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Le Monde | Russian presidency of UN Security Council reignites calls for reform

This article was originally published on Le Monde. You can read it in English and French.

The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia. April 3, 2023, New York.

Russia, a country condemned for violating the United Nations Charter because it invaded Ukraine, officially took over the reins of the UN Security Council on Monday, April 3. The presidency rotates every 15 months in accordance with the rules of international law. But for some, Russia taking on the role is one absurdity too many. Particularly at a time when calls for an overhaul of multilateral institutions have become frequent, due, in part, to Moscow's undermining of UN institutions.

The change also gives Russia a symbolically more important voice, just as the Kremlin has officially presented its new foreign policy doctrine, with virulent charges against the West. Condemned twice by two-thirds of UN member countries for its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia is the first country with a president who is the subject of an arrest warrant for "war crimes" to take the helm of the main body guaranteeing the maintenance of international peace and security. It's a criticism that Vassuku Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador to the UN, brushed aside during the monthly program presentation to the press on Monday, since according to Russia, the decision of the International Criminal Court is "illegal."

Russia's presidency of the Security Council has caused a stir. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called it a "bad [April fool's] joke." "The Russian presidency of the UN Security Council is a slap in the face to the international community," said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Twitter. The citizen movement Atlas has invited the ambassadors of the countries on the Council who have already condemned Russia to boycott April's meetings. Empty chairs to "restore credibility to the Security Council."

'A mostly technical role'

"If 80 years ago, Nazi Germany had presided over the Security Council – although it didn't exist at that time – I hope we wouldn't have accepted that," said Atlas co-founder Andrea Venzon. "While Russia is not yet as criminal as Nazi Germany, it is getting closer. It is now clear that Russia is not trying to stop this war, so the only thing we can do is take strong action."

The call went unheeded by Western representatives at the UN. "Boycotting makes no sense," said a Security Council diplomat. "This presidency," he added, "is limited to April 3 to 30, it is a mostly technical role. The Council does not deal exclusively with Ukraine. As terrible as the Ukrainian conflict is, we cannot obstruct the other issues."

Ambassadors on the Council promise to be "vigilant" about potential Russian abuses and are banking on Moscow displaying "exemplary" behavior in a bid to restore its image worldwide and for the benefit of countries that have been "neutral" about the conflict.

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