Riga It has been more than a year since Russian tanks rolled across the border into Ukraine on February 24, 2022 – at the same time that the United Nations (UN) Security Council, the highest security body in the world, was meeting in New York under the Russian chairmanship. This Saturday, the Russian Federation will take over the presidency again for a month.
According to the United Nations Charter, the Security Council bears “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security”. However, experts fear that Russia will instead use the regular one-month presidency as an opportunity to advance its own national interests.
The UN has always been criticized for allowing the five permanent members of the Security Council – China, France, Great Britain, Russia and the USA – to use their veto power to block decisions that stand in the way of their own interests.
Many critics see the fact that Russia, a state now presiding over whose president there is now an international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes, as a new level of absurdity.
Yale economics professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld recently wrote that Russian President Vladimir Putin should simply not be allowed to “poke fun at international diplomacy by becoming the face of world peace while promoting his unjust invasion of of Ukraine escalated daily with new attacks”. The potential damage can hardly be overestimated.
“Russia will not let the presidency go to waste”
Normally, the chair is “rather a formal matter,” says Manuela Scheuermann, Professor of International Relations at the University of Würzburg and Deputy Chair of the German Society for the United Nations. The presidency includes, for example, chairing the meetings, deciding when they begin and ending, as well as having authority over the agenda and which drafts are discussed.
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“But Russia will not let the presidency go to waste,” Scheuermann is convinced. Sebastian Hoppe, Russia expert at the Institute for Eastern European Studies at Freie Universität Berlin, points out that during this period Russia has more opportunities to put certain topics on the agenda – “and thus also to have a say in what is discussed in the media”.
Scheuermann therefore sees the presidency primarily as a stage for the Kremlin to make its narrative of the war heard. For example, Russia could invite more speakers who support its own point of view.
In addition, the president appointed by the council member can simply end the meeting if the issues are unpleasant. In addition, Scheuermann does not rule out that Russia will introduce its own resolution on the war in Ukraine in order to falsely portray Ukraine as an aggressor.
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The presidency of the Security Council rotates every month, in alphabetical order of member and observer states. The English designation of the countries is used. In addition to the five permanent members, there are ten non-permanent members, currently including Albania, the United Arab Emirates and Ecuador. Up to and including Friday, Mozambique will still hold the presidency. In contrast to the permanent members, the non-permanent member states have no right of veto.
The President has an important role to play in this. In April, this office was held by the Russian diplomat Wassili Nebensja. The 61-year-old is a graduate of Russia’s diplomatic academy MGIMO. From 2013 to 2016 he was Russia’s deputy foreign minister and since 2017 he has been ambassador to the United Nations. Nebensja is considered a hardliner, known for verbal attacks.
Council reform seems premature
Russia expert Hoppe recalls Russia’s last presidency in February 2022. “In the run-up to the attack, Russia used the presidency of the UN Security Council in a very targeted manner to create anti-Ukraine sentiment,” explains the scientist. Hoppe assumes that Russia will use the presidency in April, among other things, to “speak out against the sanctions in some way”.
For him, the situation also highlights a fundamental problem facing the United Nations. “The situation is of course absurd: while the UN General Assembly condemns the Russian attack with a large majority, the aggressor state is chairing the Security Council,” says Hoppe.
However, he does not consider a reform of the Council to be promising at this point in time. In the long term, a redesign should be considered, but “now is not the right moment,” says Hoppe. If Russia were now excluded, the government could use that to stir up anti-West sentiment, he says.
Even so, the Council remains an important instrument for Moscow. Russia is looking “exactly at what power options it still has at the international level,” explains the researcher. “The levers are fading, but the seat and now the presidency of the Security Council is one of them.”
In order to deprive Russia of this leverage, the NGO Atlas is currently calling for the “UN Boycott Russia” campaign. The goal: Russia should have no room for maneuver during the presidency. To do this, at least seven of the 15 members would have to boycott the Security Council throughout April, which would make decisions on many issues impossible.
UN expert Scheuermann sees the initiative as a way of taking the stage from Russia, “and that’s exactly what the country is about.” It is questionable whether enough states will join.
The Security Council repeatedly becomes a sideshow in the Ukraine war. Only on Monday did Russia fail with its resolution to investigate the explosions on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 Baltic Sea pipelines because too many countries had abstained.
The decision would have called on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to launch an independent international investigation into the alleged act of sabotage. Many states considered the application to be politically motivated. On Sunday, Kiev called for an extraordinary UN Security Council meeting in response to Putin’s announcement that it would station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
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