Ukraine: High-level Briefing*
Tomorrow afternoon (17 July), the Security Council will convene for a high-level briefing on the situation in Ukraine. UK Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly will chair the meeting and Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief. Ukraine and other regional states are expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.
Tomorrow’s meeting will take place amid ongoing diplomatic efforts to renew the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), which is set to expire at midnight between 17 and 18 July. The initiative was last renewed in May 2023 for a period of 60 days. Russia has threatened to not renew the BSGI, citing a lack of progress in resolving five barriers that it says obstruct the export of Russian agricultural products to international markets.
When the BSGI was first signed in July 2022, Russia agreed to the initiative as part of a package deal that included a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the UN’s scope of engagement to facilitate unimpeded exports of Russian food products and fertilisers to global markets. Moscow has claimed that the MoU has not been effectively implemented. Russia has sought to reconnect its agricultural bank to the SWIFT payment system and to unblock the Tolyatti-Odesa ammonia pipeline, which has been inoperative following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. On 5 June, the Tolyatti-Odesa ammonia pipeline—which had been the subject of UN-led discussions between Russia, Türkiye, and Ukraine to facilitate the export of Russian ammonia fertiliser—sustained partial damage due to reported explosions, for which both Kyiv and Moscow blame each other. Its status is currently unknown.
During a 12 July press briefing, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Rebeca Grynspan acknowledged that while progress had been made in addressing some of Russia’s concerns regarding the implementation of the MoU, certain obstacles, particularly within the finance sector, remained. On the same day, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric issued a statement confirming that the Secretary-General had sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin outlining a proposal aimed at removing hurdles affecting financial institutions through the use of Russia’s Agricultural Bank. On 14 July, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed optimism about the initiative’s renewal, reportedly suggesting that he and Putin shared the view that the deal should be extended. However, Moscow has since downplayed Erdoğan’s comments.
Tomorrow’s briefing follows the conclusion of the NATO summit, held on 11 and 12 July in Vilnius, Lithuania. At that meeting, NATO members agreed on a three-element package aimed at bringing Ukraine closer to NATO. This includes a commitment to a multi-year programme of assistance designed to bolster Ukraine’s security and defence sectors while bringing Ukraine’s armed forces and military equipment up to NATO standards; the establishment of a NATO-Ukraine Council—a decision-making forum that would include Ukraine’s participation; and agreement to expedite Ukraine’s eventual NATO membership by removing the requirement for a membership action plan. Following the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasised that NATO “will issue an invitation for Ukraine…when allies agree, and conditions are met”. In a 12 July press release, Russia criticised the move, framing it as a continuation of NATO’s “provocative expansion policy” and an effort to prolong “the hybrid war NATO has launched against Russia”. Moscow warned that it will take “all means and methods available” to respond to this development.
On 12 July, the Group of Seven (G7)—which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US—together with the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission issued a statement announcing that each G7 member will develop specific, bilateral, long-term security commitments and arrangements with Ukraine to ensure a sustainable force capable of defending Ukraine and deterring future Russian aggression. The security commitments include the provision of modern military equipment across land, sea and air domains, intelligence sharing, cybersecurity support, economic assistance, and efforts to impose economic and other costs on Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the announcement as the first legal document symbolising that Ukraine has “an ‘umbrella’ of security guarantees” on its path to NATO membership.
At tomorrow’s briefing, DiCarlo is expected to provide an update on the security and humanitarian situation in Ukraine. She may note that the war continues to have devastating consequences for civilians. As at 30 June, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 25,170 civilian casualties, including 9,177 deaths, while noting that true figures are likely to be considerably higher. DiCarlo is also expected to reiterate the importance of the BSGI for global food security. In this regard, she may note that nearly one year into the agreement, over 32 million tonnes of foodstuffs have been exported from Ukraine. This includes over 725,000 metric tonnes of grain shipped through the World Food Programme (WFP) as part of its humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. The exports have contributed significantly to a decrease in global food prices and the stabilisation of commodity markets, according to the UN.
Most Council members are expected to encourage all parties involved to renew the BSGI. Some members may criticise Moscow for threatening not to renew the initiative and for what they perceive as a deliberate attempt by Russia to hinder the inspection of vessels, causing delays of Ukrainian food shipments under the BSGI. Some members—including China, Brazil, Ghana, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—may stress the importance of ensuring the effective implementation of the MoU.
Council members are likely to reiterate their established positions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Several members—including Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US—are expected to call on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s internationally recognised territory. These members may also condemn Russia for its continued missile strikes targeting civilian infrastructure and residential buildings, which they view as a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. In this regard, these members may reiterate calls for accountability, while some may refer to the latest findings of the OHCHR, which documented the arbitrary detention of more than 900 civilians in Ukraine between the war’s outset and 23 May.
Russia is likely to argue that NATO is perpetuating the conflict by providing weapons to Ukraine. It may also criticise the US’ decision last week to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions. Russia is expected to question the benefits of the BSGI and argue that Western sanctions continue to hinder the export of Russian agricultural products.
On 11 July, the Security Council convened for a briefing, at Russia’s request, to discuss developments related to the 26 September 2022 explosions that caused physical damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. At that meeting, Russia criticised the lack of progress in national investigations being conducted by Denmark, Germany, and Sweden, and vowed to continue raising this issue in the Council until the perpetrators are held accountable. Several Council members welcomed the updates on the status of the investigations provided by Denmark, Germany, and Sweden through their joint letter dated 10 July (S/2023/517).
*Post-script (17 July 2023):On 17 July, Russia announced that it would not extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is set to expire at midnight today. In a statement issued this morning, Russia criticised the initiative as “a purely commercial” enterprise “aimed at serving the narrowly selfish interests of Kyiv and its Western curators”. It also argued that “none of the five systemic tasks envisaged by the [MoU] have been fulfilled”, adding that the Secretary-General’s “last-minute” proposal to provide SWIFT access to a subsidiary of Russia’s agricultural bank “is practically unrealizable and unviable”.