What's In Blue

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

Tomorrow morning (22 March), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item. Russia requested the meeting to discuss the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu and political analyst Matthew Hoh are the anticipated briefers. Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Tomorrow’s briefing will be the twelfth 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 aim of promoting Russia’s strategic defeat.

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 15 January, the total military support pledged by Kyiv’s allies since Russia’s invasion amounted to nearly $118 billion. This includes commitments to supply heavy conventional weapons such 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 committed approximately $46 billion in military assistance since February 2022. Additional US assistance to Ukraine has been stalled in Congress for several months. US House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson has delayed scheduling a vote on a $95 billion funding package, which includes $60 billion designated for military support to Ukraine. This package was approved by the US Senate on 13 February. House of Representatives Democrats have begun gathering signatures for a discharge petition. This procedure could circumvent the House leadership, allowing them to bring the proposed legislation directly to a House vote.

Meanwhile, the EU is considering the transfer to Ukraine of approximately three billion euros, representing profits from Russian assets, amounting to approximately $300 billion, which have been frozen by Western sanctions. Roughly 180 billion euros of this total are reportedly held at the securities depository Euroclear in Brussels. Initially, the EU contemplated using the principal sum to support Ukraine, but this plan met with scepticism from several member states, including Germany, due to legal concerns regarding the funds’ ownership. The EU, in turn, shifted its strategy to propose the allocation of only the profits generated from the frozen assets.

Although the initial plan involved allocating a portion of the profits for Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction, the focus has shifted towards providing military support. On 19 March,  EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell recommended allocating 90 percent of these profits for Ukraine’s arms supplies. The proposal is set to be discussed at the EU summit taking place today and tomorrow (21-22 March).

At tomorrow’s briefing, Nakamitsu is likely to note that the influx of weapons in any armed conflict can create risks of escalation and diversion. She 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. Nakamitsu 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. 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.) Beyond the matter of weapons supplies, Nakamitsu 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.

Hoh is expected to share his view on the conflict in Ukraine. In a 5 February interview, he said that while Russia may have “achieved limited territorial objectives”, Moscow “erred strategically” in invading Ukraine, in part because it drove a “renewed purpose” for NATO. Since Hoh argues that the front lines are unlikely to drastically change in the coming years, he may question the need for continued hostilities, arguing in favour of a ceasefire.

Tomorrow, Council members are likely to reiterate their established positions on the issue of weapons supplies to Ukraine. Russia is expected to repeat its assertion that by sending weapons to Ukraine, Kyiv’s NATO allies are breaching international commitments, including the ATT. It is also likely to accuse Ukraine of using Western-supplied weapons to target civilian areas in Russia. At the Council’s 8 March briefing on Ukraine, Russia accused Czechia of bearing “direct responsibility for the deaths of civilians in Russian cities” for providing Ukraine with Czech-made Vampire multiple launch rocket systems. Russia may also criticise efforts to use its confiscated assets to support Ukraine in any capacity. During a 2 March press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that Russia would “definitely respond” to and “mirror” such a move, noting that Russia possesses Western funds that were frozen by Moscow in 2022.

Some Council members may raise concerns about the alleged 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 for use against Ukraine in violation of Security Council resolutions.

In addition, several members are expected to condemn Russia’s intensified missile attacks across Ukraine. According to a 20 March OCHA humanitarian impact situation report, Ukraine has experienced a series of lethal attacks across the country over the past two weeks, resulting in the killing and injury of dozens of civilians and extensive damage to civilian and critical infrastructure. Increased hostilities, particularly in frontline areas bordering Russia such as the Sumy region, have triggered new waves of displacement, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis. Attacks have also affected health facilities and personnel. This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 39 casualties, including five deaths of medical patients and personnel, stemming from 56 attacks on health care facilities.

Some members may also note the findings of the 20 March report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which describes the human rights situation in Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia. Covering the period from 24 February 2022 to 31 December 2023, the report states that Russian authorities in occupied territories implemented a series of measures in violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL), with “the cumulative effect of creating a pervasive climate of fear that permeated the lives of residents of occupied territory”. This includes the use of violence and repression by Russian forces during the initial stages of occupation and implementation of “fundamental changes to the society and its governance, in direct violation of IHL provisions that require the occupying Power to minimize changes to the status quo ante”.

Several members are expected to call for intensified diplomatic efforts aimed at achieving a negotiated settlement to the war. In this regard, some may reiterate calls for the Security Council to prioritise the use of mediation mechanisms, as stipulated in the UN Charter. Members are likely to propose diverging visions of an appropriate framework for achieving a peaceful solution. (For more information on Council dynamics on this issue, see the brief on Ukraine in our February 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

Some Council members may commend Switzerland for offering to host a “Ukraine peace conference” by the summer. Russia has voiced objections to the initiative, however, pointing out its exclusion from the event. Several Council members have suggested that any efforts towards peace should involve Moscow, emphasising the need to address the legitimate security concerns of all involved parties. On 18 March, China indicated its willingness to consider attending the Ukraine peace conference, although during the Council’s 8 March briefing on Ukraine, it advocated for an international peace conference that both Russia and Ukraine recognise, which would ensure equal participation of all parties and fair discussions of all peace proposals. Next month, Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing and with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

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