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Actions speak louder than words: UN to step up on Ukraine crisis

FILE PHOTO: The sun shines behind the United Nations Secretariat Building at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York City, New York, U.S., June 18, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

At the invitation of the United States, the United Nations Security Council will meet in public on Monday to examine Russia’s troop build-up on the Ukrainian border, as international diplomacy aimed at calming tensions goes to the world body in New York.

The news: The U.S. views the 15-member body’s meeting as an opportunity for Russia to explain itself, while Russia has indicated that it may try to prevent it. The summit requires nine votes to proceed, and Washington is “confident” it has enough backing.

  • However, except from giving all members the opportunity to express themselves openly, the council will take no action – even if Russia invades Ukraine. A simple statement requires unanimous backing, and Russia has the ability to reject any resolution proposal.
  • Along with the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and China, Russia is one of five permanent veto-wielding nations on the council.
  • The United Nations Security Council is responsible for ensuring international peace and security.
  • Russia will take over the rotating chairmanship of the council for February one day after the meeting.

What’s important: Diplomacy and action at the United Nations are likely to replicate what happened in 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, according to diplomats and foreign policy scholars.

  • Since then, the Security Council has met dozens of times to discuss the situation. It voted in March 2014 on a resolution drafted by the United States opposing a referendum on Crimea’s status and urged countries not to recognise it. It earned 13 yes votes, with China abstaining and Russia exercising its veto.
  • Western countries subsequently took a similar text to the 193-member United Nations General Assembly, which voted a resolution declaring the referendum illegitimate in order to show Russia’s worldwide isolation. It earned 100 yes votes, 11 no votes, and 58 abstentions, while two dozen countries did not vote.
  • Resolutions of the General Assembly have political clout but are not legally obligatory. Unlike the Security Council, the General Assembly has no veto power.
  • So far, Western diplomacy at the United Nations during the recent military build-up has mostly centred on accusing Russia of breaching the United Nations Charter in order to mobilise support if they need it.
  • The United Nations Charter is the foundation text of the organisation, describing the goals and values that were agreed upon in 1945.

What they’re saying: “Russia’s actions toward Ukraine are not only a regional issue,” U.S. President Joe Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told reporters last week.

  • “They impact every U.N. member state, and we must be prepared to stand together in unity and solidarity should Russia defy the shared values and principles that undergird our international system,” she said.

What’s next: On Tuesday, Russia assumes the rotating presidency of the Security Council for the month of February. Although this is primarily an administrative job, it does entail meeting scheduling, thus some diplomats warn that Russia might stymie any attempts by council members to request further discussion on Russia’s activities.

  • According to diplomats, the council is scheduled to debate Ukraine on Feb 17. It is a regularly planned meeting on the Minsk agreements, which were supported by the council in 2015 and are aimed at ending a separatist struggle in eastern Ukraine involving Russian-speaking people.
  • On Feb 23, the General Assembly will undertake its annual debate on “the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.”
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