What's In Blue

Posted Wed 17 May 2023

Ukraine: Briefing on Weapons Supplies 

Tomorrow afternoon (18 May), 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 issue of Western weapons supplies to Ukraine. Adedeji Ebo, Director of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and Deputy to the High Representative, is 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 fourth meeting on the issue of weapons supplies to Ukraine. (The other three meetings were held on 8 September 2022, 9 December 2022 and 8 February.) In addition, on 10 April, Russia convened an open debate on “Risks stemming from violations of the agreements regulating the export of weapons and military equipment” as a signature event of its Security Council presidency. (For more information, please see our 7 February and 9 April What’s in Blue stories.)

Tomorrow’s briefing will take place amid a raft of announcements of new military aid to Ukraine aimed at bolstering its anticipated counteroffensive operations. On 11 May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Ukraine needs additional weaponry before it can launch its counteroffensive attack. While he expressed confidence in the Ukrainian forces’ ability to successfully reclaim territory, he warned that Moscow was intent on turning it into a protracted and static war.

Last week, Zelenskyy embarked on a European tour with the objective of securing additional military aid for Ukraine and forming a coalition of countries committed to providing Ukraine with fighter jets. After Zelenskyy’s meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on 14 May, Germany announced an additional military aid package worth $2.7 billion for Ukraine, which includes German Leopard tanks and additional anti-aircraft systems. During an address to the UK parliament on 11 May,  UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced a donation of Storm Shadow long-range missiles to Ukraine, which would enable them to “push back Russian forces within Ukrainian sovereign territory”. In a 12 May statement, Russia characterised the announcement as “another extremely hostile move” by the UK that would result in “a serious escalation of tensions”. On 16 May, the UK pledged to contribute hundreds of additional air defence missiles and armed drones to Ukraine.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Ebo is likely to reiterate that the influx of weapons in any armed conflict can create risks of escalation and diversion. He may emphasise that measures to prevent the diversion of ammunition and weapons—such as pre-transfer risk assessments and end-user verification—can help to support conflict prevention and post-conflict recovery, among other things. Ebo may refer to the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA) and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) as important instruments in improving transparency in the transfer of arms and in monitoring the flow of weapons and ammunition into conflict areas. (The UNROCA is an annual reporting mechanism through which governments voluntarily share information with the UN on weapons they transferred the previous year, while the ATT regulates the international trade in conventional arms and strives to prevent and eradicate their illegal trade and diversion.) He may also underscore the responsibilities of all conflict parties to protect civilians and avoid targeting civilian infrastructure in the conduct of military operations.

During the meeting, Russia is likely to criticise the influx of Western weapons to Ukraine, arguing that certain countries do not adhere to disarmament agreements and irresponsibly fuel the proliferation of arms in Ukraine. Russia may also argue that some member states are not doing enough to prevent the diversion of arms to non-state actors, including terrorists. China has made this point as well; in the 8 February meeting, it said: “Relevant parties should…adopt strict control measures, prevent the proliferation of weapons and ammunition and, in particular, stop them from falling in the hands of terrorists and armed groups, and avoid creating new instability in the greater geographic region.”

The US and European Council members are likely to question Russia’s rationale for convening this briefing. They may argue that the meeting is intended to divert attention from Russia’s invasion and actions in Ukraine. Several members may reiterate that Russia’s invasion has violated the UN Charter, and that Ukraine has a right to self-defence under Article 51 of the Charter. In this context, they may argue that weapons are being supplied to Ukraine to help it fulfil its fundamental right to self-defence. Some countries may also note that weapons transfers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran to Russia for use in Ukraine violate Security Council resolutions, a point that Albania and France made in the 8 February meeting.

Several members are expected to welcome the agreement reached by Russia, Ukraine, and Türkiye today (17 May) to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiatives (BSGI) for an additional two months. The BSGI was set to expire tomorrow (18 May). UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the BSGI’s extension at a 17 May press briefing and acknowledged that while “outstanding issues remain”, he hopes the parties “will reach a comprehensive agreement to improve, expand and extend the initiative”.

Several Council members are expected to reiterate calls for the resumption of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. However, the Council remains starkly divided on how to achieve a peaceful settlement to the war in Ukraine. Ukraine and its allies have advocated for a just peace, conditioned on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders. Other member states have called for an immediate cessation of hostilities without any preconditions, which could freeze the frontlines of the conflict, resulting in Russia seizing a significant amount of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Some Council members may welcome initiatives proposed by certain member states in pursuit of a peaceful settlement to the conflict. On 24 February, China released a 12-point position paper on a political settlement to the war in Ukraine. The paper included calls for respecting the sovereignty of all countries, ceasing hostilities, and resuming peace talks, but did not mention Russia’s military withdrawal from Ukraine. After a phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Zelenskyy on 26 April, China agreed to dispatch its Special Representative on Eurasian Affairs Li Hui to Ukraine. Li arrived in Kyiv yesterday (16 May) and is expected to visit Warsaw, Paris, Berlin, and Brussels before heading to Moscow to conclude his tour. During a meeting with Li on 17 May,  Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reportedly said that Ukraine would not “accept any proposals that would involve the loss of its territories or the freezing of the conflict”.

More recently, South Africa announced its own peace initiative aimed at facilitating an end to the war in Ukraine. On 16 May, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that his country will launch a peace mission comprised of six African countries—including Egypt, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia—to seek a negotiated settlement to the war. Zelenskyy and Putin have reportedly agreed to receive the African delegation in Kyiv and Moscow, respectively. Ramaphosa discussed the initiative with Guterres during a phone call on 16 May, during which Guterres reiterated the view that any peace initiative should conform with the principles of the UN Charter and abide by relevant General Assembly resolutions. In a 16 May press briefing, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby cautiously welcomed the initiative, emphasising that the US is “not pooh-poohing other peace proposal opportunities as long as they can be credible and sustainable and enforceable”, adding that any initiative must have Ukraine’s full support.

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