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i24NEWS | Ukraine, Middle East, weapons: What to expect from Russia's UNSC presidency

This article was originally published in i24NEWS. You can read it here

Mike Wagenheim and Anna MikhailovaApril

i24NEWS Senior U.S. Correspondent & i24NEWS Web Journalist

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzia, president of the Security Council for the month of April, speaks at a press conference at the United Nations in New York, U.S.
BRYAN R. SMITH / AFPRussian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzia, president of the Security Council for the month of April, speaks at a press conference at the United Nations in New York, U.S.

The longer the war drags on, the more Russia’s position at the UN may come under pressure

Russia’s assuming the rotating presidency of the Security Council in April has been eliciting a range of reactions from academics, UN experts and others. Some are suggesting, for starters, that the country must be kicked out of the body for violating the UN Charter in its illegal war in Ukraine, or at least be boycotted by the 14 other Council members during April.

Western allies in the Council considered such a plan among themselves but decided against it as it could lead to other members openly criticizing the boycotting countries. Ukraine is planning not to attend Council meetings in April, if possible. Russia in turn said that it will not recuse itself from discussions concerning Ukraine because the Council also contains three permanent members who are directly involved in that situation. 

The longer the war drags on, the more Russia’s position at the UN may come under pressure

Russia’s assuming the rotating presidency of the Security Council in April has been eliciting a range of reactions from academics, UN experts and others. Some are suggesting, for starters, that the country must be kicked out of the body for violating the UN Charter in its illegal war in Ukraine, or at least be boycotted by the 14 other Council members during April.

Western allies in the Council considered such a plan among themselves but decided against it as it could lead to other members openly criticizing the boycotting countries. Ukraine is planning not to attend Council meetings in April, if possible. Russia in turn said that it will not recuse itself from discussions concerning Ukraine because the Council also contains three permanent members who are directly involved in that situation. 

But what's even more eyebrow-raising given the context of the ongoing war unleashed by Russia is that another open debate on April 24 that will be chaired by Lavrov is titled "Maintenance of international peace and security: Effective multilateralism through the defense of the principles of the UN Charter."

In the press briefing on March 31, a reporter asked the deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq whether Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterreswill speak at that event.

“One should not be surprised to see the Secretary-General attend that event as he does for each presidency when there is a keynote or highlighted event, the Secretary-General often participates,” Haq responded. 

Last Wednesday, a civil-society group Atlas Movement called on Council members to also boycott the body, saying, “if 7 out of 15 Security Council member states join the boycott, Russia won’t be able to get anything passed.” The group even organized a protest of Russia’s Council presidency in front of 10 Downing Street, the British prime minister’s base in London.

"It's hard to imagine anything that proves more the total bankruptcy of such institutions," Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said, commenting on Russia assuming the UNSC presidency.

Nebenzia held a press briefing on Monday to explain his country’s objectives in the Council for the month and reject accusations over Moscow's possible abuse of its role.

"We do not abuse the prerogatives of the presidency," he assured. 

"One thing is a national position. The second thing is the role of the presidency of the Security Council, which we cherish." 

The envoy also claimed that Russia's goal regarding the meeting on the deported Ukrainian children was "to dispel some misgivings and propaganda over that issue" and not to promote Moscow's narrative. However, many UNSC members remain skeptical. The United States urged Russia to conduct itself "professionally," pointing out that there were no legal means to block Moscow from assuming the post.

"We expect that they will behave professionally ... But we also expect that they will use their seat to spread disinformation and to promote their own agendas as it relates to Ukraine, And we will stand ready to call them out at every single moment that they attempt, to do that," the U.S. ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on Monday. 

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 U.S. and other Western countries as making false accusations against Russia.

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.

Even beyond its symbolic value; the Presidency of the UN Security Council carries very real institutional power within the organizational, chairing all discussions, applying the rules, controlling the docket, schedule, and credentialing for all debates, and managing all draft resolutions. And Russia has proven adept in the past at abusing the vast procedural power of the Security Council Presidency.

For example, in the weeks leading up to the invasion, Moscow abused its Presidency to anoint pro-Russian stooges as “Ukrainian civil society activists” at Security Council meetings, ostensibly speaking on behalf of Ukrainian civil society, and legitimized by bearing the ostensible institutional imprimatur of the UN. Their disinformation about the “evil Ukrainian regime” and their own “peaceful intentions” were supposed to confuse other countries and erode the efforts of the Ukrainian delegation to build international support for last-ditch peace efforts within the insular halls of the UN.

In the weeks before the invasion, Russia also manipulated the rules of the UN to force unprecedented institutional condemnation of economic sanctions, which escaped notice in the west but which was happily spread far and wide by the Kremlin, especially to third world countries. Russia was apparently thinking two steps ahead – when the invasion broke out in late February, Russian propagandists were quick to build on these discussions as a cudgel to erode the legitimacy of the western coalition in the eyes of developing nations.

Although in recent months they spent hours on air explaining to the Russian audience that international institutions are being manipulated by the hostile West and their jurisdiction doesn't mean much for Moscow, the tone has changed since Russia took over the UNSC presidency. Shortly before assuming the role, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a new declaration of the county's foreign policy.

The document states that the "humanity is going through an era of revolutionary changes" and the "formation of a more just, multipolar world continues." With the international panel once created to maintain world peace now being headed by the country that has launched the bloodiest land conflict in Europe since World War II, the plea for justice and changes might receive more support than expected. 

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