What's In Blue

Ukraine: Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (15 March), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The meeting was requested by Ukraine, supported by Slovenia, to discuss the presidential elections that Russia is organising between 15 and 17 March in Crimea and in parts of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine. Ukraine’s letter requesting the meeting, dated 4 March, cited two articles of the UN Charter: Article 34, which allows the Council “to investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute”, and Article 35, which permits any member state to bring to the Council’s attention “any dispute, or any situation of the nature referred to in Article 34”. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is the anticipated briefer at tomorrow’s meeting. Ukraine and other regional states are expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.


The elections that are the focus of tomorrow’s meeting are being held in Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia—four regions that Russia annexed on 30 September 2022 after conducting referendums in them between 23 and 27 September 2022. They are also being held in Crimea, which Russia annexed on 18 March 2014 following a referendum it conducted on 16 March 2014.

Ukraine and many international interlocutors have rejected the validity of the referendums conducted by Russia in the territories that it occupies in Ukraine. These member states have claimed that any actions taken by Russia on the basis of the referendums, including annexation, have no validity and have called on all member states not to recognise any change to the status of the regions. Two draft Security Council resolutions on the matter proposed by Ukraine’s allies on the Council failed to be adopted owing to a veto cast by Russia: a draft text on Crimea tabled by the US on 15 March 2014 and a draft resolution on the four regions tabled by the US and former elected member Albania on 30 September 2022. (For more information, see our 14 March 2014 and 30 September 2022 What’s in Blue stories.)

The UN General Assembly adopted resolution ES-11/4 of 12 October 2022, which condemned Russia for organising “illegal so-called referendums” in the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia regions, while declaring that the referendums “have no validity under international law and do not form the basis for any alteration to the status of these regions of Ukraine”. The resolution received 143 votes in favour, five against (Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Nicaragua, Russia, and Syria), and 35 abstentions. Ten member states did not vote.

Similarly, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 68/262, adopted on 27 March 2014, the General Assembly underscored that the referendum held by Russia in Crimea on 16 March 2014 has “no validity” and called on member states, international organisations, and specialised agencies “not to recognise any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol on the basis of the…referendum and to refrain from any action or dealing that might be interpreted as recognizing any such altered status”.

In September 2023, Russian-installed authorities initiated regional and municipal elections in the Russian-held parts of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions in Ukraine. On 8 September 2023, the Council convened a briefing to discuss the elections at the request of Albania and the US.

Tomorrow’s Meeting

Tomorrow’s Council briefing coincides closely with two important anniversaries: it will be almost exactly a decade since Russia conducted its referendum in Crimea and Sevastopol, and nearly one and a half years since it held referendums in the four regions of eastern and southern Ukraine.

In a national address delivered today (14 March), Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “participating in the election…is a manifestation of patriotism” and that this “is well understood by the residents of Donbass and Novorossiya who, under the most trying circumstances, voted during referendums on unity with Russia and will make their choice now as well”. Ukraine, for its part, has declared Russia’s presidential elections being conducted in Russian-held territories in Ukraine as “null and void”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, DiCarlo is expected to reiterate the UN’s position on the matter. Following the referendums organised by Russia in the four regions of Ukraine in September 2022, Secretary-General António Guterres said that Russia’s annexation has “no legal value”, stressing that Moscow’s escalation “deserves to be condemned…[and] must not be accepted”. Guterres added that “any annexation of a State’s territory by another State resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the Charter and international law”. Tomorrow, DiCarlo may also suggest that Russia’s electoral processes in the occupied areas in Ukraine undermine the prospects for peace.

Several Council members are expected to condemn Russia for conducting the elections in areas of Ukraine currently under its military control. Contending that Russia’s actions demonstrate a blatant disregard for UN Charter principles such as respect for state sovereignty and territorial integrity, these members may refer to General Assembly resolutions 68/262 and ES-11/4, which rejected the validity of Russia’s referendums in Crimea and the four regions in Ukraine, respectively.

These members are likely to recall that, as the occupying power, Russia is obligated under international humanitarian law (IHL) to respect Ukrainian legislation in force in the areas that it occupies. For instance, Article 43 of the Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land states that “[t]he authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country”. As conducting Russian elections contravenes Ukraine’s laws and constitution, some members might contend that organising elections in the occupied regions of Ukraine constitutes a breach of IHL.

Regarding Crimea, some members may refer to a 28 February report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) titled “Ten Years of Occupation by the Russian Federation: Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine”. The report states that by January 2015, Russia “had purported to revoke Ukrainian laws and impose its own legal and administrative systems in Crimea, in violation of the IHL obligation to respect the existing laws of the occupied territory”. Russia has dismissed the report as an “anti-Russia product”, accusing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk of having “departed from the principles of objectivity and impartiality at the core of his office”.

Additionally, some members may question the extent to which Russia’s elections are conducted in a free and fair manner, suggesting that the death of Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Aleksei Navalny on 16 February is proof of Russia’s crackdown on political dissent. At the Council’s 23 February briefing on Ukraine, the US argued that Navalny “was killed for speaking truth to power about the authoritarian rot at the heart of Russia’s government”. On the same day, the US Department of State announced sanctions on three individuals allegedly linked to Navalny’s death.

Russia is expected to argue that the referendums conducted in Crimea in March 2014 and in the four regions in eastern and southern Ukraine in September 2022 represented an expression of popular will. It is also likely to portray its presidential elections in Russian-held territories in Ukraine as a legitimate democratic procedure and to imply that they adhere to international electoral standards.

Russia may also accuse Ukraine and other countries of attempting to interfere in its presidential elections. At a press briefing yesterday, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova alleged that “unfriendly countries…are doing all they can to prevent [Russian] citizens from exercising their civic right to vote and to influence the situation inside Russia during the current elections”.

On 12 March, three anti-Kremlin militia groups reportedly crossed the border into Russia’s Belgorod and Kursk regions, in what Putin described during a 13 March interview as an attempt to “disrupt the elections in Russia” and to “hinder the normal course of citizens’ expressing their will”. On 13 March, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that its troops “thwarted” the armed incursion.

Moreover, on 12 and 13 March, Ukraine conducted large-scale drone strikes deep within Russian territory on military assets and energy infrastructure, including oil refineries. According to media reports, the facilities targeted by the attacks represent approximately 12 percent of Russia’s oil-processing capacity. Putin reportedly characterised the assault as further evidence of attempts to disrupt the elections.

Tomorrow’s briefing will be the third Ukraine-related meeting this month. On 8 March, Ukraine, supported by Ecuador, France, and the UK, requested a briefing to discuss intensified Russian missile attacks earlier this month, including a lethal strike on 6 March in the city of Odesa during a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. This morning, Council members held a meeting under “any other business” at Russia’s request to discuss developments pertaining to the domestic investigations conducted by Denmark, Sweden, and Germany into the 26 September 2022 explosions that caused physical damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. In a press stakeout following the meeting, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy stressed that Russia “reserve[s] the right to renew the efforts to bring about an international investigation of Nord Stream sabotage and to come forward with relevant proposals”.

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