As Russia takes over the UN Security Council presidency, the world confronts the baffling irony of a nation, embroiled in the Ukraine war and led by a convicted war criminal, guiding an organisation entrusted with the preservation of global peace and security.
As the adage goes, “truth is stranger than fiction”. Case in point: Russia, the very nation embroiled in a relentless war in Ukraine, has assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council, an institution dedicated to preserving global peace and security.
To add to the absurdity, Russia’s top dog, Vladimir Putin, has been slapped with an arrest warrant by the ICC for his role in abducting Ukrainian children. As we try to make sense of this bizarre twist of fate, one can’t help but wonder if this is an elaborate April Fools’ ruse, leaving Ukraine’s UN mission and countless others befuddled and aghast.
It feels like yesterday…
A little over a year ago, Russia had also taken over the presidency of the UN Security Council as we highlighted in our review aptly titled “Abstaining Romance and Plenty of Hot Air”. Vasily Alekseyevich Nebenzya, Russia’s UN ambassador, pooh-poohed the notion of an impending war at that time, stating, “there’s no proof to confirm these serious accusations [of starting a war]”, and adding that such claims were “a provocation in itself”. He went on to warn that if the West egged Kyiv into sabotaging the Minsk agreements, things might “end in the absolute worst way for Ukraine.” Naturally, he assured everyone that Russia would have absolutely nothing to do with what he called a self-destruction of Ukraine.
Now, fast-forward to the present day, and the situation has taken on an air of bitter irony, as Ukraine faces the grim reality of war and destruction, while yet again Russia prepares to lead the very council responsible for preventing such conflicts. Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s permanent representative, lamented the situation, saying, “the Security Council as it is designed is immobilised and incapable of addressing the issues of their primary responsibility, that is prevention of conflicts and then dealing with conflicts”.
For the UN, the show must always go on
Despite the incongruity of Russia’s new role, other council members are hesitant to protest or boycott Russian-hosted events, as they fear disrupting the council’s work on other global issues. So, the show must go on, albeit with a tinge of the macabre.
As Russia prepares to chair sessions on “effective multilateralism” and the Middle East, the rest of the world will be treated to a masterclass in irony. With only a handful of steadfast allies, Russia seems unfazed by the growing opposition in the UN General Assembly, where around 140 out of 193 member states have voted against Moscow’s position. Russia’s deputy permanent representative, Dmitry Polyanskiy, even argues that it’s the West, not Russia, that’s isolated in the assembly. It’s a fascinating display of diplomatic doublethink.
And what of Vladimir Putin’s arrest warrant for war crimes issued by the International Criminal Court? Polyanskiy dismisses it as “totally irrelevant to any of our activities.” The last time the Russian leader set foot in the UN headquarters was in 2015, so perhaps he’s hoping that out of sight means out of mind.
The UN Security Council is no stranger to polarisation, but the present situation highlights the growing rift between its permanent members – the US, UK, France, Russia and China – with China increasingly echoing Russia’s talking points. The 10 non-permanent members, elected for two-year terms, often find themselves caught in the crossfire, trying to avoid becoming pawns in the big power games.
Richard Gowan, the UN director at the International Crisis Group, notes that many council members would prefer to focus on crises apart from Ukraine, where the UN may have a marginally better chance of making a difference. However, the council’s glaring impasse over Ukraine has served to elevate the importance of the General Assembly, though this is unlikely to bring any significant reform to the Security Council’s operations anyway.
The curtain rises on this tragicomic farce at the UN Security Council. Kyslytsya admits that the global community may simply become accustomed to this new level of hypocrisy. “That will be a disgrace,” he concedes. “I think there’s quite a chance that may happen.”
Dare we ponder the unthinkable?
What if the UN were to expel this and other rogue states from the Security Council? Would such a move usher in war, exacerbate polarisation, or perhaps pave the way for a new beginning for the UN? To indulge our curiosity, we’ve conjured up three hypothetical scenarios, exploring the potential consequences of giving Russia the boot from the organisation… heaven forbid!
As Russia takes the helm for the month of April, the UN Security Council’s lack of credibility will be thrust into the limelight, facing a trial by fire. It’s a rather unenviable position for the organisation, which finds itself caught in a farcical quagmire on the global stage, as it grapples with maintaining its relevance in an increasingly fractured world. Yet, it is precisely this surreal turn of events that might serve as a much-needed jolt to the system, awakening the international community from its slumber and prompting some soul-searching.
Ultimately, if the world’s foremost body for promoting peace and security is to preserve its legitimacy, it must confront and address the glaring contradictions inherent in its structure and operations. Only then can it hope to emerge from this diplomatic tragicomedy and be ready to take its job seriously.