Russia’s war in Ukraine could be a “game-changer” for the United Nations Security Council, the French envoy to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Nicolas de Rivière, told EURACTIV.
“The UN is probably at the crossroads and Ukraine could be a game changer,” de Rivière said on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, calling Russia’s war “a huge blow to multilateralism and a massive violation of the UN Charter”.
“We will continue to push to make sure that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is respected and that this war is put to an end as soon as we can,” said de Rivière, whose country holds the 15-nation Security Council’s rotating presidency through September.
A Security Council meeting on Thursday (22 September) is expected to reflect on the new developments in the Ukraine war and the topic of discussion will be how to respond to Russia’s threats and the campaign to call up 300,000 reservists.
Since members will be represented by their foreign ministers rather than permanent representatives this time, it will be the first direct encounter between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba, who will attend the meeting as his country is subject of discussion.
EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell is also slated to address the body in place of the EU27 bloc.
Asked whether he expects any significant breakthroughs, de Rivière said he hopes to make progress “on all aspects of this crisis”, but admitted it would be unlikely any time soon.
“What we can do is continue to mobilise everyone on food safety, continue to mobilise everyone on humanitarian relief for the people in Ukraine, continue to mobilise all main stakeholders on nuclear safety,” he added.
Asked if he expects any significant encounters with the Russian delegation, led by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, de Rivière said none are planned.
“It does not go very well for Russia, from the military vantage point, the Ukrainian army is making progress,” the French envoy added.
Asked about the longer-term perspective of the war, de Rivière said that “probably it’s time to review the situation and try to push for a different phase of this conflict”.
“But I’m afraid that it’s probably a little too early for that.”
French President Emmanuel Macron told French TV station BFM TV on Thursday that the goal remained to obtain a negotiated peace in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Regulating the veto
In a fiery speech on Wednesday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on members of the United Nations to strip Russia of its UN Security Council veto right.
The body is the only one within the UN system that has the authority to initiate military action, impose sanctions, issue binding resolutions, and deploy peacekeeping operations.
But doing so requires unanimous support from the five permanent members – or at least abstention of some.
France, together with Mexico, has for years been pushing to regulate the veto powers in the security body in the face of mass atrocities across the globe.
“What we have been asking is that the P5 would just commit themselves informally and in a non-binding manner, to not use the veto in such cases,” de Rivière said.
“It’s a very informal code of conduct – no change or revision of the UN charter, not mandatory,” he added.
“Politically, it’s very important, because we want to make sure to avoid the abuse of veto to protect war criminals,” he added.
Asked if under the current circumstances of the Ukraine war, with Russia being a perpetrator, he thinks this would ever become possible to achieve, de Rivière admitted: “It’s difficult”.
Divisions run deep
Long before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, divisions ran deep among the permanent members of the Security Council – Russia, the US, the United Kingdom, France, and China.
Friction among the most powerful countries has hindered the body’s ability to address some of the most pressing global challenges, from human rights violations to climate change.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat of a nuclear response to battlefield losses in Ukraine added a new sense of urgency ahead of Thursday’s UNSC meeting.
In March, China and India, the latter one of 10 non-permanent members, were the only two countries to abstain from voting on a Security Council resolution that called for an immediate end to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
China’s position on the war has remained somewhat ambiguous, although it continues to engage diplomatically with Russia. India, meanwhile, voted in favour of having Zelenskyy speak to the assembly virtually, while China abstained.
Meanwhile, a full-blown reform would require the agreement of at least two-thirds of UN member states in a General Assembly vote and must be ratified by two-thirds of member states, while all the permanent members must agree.
“The strength of the UN is the very notion that it’s universal, with 193 members, but this universality is also the big weakness because it’s very slow, very difficult to negotiate, very frustrating, and always compromises based on the lowest common denominator,” de Rivière said.
Addressing the General Assembly on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden condemned the conflict in Ukraine, declaring that “Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenants of the United Nations Charter”.
“A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbour, attempted to erase the sovereign state from the map,” Biden said.
He renewed calls for the expansion of the body, stressing that the number of permanent and non-permanent members should be increased.
Some delegates in New York reiterated support this week for the plan to reform the UN Security Council but conceded that any change would take years to process.
Among the changes the US had been seeking is greater representation of countries, and perceived allies, in the so-called Global South, including Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]
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