls for a UN Secretariat investigation into these allegations. The US and the UK may also suggest that Russia is seeking weapons from other Security Council-sanctioned countries, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Some members—including China and Russia—are expected to warn that Western weapons that are sent to Ukraine may end up in the hands of terrorist organisations. At a 9 December 2022 briefing on Western weapons transfers to Ukraine, which was requested by Russia, China alluded to reports of “armed groups and terrorist organizations in the Middle East and Africa [having] obtained, through illegal channels, weapons and ammunition flowing from Ukraine”, urging the international community to take preventive measures in this regard.

As the war approaches its one-year anniversary, the prospects of a peaceful settlement remain elusive. Council members are expected to present diverging views on this issue. While some members are expected to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities conditioned on the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders, others may call for a ceasefire without preconditions. Russia, for its part, is expected to argue that the supply of weapons to Ukraine is negatively affecting the prospects for ending the war in Ukraine.

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