Ukraine: Meeting under the “Threats to International Peace and Security” Agenda Item*
Tomorrow morning (13 October), 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 supply of Western weapons to Ukraine. Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Adedeji Ebo* and US radio and TV host Garland Nixon 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 eighth meeting requested by Russia on the issue of Western arms supplies to Ukraine since the start of the war on 24 February 2022. As at 31 July, Ukraine’s allies had provided approximately $100 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion of the country last year. This includes the provision of heavy conventional weapons such as tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery systems, and uncrewed combat aerial vehicles, in addition to small arms and light weapons.
Tomorrow’s briefing will take place against the backdrop of growing concerns in Kyiv about waning Western support for Ukraine. On 30 September, the US government approved a temporary spending bill, pushing the fiscal policy deadline to 17 November. While the bill prevented a US federal government shutdown, it did not include additional aid for Ukraine. Under pressure from a minority faction of Republicans critical of US President Joe Biden’s strategy on the war in Ukraine, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy introduced the bill without the additional Ukraine aid. Biden released a statement on 1 October attributing the omission of Ukraine aid to Republicans who are attempting to create a “manufactured crisis”, while stressing “[w]e cannot under any circumstance allow America’s support for Ukraine to be interrupted”.
Western countries’ ability to maintain their level of support for Ukraine has also been questioned in light of the escalating situation in the Middle East, following the 7 October large-scale attack by the Palestinian armed group Hamas on Israel. Some analysts suggest that the pressing needs in Israel could divert resources and attention from Ukraine. During an 11 October meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy emphasised the urgent need for air defense equipment, artillery, and ammunition. He added: “[w]e are now in a special situation on the front line. In a situation where it is important to put pressure. Without any pauses.” Since launching their most recent counteroffensive in June, Ukrainian forces have struggled to break through Russia’s defensive lines, heavily fortified with extensive minefields. At a press conference following the NATO meeting, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin reaffirmed the US’ commitment to Ukraine. Acknowledging Kyiv’s concerns, Austin said that the US “can and will stand by Israel even as we stand by Ukraine”. Washington subsequently announced a new aid package for Ukraine, totalling $200 million.
At tomorrow’s briefing, Ebo may note that the influx of weapons in any armed conflict can create risks of escalation and diversion. He might reiterate 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.) Beyond the matter of weapons supplies, Ebo might also focus on how these weapons are being used, underscoring the responsibilities of all conflict parties to protect civilians and avoid targeting civilian infrastructure in the conduct of military operations.
Russia is likely to argue that certain countries do not adhere to disarmament agreements and irresponsibly fuel the proliferation of arms. It is expected to criticise the influx of Western weapons to Ukraine and 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 an 8 February Council meeting on Western arms transfers to Ukraine, 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.” In this context, China referred to conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria.
By initiating Security Council briefings on the subject of Western arms supplies to Ukraine, Russia has sought to convey its view that supplying weapons to Ukraine undermines the prospects of a negotiated resolution to the conflict. While Moscow asserts that it is ready for diplomatic talks, it accuses Western countries of encouraging Kyiv to pursue military objectives over dialogue.
Several Council members are expected to reiterate that weapons are being supplied to Ukraine to help it fulfil its fundamental right to self-defence, in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter. 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 several Council members—including Albania, France, Japan, the UK, and the US—have made in previous Council meetings.
Several members are also expected to express concern regarding steps taken by Russia towards revoking its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). The CTBT, which prohibits states parties from carrying out “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion”, opened for signature on 24 September 1996. While it is nearly universally accepted, it has yet to enter into force. To date, 185 states have signed the treaty, and 170 have ratified it. China and the US have signed but not ratified the treaty. During a 5 October meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, a Moscow-based think tank and discussion forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that it is within the purview of the Russian Duma (parliament) to consider revoking Russia’s ratification, noting that Moscow “can offer a tit-for-tat response in [its] relations with the [US]”. The Duma is set to vote next week on withdrawing Russia’s ratification of the CTBT. The Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), Robert Floyd, has reportedly been engaging with Russian officials on this matter.
Tomorrow’s briefing will be the second meeting on Ukraine this week. On Monday (9 October), the Council held a briefing at Ukraine’s request, supported by Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. The meeting was prompted by reports on 5 October that a Russian missile struck a grocery store and café in the village of Hroza, located in the northeastern Kharkiv region of Ukraine. Over 52 people—nearly one-sixth of Hroza’s population—were reportedly killed in the attack.
At the Council’s 9 October meeting, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo stressed that “[a] just solution to the war lies in adhering…with deeds, not just with words” to the principles of the UN Charter, including respect for the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all member states”. During the meeting, several Council members condemned the assault on Hroza and attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, emphasising that these acts constitute violations of international law. While reaffirming their established positions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many members also urged states to reject Russia’s bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council (HRC). Russia had been suspended from the HRC on 7 April 2022, after the General Assembly adopted resolution ES-11/3 during its emergency special session on Ukraine. In a secret ballot on 10 October, the General Assembly filled two vacant HRC seats designated for the Eastern European regional bloc, electing Albania and Bulgaria with 123 and 160 votes, respectively. Russia, with 83 votes, was not elected.
Post-script (13 October, 11:30 am): A previous version of this story indicated that High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu is expected to brief. The story was amended to reflect that Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Adedeji Ebo eventually briefed at the meeting.