A country led by an accused war criminal is now in charge of the United Nations Security Council this month. Hard as it is to believe, it’s Russia’s turn to assume presidency of the powerful council – which is charged with maintaining global peace and security.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described Russia assuming the council presidency on April 1 as its brutal invasion of Ukraine stretches into a second year as “the world’s worst April Fool’s joke.”
“The country which systematically violates all fundamental rules of international security is presiding over a body whose only mission is to safeguard and protect international security,” Kuleba said.
Presidency of the security council rotates alphabetically among its 15 member nations. The body is controlled by its five permanent members, including the US and Russia.
The UN diplomatic corps is well aware of the public skepticism about Russia leading the council while its troops occupy parts of Ukraine, a fellow UN member country. Few remember that Russia was last president of the council in February 2022 – during the run-up to its invasion of Ukraine.
A Security Council president is supposed to stay neutral. But in its new role, Russia can maneuver meetings on Ukraine and use the month to portray the US and other Western countries as making false accusations against Russia.
Adding to discomfort over Russia’s new role is the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin last month became the first head of state of a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to be issued with an arrest warrant, over an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia. Moscow has defended the practice as saving them while denying that the deportations are forced.
“It does seem rather grotesque … it makes the Council look bad,” International Crisis Group UN head Richard Gowan said of Russia taking the presidency.
Still, Russia backers here at UNHQ meanwhile say they see historic parallels to the current situation, pointing out that the US, a permanent member of the Security Council, invaded Iraq in 2003 without the council’s approval.
At the end of the day, the problem “is not the Russian Presidency. It’s Russian behavior in Ukraine,” a Security Council diplomat told CNN.
Over the past year, Ukraine has questioned whether Russia has a right to its permanent seat at the council at all, pointing out at public meetings that Moscow received the chair of the former Soviet Union without any vote in the early 1990s.
But is it possible to boot Russia off the Council or even the entire UN over its actions in Ukraine?
The UN charter, the foundation of the organization, does not make it easy to eliminate a permanent member of the Council. A Russian veto can easily keep its representatives at the council’s horseshoe table forever.
“A country that flagrantly violates the UN charter and invades their smaller neighbor has no place on the UN Security Council. Unfortunately Russia is a permanent member of the Council and no international legal pathway exists to change that reality,” a spokesperson for the US Mission to the UN told CNN.
All that can be done in the austere body really is to challenge what Russia says there – something that the US has vowed to do. “We continue to call out their lies and bring credible voices, data and facts on the ground,” the US spokesperson said.
The longer the war drags on, the more Russia’s position at the UN may come under pressure. But like many of the meetings here, rhetoric is the major weapon.