What's In Blue

Posted Sun 21 Jan 2024

Ukraine: Meeting under the “Threats to International Peace and Security” Agenda Item

Tomorrow morning (22 January), 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 is the anticipated briefer. Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Tomorrow’s briefing will be the eleventh meeting requested by Russia on the issue of Western arms supplies to Ukraine since the start of the war on 24 February 2022. Russia has initiated these meetings to express its view that the provision of weapons to Ukraine is contributing to the escalation of hostilities and undermining efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement to the conflict. Moscow has accused western governments of waging a proxy war in Ukraine with the ultimate aim of weakening Russia. It has also asserted that by sending weapons to Ukraine, Kyiv’s NATO allies are breaching international commitments, including the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). (The ATT is a multilateral treaty that regulates international trade in conventional arms. It requires state parties to assess the risk of exported weapons being used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law.)

On the other hand, Ukraine’s allies have maintained that their provision of military assistance, including weapons, is intended to support Ukraine’s fundamental right to self-defence, in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter. These countries argue that Russia bears full responsibility for resolving the conflict, which could be achieved by withdrawing its troops from Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders. As at 31 October 2023, Kyiv’s allies had supplied approximately $100 billion in military aid to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion of the country. This includes the provision of such heavy conventional weapons as tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery systems, and uncrewed combat aerial vehicles, in addition to small arms and light weapons.

The US remains the largest military donor to Ukraine, having contributed approximately $44 billion since February 2022. However, further US assistance to Ukraine has been stalled in Congress, with Republicans in the US House of Representatives demanding increased border security measures on the US’ southern border and more stringent protocols regarding asylum and parole in exchange for supporting aid to Ukraine.

In October 2023, US President Joe Biden appealed to the US Congress to endorse a $106 billion emergency aid package for Israel, Ukraine, and the southern US border. This included $61.4 billion earmarked for Ukraine, with $44.4 billion intended for the provision of defence equipment in 2024. On 26 October 2023, however, House Speaker Mike Johnson said that the consensus among the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives is that funding requests for Ukraine and Israel should be addressed separately. On 6 December 2023, Republicans in the US Senate blocked a supplemental funding bill that included financial aid for Ukraine, insisting on stricter border regulation in exchange for their support.

On 17 January, Biden hosted Johnson and other congressional leaders at the White House to discuss his emergency aid proposal. Prior to the meeting, Johnson held a press conference, in which he emphasised the need for clarity over the long-term US strategy and objectives in Ukraine and how the US intends to ensure accountability for the provided funds.

Meanwhile, EU aid to Ukraine also remains deadlocked. During the final summit of EU leaders in Brussels on 14 and 15 December 2023, Hungary vetoed a proposal for the bloc to provide 50 billion euros to Ukraine through 2027. This veto came shortly after the EU agreed to initiate membership talks with Ukraine. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán left the room during the vote, effectively abstaining from the decision. EU leaders are expected to meet in Brussels on 1 February to reconsider granting Ukraine new financial aid.

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 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.) Beyond the matter of weapons supplies, Ebo might also focus on how these weapons are being used, underscoring the responsibility of all conflict parties to protect civilians and avoid targeting civilian infrastructure in the conduct of military operations.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to reiterate their established positions on the issue of weapons supplies to Ukraine. Several members may raise concerns about the growing military cooperation between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Russia. In this regard, they might accuse the DPRK of providing Russia with ballistic missiles that it has used to target Ukraine in violation of Security Council resolutions. On 6 January, the US, together with 49 other UN member states and the High Representative of the EU, issued a joint statement condemning the export of ballistic missiles to Russia by the DPRK. During a 10 January Council briefing on Ukraine, several members—Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Slovenia, the UK, and the US—expressed concern over Russia’s alleged use of ballistic missiles from the DPRK in Ukraine. Russia rejected claims that it used ballistic missiles provided by the DPRK and accused the US of spreading misinformation. (For background, see our 9 January What’s in Blue story.)

Tomorrow, Russia is likely to reference an incident that occurred today (21 January), in which Ukrainian forces allegedly shelled the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, reportedly killing 25 people and injuring at least 20 others. At the time of writing, Ukraine has not yet commented on the incident.

Several members are expected to call for intensified diplomatic efforts aimed at achieving a negotiated settlement to the war. In this regard, some members might welcome the most recent meeting of national security advisors and foreign policy department political directors to discuss fundamental principles for restoring peace in Ukraine, which took place in Davos, Switzerland, on 14 January. The meeting, the fourth of its kind, focused on advancing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s peace formula. It followed previous meetings on 24 June 2023 in Copenhagen, Denmark; on 5 and 6 August 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and on 28 and 29 October 2023 in Valletta, Malta. In a 16 January commentary, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova criticised the initiative, labelling it as “meaningless and harmful” to the resolution of the conflict. She argued that discussing potential solutions to the crisis without including Russia and disregarding Russia’s “legitimate security interests” is futile.

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