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The paradox of Russia in the United Nations: when the invader presides over the Security Council

What Russia chair this month UN Security Council it can be seen as a simple coincidence or a serious paradox: the aggressor disguised as a referee; the fox guarding the chicken yard. It also provides peculiar scenes. While Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba addressed the General Assembly last Wednesday, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya, chaired a meeting of the highest executive body… on the Middle East. To listen to Kuleba, a lower-ranking diplomat took the Russian seat. In the evening, at the second Council meeting in just 48 hours, sabotaged by the Kremlin’s announcement of “special military action” in Ukraine, the host Nebenzya had to hear, unperturbed, all kinds of condemnations, which turned into a dramatic duel when his Ukrainian counterpart, Sergiy Kyslytsya, took the floor. Perpetrator versus victim: the dramatization of the conflict.

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It is an unprecedented situation. No Soviet or Russian ambassador held the presidency of the UN Security Council during similar crises. In the five most similar cases (the Hungarian revolution in 1956; the Prague Spring, 1968; the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, 1979; the war in Georgia, in 2008, and the invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014), “the function mission of the Soviet or Russian ambassador was to veto any resolution or statement condemning his country’s actions. That will probably continue to be Ambassador Nebenzya’s main task,” says Ian Johnson, from the University of Notre Dame (Indiana).

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The president approves the agenda of the meetings, grants the floor and decides the voting order of the amendments or resolutions. “In theory, you should recuse yourself if the issue being discussed is directly related to the state you represent, but this has happened very rarely,” Johnson explains.

Given the veto power of Russia, one of the five permanent members of the 15 that make up the Council, the emergency meetings on Monday and Wednesday did not yield any concrete results. Verbal fencing, the usual exchange of accusations and some noteworthy intervention came to nothing, as usually happens with the calls related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to the continuous veto of the United States. But whoever expected any benefit or trick from Russia for its special protagonism, he did it in vain. “It is not clear whether holding the presidency presents any advantage to Russia in this crisis. Nebenzya attempted to hold Monday’s meeting behind closed doors. But apparently under pressure from the US, he admitted to celebrating it publicly, ”adds the Notre Dame professor.

Nor should any premeditation be seen in what is a simple coincidence. “Given that the rotating presidency is determined in the late fall after the election of new members, I find it not credible to suggest that the Russians saw this turn as part of their plan to invade Ukraine, something they could exploit to their advantage. Even so, it should be noted, now that the invasion is in full swing, the presidency from March 1 [Emiratos Árabes Unidos] it may well limit debate and discussion on the subject,” says George A. Lopez, professor emeritus of Peace Studies at Notre Dame.

Diplomacy, when played in the highest forum of the UN, is sometimes more than a wooden tongue. Two moments, each belonging to the meetings on Monday and Wednesday, will go down in the history of the organization: the speech by the Kenyan ambassador, Martin Kimani, warning of the dangerous death rattles of fallen empires (alluding to the USSR) , and the strength of Kyslytsya on Wednesday, minutes after learning of the Kremlin’s declaration of war, facing his Russian counterpart.

“I think the importance of the Russian presidency of the Council has been exaggerated; the president actually has quite limited powers. The Russians could not prevent the debate, and that was embarrassing when the Kenyan ambassador made a brilliant speech attacking Moscow’s imperialist behavior,” said Richard Gowan, UN expert at the International Crisis Group, hours before the second meeting. Gowan, however, gives Nebenzya some personal credit “for chairing the meeting quite professionally, especially when, it seems, he’s recovering from a pretty nasty case of covid.” Nebenzya briefly replied to his Ukrainian counterpart on Wednesday, no more than two laconic sentences about Moscow’s intentions.

“The Russians tried to use the previous meeting of the Council, on February 17, on the Minsk agreements to accuse Ukraine of not fulfilling its obligations in Donbas,” Gowan underlines. “But a few days later, Putin blew up the Minsk agreements forever. That makes it look like the Russian team in New York [ante la ONU] he was either being misleading or was not informed of Putin’s plans.” Council members such as Kenya and Gabon, who were skeptical in a debate on Ukraine in January, have since changed their position and are severely critical of Russia, the expert stresses. “I think Moscow is losing the battle to control the political narrative on Ukraine at the UN, but the sad reality is that Putin will ignore the UN, and what matters is the real balance of power in Ukraine, not good speeches in New York”. Some prophetic words, confirmed hours later.

“We have seen two extraordinary sessions of the Council, including tonight [la del miércoles], with strong condemnations from the secretary general and member states. Yes, the Russian ambassador will make grandiose claims about the legality and ‘limited objectives’ of his action, but Guterres and the Council don’t buy it. Moscow will not be able to escape much of this criticism, even though it “controls the pen” [el relato]. Moscow stands alone (except for Belarus, it seems) in its claims and actions. But Putin doesn’t seem to care,” concludes Lopez.

Along with the historic speech of the Kenyan ambassador, for many the best heard at the UN in years, and the tense face-to-face of the Ukrainian and Russian diplomats, this convulsive week, also diplomatically speaking, has left another image to remember: Kyslytsya , wielding on Monday a paper that confronted the text of the decrees that Vladimir Putin signed on the eve of the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and, this Monday, to recognize the unrepentant republics of eastern Ukraine: like two drops of water. History repeats itself. Hungary, Prague, Afghanistan, Georgia, Crimea. And Ukraine.

© María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo / EL PAÍS EDITIONS, SL 2022

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Source: Elcomercio

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