What's In Blue

Ukraine Briefing

Tomorrow morning (24 August), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The expected briefers are Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo; Kateryna Rashevska, a legal expert at the Regional Center for Human Rights in Kyiv; and Mykola Kuleba, a Ukrainian social and political activist and founder of Save Ukraine—an organisation that provides evacuation, humanitarian aid, and housing to families and children in war zones. Ukraine and other regional states are expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Russia might object to the proposal by the US, August’s Council President, to have two civil society representatives brief at tomorrow’s meeting. During the Council’s 26 July meeting on Ukraine, held under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item, the UK, July’s Council President, requested Russia to limit itself to inviting one non-UN briefer to participate in the meeting. This prompted Russia to call for a procedural vote to extend an invitation to a second non-UN briefer, Bishop Gideon, to participate in the meeting under rule 39 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. By a vote of three in favour (Brazil, China, and Russia) and 12 abstentions, the Council rejected Bishop Gideon’s participation.

Russia may also object to the number of member states participating in tomorrow’s meeting under rule 37. During the Council’s 17 July briefing on Ukraine, Russia disagreed with the UK’s decision to invite eight EU and NATO countries to participate in the meeting under rule 37, arguing that the Council has an established practice of inviting no more than three delegations under rule 37. While the UK did not acknowledge the existence of such a practice in its response to Russia, it did limit the number of rule 37 participants in subsequent Ukraine meetings in July. At the time of writing, it remained unclear whether the US would challenge Russia’s position on the issue by inviting the participation of more than three delegations.

Tomorrow’s meeting coincides with the anniversary of Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991. It will also mark a year and a half since the outbreak of hostilities on 24 February 2022. Eighteen months into Russia’s military incursion, the war continues to have devastating consequences for civilians and far-reaching effects on the global economy. According to a 3 August OCHA situation report, 17.6 million people in Ukraine require humanitarian assistance, while approximately 11 million people in the country have been forcibly displaced by the war. That figure includes roughly 5.1 million internally displaced people and 5.9 million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries.

Hostilities remain concentrated in the eastern Donetsk and southern Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine. Since launching their counteroffensive in June, Ukrainian forces have struggled to breach Russia’s defensive lines, which are fortified by extensive minefields. On 22 August, however, Ukraine announced that it had recaptured the village of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region, marking a potentially significant milestone in its counteroffensive.

Meanwhile, Russia has continued its missile and drone attacks on Ukraine, particularly targeting Ukraine’s grain infrastructure. Following Russia’s termination of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) on 17 July, Ukraine has relied heavily on exporting grain to Romania via the Danube River. In response, Russia has been launching frequent attacks on ports and grain depots along the Danube River in Ukraine, destroying hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain, according to Ukrainian officials. The port of Reni in the southern Odesa region, located only 200 metres from the border with NATO member Romania, has been among those targeted by air raids. As at 23 August, Russia had carried out 14 such attacks since 11 July, according to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).

Under significant pressure to rejoin the BSGI, Russia has sought to present itself as a viable alternative to Ukrainian grain exports and as a reliable food and grain supplier to developing countries, particularly in Africa. In a video address to the BRICS Business Forum in South Africa on 22 August, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia “has the capacity to replace Ukrainian grain”. He further contended that the BSGI primarily benefitted high- and upper-middle income countries, while noting that Russia has extended offers to provide six African countries with 25,000 to 50,000 tonnes of Russian grain at no cost.

In addition to attacks on grain facilities, Russian missile and drone assaults have targeted other civilian infrastructure throughout Ukraine. On 19 August, a Russian missile hit a central square in the northern city of Chernihiv, resulting in at least 144 civilian casualties, including seven deaths. Today (23 August), a strike on a school in the north-eastern Sumy region reportedly killed four educational workers, while an attack on a hospital in the southern Kherson region of Ukraine prompted a halt to humanitarian aid deliveries in the area.

Moscow claims that Ukraine has been carrying out its own drone assaults on targets inside Russia. On 18 August, Russian authorities reported shooting down a Ukrainian drone over Moscow, with its wreckage causing damage to a non-residential building, according to media reports. On 23 August, a presumed drone attack targeted a skyscraper under construction in Moscow. While Ukrainian officials have not officially acknowledged launching attacks on Moscow, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has previously said that attacks on Russian soil are an “inevitable, natural and absolutely fair process”.

On 23 August, a business jet travelling from Moscow to St. Petersburg crashed, killing all ten individuals on board. According to media reports, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian private security company the Wagner Group, was listed as a passenger. At the time of writing, it was uncertain whether he was on board the flight; while several Russian state media outlets have reported that Prigozhin was on the plane, the Russian Defence Ministry had not issued a statement regarding the incident. In late June, Prigozhin orchestrated an attempted armed mutiny against Russia’s military leadership. The munity ended on 24 June when an agreement was reached between Putin and Prigozhin. As part of the deal, Prigozhin agreed to call off the mutiny in exchange for amnesty and his subsequent exile to Belarus.

At tomorrow’s briefing, DiCarlo is expected to provide an update on the security and humanitarian situation in Ukraine. She may emphasise the severe humanitarian consequences of the ongoing hostilities, especially for civilians living near the frontlines. As at 14 August, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 26,384 civilian casualties, including 9,444 deaths, while noting that true figures are likely to be considerably higher. DiCarlo is expected to urge all parties to ensure unfettered humanitarian access. She may point out that, although UN aid has benefited 7.3 million people in Ukraine as at 30 June, only four percent of them reside in areas under Russian control. Furthermore, DiCarlo may underscore that more than 100 incidents affecting humanitarian operations were reported from January to June 2023. Out of these, 33 incidents involved violence against humanitarian personnel and assets, resulting in the deaths of five humanitarian workers.

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 strikes on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure.

Russia is likely to deny allegations that its military is targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, including ports and grain facilities. It may condemn Kyiv for conducting drone attacks on Russian civilian infrastructure, while accusing Western countries of turning a blind eye to what it describes as terrorist tactics. Russia is also expected to reiterate its position on the BSGI, suggesting that it remains open to rejoining the agreement if its demands are met.

Several members are expected to call on Russia to return to the BSGI. Some may emphasise that Russian grain exports are unable to compensate for the economic harm caused by its decision to terminate the BSGI. Additionally, these members might criticise Russia for what they perceive as a manipulative tactic—offering free Russian grain to developing countries while simultaneously targeting Ukraine’s ports and grain silos.

Several members are expected to urge all parties to return to diplomatic negotiations. These members may commend the various diplomatic efforts aimed at fostering dialogue towards a political resolution to the war in Ukraine. On 5 and 6 August, Saudi Arabia hosted the second meeting of national security advisors and foreign policy department political directors to discuss fundamental principles for restoring peace in Ukraine. This meeting followed a prior one held on 24 June in Copenhagen, Denmark. Over 40 countries participated in the 5-6 August Jeddah meeting, including several that have largely maintained a neutral stance on the Ukraine conflict, most notably China. Russia was not invited. Attendees agreed to hold a third meeting in the coming months.

Some Council members are expected to mention the transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia and call on Moscow to facilitate the reunification of these children with their families. These members may reference the joint prevention plan that Ukraine and the UN signed on 18 August. This plan is a voluntary commitment addressing grave violations against children, incorporating measures to protect children and further enhance the existing child protection framework in Ukraine.

Russia, on the other hand, is expected to assert its compliance with international humanitarian law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, arguing that it temporarily evacuated children from conflict zones for their safety. It may counter by suggesting that Western countries violate children’s rights, alleging that they forcibly separate children, notably refugees and asylum seekers, from their families. Russia is organising an Arria-formula meeting to discuss this topic on 30 August.

Tomorrow’s briefing will be the second Security Council meeting on Ukraine this month. On 17 August, at Russia’s request, the Council convened to discuss the supply of Western arms to Ukraine and their impact on prospects for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

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