What's In Blue

Posted Mon 30 Oct 2023

Ukraine: Briefing on Humanitarian Developments

Tomorrow morning (31 October), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The meeting was requested by Ecuador and France, the co-penholders on humanitarian issues in Ukraine. OCHA’s Director of the Coordination Division Ramesh Rajasingham is the anticipated briefer. Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

As the war in Ukraine enters its 21st month, hostilities remain concentrated in the eastern Donbas and the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Since launching their counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces have struggled to break through Russia’s defensive lines, heavily fortified with extensive minefields. After recapturing the village of Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region in August, Ukrainian forces have been widening their breach of Russian defensive lines in the area. Recently, Ukrainian troops have launched cross-river raids in the Kherson region, securing positions on the east (left) bank of the Dnipro River. Concurrently, Ukrainian troops are defending against Russian offensives in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions, with heavy fighting reported near the village of Avdiivka.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Rajasingham is expected to provide an update on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. He may note that, although the UN and its partners have provided aid to nine million people thus far this year, humanitarian needs are likely to increase during the winter period. Rajasingham may also draw the Council’s attention to a 26 October report published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which contains an initial assessment of the environmental effects of the 6 June destruction of the Kakhovka Dam located in the southern Kherson region. (Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of destroying the dam.) The report described the dam’s breach as a “far-reaching environmental disaster that goes beyond Ukraine’s borders”.

Tomorrow’s meeting will take place amid continued diplomatic efforts by Kyiv aimed at garnering international support for a ten-point peace formula introduced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at a 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.

On 28 and 29 October, Malta hosted the third round of talks on Zelenskyy’s peace formula. This followed earlier meetings held on 24 June in Copenhagen, Denmark, and on 5 and 6 August in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The gathering in Malta saw the participation of 66 countries, including several that have not condemned the Russian aggression. Russia was not invited. Zelenskyy described the turnout as “a good result”. Notable absences included China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), both of which participated in the Jeddah meeting. During the meeting in Malta, Canada proposed to create an international coalition of countries aimed at “facilitating the return of Ukrainian children who have been deported or forcibly displaced by Russia from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine”. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova dismissed the meeting in Malta as “futile and counterproductive” to a settlement of the conflict, describing it as “a purely biased, openly anti-Russia event”.

The forum took place amid heightening concerns in Kyiv regarding the possibility of diminishing Western support for Ukraine. The escalating situation in the Middle East following the 7 October large-scale attack by Palestinian armed group Hamas on Israel has raised doubts regarding Western countries’ ability to sustain the level of their commitment to Ukraine. Some experts believe that the urgent circumstances in Israel might redirect both resources and focus away from Ukraine.

Additionally, there are arguments suggesting that the US’ backing of Israel might impede its efforts to maintain political support for Ukraine within the UN. On 18 October, the US vetoed a Brazilian draft resolution on the recent escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza and the ensuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. (For more information, see our 16 October What’s in Blue story.) Some analysts have argued that for many countries in the Global South, the situation in the Middle East exposes perceived Western double standards: while Western countries have been urging member states for months to condemn Russian actions in Ukraine, they have concurrently expressed steadfast support for Israel, despite the significant civilian casualties and the extensive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The past month also saw growing worries in Kyiv regarding the possibility of diminishing financial support for Ukraine, in light of disagreements within the US House of Representatives over US spending on Ukraine. A temporary spending bill approved by the US government on 30 September did not include additional aid for Ukraine because of opposition from members of the Republican party. US President Joe Biden denounced the move, stressing that “[w]e cannot under any circumstance allow America’s support for Ukraine to be interrupted”.

On 20 October, Biden appealed to Congress to endorse a $106 billion emergency aid package to Israel, Ukraine, and the southern US border. This includes $61.4 billion earmarked for Ukraine, with $44.4 billion intended for defence equipment provision. However, on 26 October, the newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, stated that the consensus among the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is that funding requests for Ukraine and Israel should be addressed separately.

Nonetheless, securing funding for Ukraine remains a stated key concern for the Biden administration. On 11 October, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen endorsed a European proposal to direct profits from Russian assets frozen at international financial institutions, which total approximately $223 billion, to support Ukraine. On 27 October, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen confirmed that the European Commission was in the process of drafting such a proposal. Some countries, however, have expressed concerns about the legal ramifications linked to the funds’ ownership. On 29 October, Chairman of the Russian Duma (parliament) Vyacheslav Volodin warned that Russia would retaliate if Brussels decided to implement such measures.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to reiterate their established positions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Several members—including Albania, 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.

At Russia’s request, the Council convened for a briefing on the issue of Western weapons supplies to Ukraine on Friday (27 October). The meeting followed reports that Ukraine had deployed US-supplied long-range tactical missile systems (ATACMS) to strike airfields in Russian-held territories in eastern and southern Ukraine on 17 October. The attacks resulted in the destruction of helicopters, the neutralisation of a Russian air defence missile launcher, and damage to runways. At the 27 October meeting, Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Adedeji Ebo said that “the supply of weapons and ammunition into any armed conflict situations raises significant concerns about the potential escalation of violence and the risks of diversion”.

Russia criticised Western countries for hypocritically calling for an end to the conflict while continuing to supply Ukraine with “NATO-produced lethal weapons”. It also questioned Kyiv’s mechanisms for monitoring Western weapons supplies, claiming that “ammunition with markings of a [Ukrainian Armed Forces] military unit…had surfaced near the border with Israel”. In response, several Council members defended the arms supplies to Ukraine, citing the country’s fundamental right to self-defence as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. Some members also criticised Russia for allegedly sourcing armed drones from Iran and procuring arms from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), actions they claimed contravene multiple Security Council resolutions.

Following Friday’s briefing, there was an Arria-formula meeting on “violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law investigated by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine”. The meeting, which was organised by Albania, the UK, and the US, marked the second time that Council members heard a briefing from members of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine in an Arria-formula meeting. (For more information, see our 26 October What’s in Blue story.)

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