What's In Blue

Posted Tue 9 Jan 2024

Ukraine: Briefing

Tomorrow morning (10 January), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. Ecuador and France, the co-penholders on humanitarian issues in Ukraine, requested the meeting. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and Director of OCHA’s Operations and Advocacy Division Edem Wosornu are expected to brief. Ukraine and other regional states are expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

As the war in Ukraine enters its 23rd month, hostilities have transitioned into a new phase characterised by positional fighting and a static front line, with the sides achieving occasional, slight territorial gains in some key areas. In December 2023, Ukrainian forces shifted to a more defensive strategy following the conclusion of their most recent counteroffensive. Meanwhile, Russian troops have launched offensive operations near the city of Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region and carried out smaller-scale attacks around the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

Since December 2023, Russia has intensified its aerial assaults on military and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. Between 29 December 2023 and 2 January, Russia launched approximately 500 missiles and drones against Ukraine, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. A 2 January OCHA flash update said that the recent attacks have left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity and water supplies. Additionally, the Surveillance System for Attacks on Health Care, which is monitored by the World Health Organization (WHO), verified at least eight attacks on healthcare facilities across Ukraine during that period. Russian officials have reported several Ukrainian drone strikes on their territory, including in the Belgorod region, which is adjacent to Ukraine’s Kharkiv region.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to reiterate their established positions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Several members—including France, Japan, Malta, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Slovenia, 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.

Tomorrow’s meeting will also serve as an opportunity for the five new elected members—Algeria, Guyana, the ROK, Sierra Leone, and Slovenia—to highlight their main areas of concern regarding the war in Ukraine. Slovenia might announce that it has assumed Albania’s role as co-penholder, alongside the US, on political issues in Ukraine.

Several members—including Japan, the ROK, and the US—may allege that Russia’s attacks have involved weapons supplied by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). During a 4 January press briefing, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby accused the DPRK of providing Russia with ballistic missile launchers and several dozen ballistic missiles. Kirby maintained that Russia used these supplies in its aerial attacks against Ukraine on 30 December 2023 and 2 January. He further claimed that Pyongyang, in return for its military support, “is seeking military assistance from Russia, including fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, armored vehicles, ballistic missile production equipment or materials, and other advanced technologies”. Kirby emphasised that such an exchange would have significant security implications for the Korean Peninsula and the Indo-Pacific region.

In a 4 January press release, US Permanent Representative to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield alleged that Russia’s acquisition and use of weapons from the DPRK is a violation of several Security Council resolutions. Specifically, she referred to “the [UN] arms embargo on the DPRK, which prohibits all UN Member States from procuring arms or related materiel from the DPRK and prohibits the DPRK from exporting arms or related materiel”.

Moscow has not responded to these allegations. When asked about the accusations during a press call, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov reportedly replied with “no comment”. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Permanent Representative to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya  wrote to UN Secretary-General António Guterres on 6 January, urging him to make “full use of all existing instruments within the mandates of the relevant UN agencies” to address Russia’s aerial assaults. In a 4 January speech, Zelenskyy said that ensuring the supply of additional air defence systems and missiles is Ukraine’s “number one priority”. In response to the recent increase in Russian aerial attacks, the NATO-Ukraine Council, a decision-making body that includes Ukraine and was established in July 2023, is scheduled to meet tomorrow (10 January).

At tomorrow’s meeting, members (including Japan, the ROK, and the US, which have sought to strengthen trilateral security cooperation in response to what they perceive as growing nuclear and missile threats from the DPRK), are likely to urge Moscow to abide by its obligations under all relevant Security Council resolutions. At a 27 November 2023 Council briefing on the DPRK, the ROK noted that Russia has voted in favour of all ten substantive DPRK-related sanctions resolutions adopted between 2006 to 2017, including resolution 1718 of 14 October 2006, which established the arms embargo on the country. China and Russia, on the other hand, have blamed the US for heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula and accuse it of not doing enough to incentivise the DPRK to participate in denuclearisation talks.

Some members might also criticise Russia for its alleged military engagement with Iran. At the 4 January press briefing, Kirby accused Russia of attempting to procure close-range ballistic missiles from Iran. Several Council members—including France, Japan, the UK, and the US—have condemned Russia for acquiring and using Iranian uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs), contending that the transfer of these weapons constitutes a violation of Security Council resolution 2231 of 10 July 2015, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Russia is expected to accuse Ukraine of using Western-supplied weapons to target civilian areas in Russia. At Moscow’s request, the Security Council convened for an emergency meeting on 30 December 2023 to discuss an incident that day in which Ukrainian forces allegedly shelled the Russian city of Belgorod, reportedly killing 14 people and injuring at least 100 others.

It appears that Russia has requested a briefing later this month on the issue of Western weapons supplies to Ukraine. Moscow has argued that the provision of Western arms to Kyiv negatively affects the prospects for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. The meeting will be the 11th discussion on this issue since September 2022.

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