Securirty Council report on the situation of Ukraine (01/04/2023)
Ukraine-1 April 2023
Expected Council Action
In April, the Security Council may hold one or more meetings on the situation in Ukraine, depending on developments on the ground.
Key Recent Developments
Hostilities remain concentrated in Ukraine’s eastern region. In recent weeks, the intensity of Russian offensive operations near the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region appears to have subsided. In a 25 March intelligence update (1), the UK’s Ministry of Defence said that Russia’s efforts in Bakhmut have “largely stalled” because of “extreme attrition”. The update suggested that Russia is shifting its operational focus towards the city of Avdiivka in Donetsk and along the Svatove-Kreminna line in the Luhansk region.
Meanwhile, Russia has continued to launch air and missile assaults targeting civilian infrastructure across Ukraine, triggering blackouts and a reduction in water supplies throughout the country. On 9 March, Russia launched one of its biggest waves of missile attacks since the start of the war, killing at least nine civilians and temporarily cutting off power to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
The Security Council remains actively engaged on the situation in Ukraine. On 14 March, the Council held a briefing requested by Russia to discuss “Russophobia as a factor which complicates the prospects to find a lasting solution” under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item. On 17 March, the Council convened for a humanitarian briefing at the request of Ecuador and France, the co-penholders on humanitarian issues in Ukraine. The Council also held a briefing on 31 March at Ukraine’s request following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement on 25 March that Moscow intends to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
On 27 March, Russia tabled a Security Council draft resolution on the 26 September 2022 explosions that caused physical damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea. The draft resolution requested the Secretary-General to establish an international commission to conduct an investigation into the incident. The draft text failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite support. It received three votes in favour (Brazil, China, and Russia) and 12 abstentions. The draft text was co-sponsored by Belarus, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Eritrea, Nicaragua, Syria, and Venezuela.
On 17 March, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued (2) arrest warrants for Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, for allegedly committing the war crime of “unlawful deportation” and “unlawful transfer” of children from Ukraine to Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the ICC’s decision “historic”, stressing that over 16,000 cases of forced deportation of Ukrainian children have been documented by Ukrainian law enforcement officers.
Russia signed the Rome Statute of the ICC in 2000, but withdrew its signature in November 2016 after the court classified the 2014 conflict in eastern Ukraine as an “international armed conflict” and ruled that Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 amounted to a “state of occupation”. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused the ICC of being “openly biased, unprofessional, corrupt and addicted to double standards” during a 23 March press briefing, and described its recent arrest warrants as “null and void” at a 16 March press briefing. Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia announced at a 20 March press conference that Russia intends to organise an Arria-formula meeting on “the Ukrainian children in Russia” in early April.
After weeks of intense negotiations, Türkiye, Russia, and Ukraine agreed to an extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI). However, the parties have offered different interpretations of the agreed duration of the extension. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister for Restoration and Minister for Communities, Territories Development and Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov announced in an 18 March tweet that the BSGI has been extended for 120 days. In a tweet later that day, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy posted a picture of a letter notifying the UN of Russia’s intention to renew the initiative for 60 days, with further extensions “subject to tangible progress in the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding” between Russia and the UN to facilitate unimpeded exports of Russian food and fertilisers to global markets.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 15 March, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine submitted a report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) detailing the results of its investigation. The report found that Russia committed “a wide range of violations” of international human rights law (IHRL) and international humanitarian law (IHL) in many regions of Ukraine and in Russia, and that many of these violations amount to war crimes, including “wilful killings, attacks on civilians, unlawful confinement, torture, rape, and forced transfers and deportations of children”.
On 24 March, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published the 35th periodic report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, covering the period from 1 August 2022 to 31 January, which found that the war in Ukraine “has led to a wide range of human rights violations affecting both civilians and combatants”. In a 24 March thematic report titled “Treatment of prisoners of war and persons hors de combat in the context of the armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine”, OHCHR identified patterns of IHL and IHRL violations in relation to the treatment of prisoners of war by both Russia and Ukraine. Both reports are expected to be discussed by High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk at the HRC interactive dialogue on 31 March.
Women, Peace and Security
According to a 13 February update by the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), while women are at the forefront of the emergency response to the situation in Ukraine, across 46 separate Council meetings on Ukraine, “fewer than 1% of all references to women in Ukraine made by Council members acknowledged women’s role in peace, political or humanitarian efforts”. The update further stresses that in 2022, Council members made no references to the importance of women human rights defenders and peacebuilders in Ukraine and their safety and security, despite the fact that members dedicated considerable attention to this issue during thematic meetings on WPS in the past year.
Key Issues and Options
The overarching priority for the Council is to promote a solution to the conflict in line with the UN Charter and to see dialogue facilitated among the parties to that end. Council members may wish to request the Secretary-General to employ his good offices to promote the resumption of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in pursuit of a peace agreement. While a negotiated settlement may appear distant, establishing diplomatic lines of communication between the parties may contribute to preventing further escalation of the conflict.
A key issue for the Council is how to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Hostilities have resulted in a severe deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, especially in Bakhmut and Avdiivka. According to a 24 March OCHA humanitarian response flash update, humanitarian access to Avdiivka has become “extremely challenging” because of the ongoing fighting. Periodic briefings from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths or other OCHA officials could help keep the Council informed of the humanitarian situation on the ground.
Another important issue for the Council is how to promote the safety and security of nuclear facilities in Ukraine. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi has continued efforts to ensure nuclear safety and security at the ZNPP. On 30 March, the IAEA issued an update acknowledging that the “initial proposal to establish a [protection] zone around the plant” had evolved to “now focus more on what should be avoided to ensure its protection, rather than on territorial aspects”. Council members may consider requesting a briefing from Grossi on this matter.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The Security Council remains starkly divided on the situation in Ukraine. Russia continues to justify its invasion, which it refers to as a “special military operation”, while several Council members—including Albania, Ecuador, France, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UK, and the US—condemn Russia for what they consider to be an act of aggression.
Ukraine and its allies have advocated for a just peace in line with the UN Charter, conditioned on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine’s internationally recognised borders. Other member states have called for an immediate cessation of hostilities without any preconditions, which could freeze the frontlines of the conflict, resulting in Russia seizing a significant amount of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine. On 24 February, China released a 12-point position paper on a political settlement to the war in Ukraine. The paper included calls for respecting the sovereignty of all countries, ceasing hostilities, and resuming peace talks, but did not mention Russia’s military withdrawal from Ukraine. Zelenskyy welcomed Beijing’s initiative during a press conference on 24 February, but stressed that “if the principle of respect for territorial integrity does not provide for the withdrawal of all Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine, then this does not suit our state”.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow from 20 to 22 March, demonstrating China’s commitment to deepening its relationship with Russia. On 21 March, Putin and Xi issued a joint statement acknowledging that the provisions of China’s position paper “are consonant with Russian approaches and can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement when the West and Kiev are ready for it”. A joint statement (3) on 22 March also acknowledged that Russia “speaks positively of China’s objective and impartial position on the Ukraine issue” and “welcomes China’s willingness to play a positive role” in finding a political and diplomatic settlement to the war. However, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby argued at a 21 March press briefing that China cannot be seen “as impartial in any way” since it has not condemned Russia’s invasion nor stopped buying Russian oil and Russian energy.
(1) Russia’s assault on the Donbas town of Bakhmut has largely stalled. This is likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian force. Ukraine has also suffered heavy casualties during its defence. The Russian situation has also likely been made worse by tensions between the Russian Ministry of Defence and Wagner Group, both of whom contribute troops in the sector. Russia has likely shifted its operational focus towards Avdiivka, south of Bakhmut, and to the Kremina-Svatove sector in the north, areas where Russia likely only aspires to stabilise its front line.This suggests an overall return to a more defensive operational design after inconclusive results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January 2023. (Ministry of Defence UK)
(2) Today, 17 March 2023, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “the Court”) issued warrants of arrest for two individuals in the context of the situation in Ukraine: Mr Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Ms Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova.
Mr Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, born on 7 October 1952, President of the Russian Federation, is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation (under articles 8(2)(a)(vii) and 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute). The crimes were allegedly committed in Ukrainian occupied territory at least from 24 February 2022. There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes, (i) for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others (article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute), and (ii) for his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission, and who were under his effective authority and control, pursuant to superior responsibility (article 28(b) of the Rome Statute).
Ms Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, born on 25 October 1984, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation (under articles 8(2)(a)(vii) and 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute). The crimes were allegedly committed in Ukrainian occupied territory at least from 24 February 2022. There are reasonable grounds to believe that Ms Lvova-Belova bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes, for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others (article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute).
Pre-Trial Chamber II considered, based on the Prosecution’s applications of 22 February 2023, that there are reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.
The Chamber considered that the warrants are secret in order to protect victims and witnesses and also to safeguard the investigation. Nevertheless, mindful that the conduct addressed in the present situation is allegedly ongoing, and that the public awareness of the warrants may contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes, the Chamber considered that it is in the interests of justice to authorise the Registry to publicly disclose the existence of the warrants, the name of the suspects, the crimes for which the warrants are issued, and the modes of liability as established by the Chamber.
The abovementioned warrants of arrests were issued pursuant to the applications submitted by the Prosecution on 22 February 2023.
(3) President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin Sign Joint Statement of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on Deepening the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination for the New Era and Stress Settling the Ukraine Crisis Through Dialogue
On the afternoon of 21 March local time, President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin jointly signed and released the Joint Statement of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation on Deepening the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Coordination for the New Era at the Kremlin in Moscow.
On the Ukraine issue, the two sides believe that the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter must be observed and international law must be respected. The Russian side speaks positively of China’s objective and impartial position on the Ukraine issue. The two sides oppose the practice by any country or group of countries to seek advantages in the military, political and other areas to the detriment of the legitimate security interests of other countries. The Russian side reaffirms its commitment to the resumption of peace talks as soon as possible, which China appreciates. The Russian side welcomes China’s willingness to play a positive role for the political and diplomatic settlement of the Ukraine crisis and welcomes the constructive proposals set forth in China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis. The two sides point out that to settle the Ukraine crisis, the legitimate security concerns of all countries must be respected, bloc confrontation should be prevented and fanning the flames avoided. The two sides stress that responsible dialogue is the best way for appropriate solutions. To this end, the international community should provide support to the relevant constructive efforts. The two sides call for stopping all moves that lead to tensions and the protraction of fighting to prevent the crisis from getting worse or even out of control. The two sides oppose any unilateral sanctions unauthorized by the UN Security Council.
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