posted on Fri 2 May 2014 12:07 PM
Meeting and Briefing by Political Affairs Head on Ukraine

The Security Council will hold a public meeting today at the request of Russia to be briefed by Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on recent developments in Ukraine. Feltman last briefed the Council on Ukraine on Tuesday, 29 April. It is likely that a representative from Ukraine will participate under Rule 37 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure.

Russia’s request for the meeting may have been prompted by events that took place earlier today. According to media reports, pro-Russian forces shot down two army helicopters as Ukraine launched a major “anti-terror” offensive against the pro-Russia forces that have seized the eastern city of Slavyansk. The Ukrainian Security Service claimed that one of the helicopters had been targeted by a surface-to-air missile and that its forces were fighting “highly skilled foreign military men”. Kiev claimed that a pilot and a serviceman had been killed, four suspected separatists were held and that 10 rebel checkpoints were seized in the offensive. The city is a stronghold for pro-Russian separatists who are gaining increasing control in the region. Council members are likely to be looking for greater clarity on this incident.

Russia is likely to defend the actions of the pro-Russian separatists during the meeting. Its foreign ministry has described Ukraine’s military operation to recover control of restive eastern Ukraine as “punitive” and accused Kiev of using “terrorists” from ultranationalist organisations for the operation and “conducting missile strikes on protesters”. Yesterday, President Vladimir Putin of Russia warned Ukraine not to move against the insurgents and said it should withdraw its military from eastern and southern Ukraine. A spokesman for Putin today said the operation against Slavyansk “effectively destroyed the last hope for the implementation of the Geneva agreements”, which called for separatists to lay down arms and vacate government buildings they have seized in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine denied blame for the breakdown of the agreement, saying that Moscow had not taken any steps to de-escalate the situation.

Council members may also be looking for more information on today’s events in Odessa. According to media reports, earlier today dozens were wounded when a rally of about 1,500 people demonstrating in the southern port city of Odessa were reportedly attacked by pro-Russian militants and police intervened to halt the violence. Before today, Odessa had been relatively spared the unrest experienced in eastern Ukraine. (Odessa is located near the border with Moldova and its breakaway state of Transdniestr, which is pro-Russia.)

Some Council members may also be concerned about the signs that the conflict on the border between Russia and Ukraine could easily escalate. The acting President of Ukraine, Olexander Turchynov, reinstated military conscription to deal with the deteriorating security in the east. According to a statement released yesterday, conscription was being introduced given “the rising force of armed pro-Russian units and the taking of public administration buildings… which threaten territorial integrity”.

The move came as pro-Russia militants seized the office of the regional prosecutorin the eastern city of Donetsk. Analysts say Ukraine has 130,000 personnel in its armed forces and that figure could be augmented to about one million with the use of reservists. Approximately 40,000 Russian troops are stationed near the border with Ukraine. Last week, while in Moscow, UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin (Russia) cited Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, making a reference to how Russia had exercised the right to self-defense in relation to their actions in Georgia in 2008. Some members may be concerned that this could be precursor to justifying military intervention in Ukraine.

During the 29 April briefing Feltman confirmed that the “emerging spirit of compromise” of the 17 April Geneva Agreement, in which Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU agreed to de-escalate tensions in eastern Ukraine, seemed to have evaporated. He also spoke on the violence in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine and the detention of a group of OSCE military monitors. Feltman also informed the Council that he would be going to Kiev next week to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis. It seems that Russia has also invited him to visit Moscow.

While today’s meeting will be an opportunity for Council members to hear once again from the Secretariat and publicly express their views, it is unlikely that there will be any outcome. While it is clear that some members are increasingly frustrated with the Council’s inability to take action, there is still no sense that any member is willing to push the envelope and challenge Russia as a party to the dispute under Article 27(3) of the UN Charter. (For more on mandatory abstentions under Article 27(3) please see the In Hindsight and Supplement in our April 2014 Monthly Forecast).

Instead some members may be interested in hearing more from Feltman about the possibility of a diplomatic solution. It seems that the idea of a UN Special Envoy has been floated. While the Secretary-General is able to appoint a special envoy without the involvement of the Security Council, it is likely that he will want the buy-in of P5 members. Given the current dynamic in the Council, finding someone acceptable to Russia as well as the other members of the P5 would be key. While there have been no formal discussions as yet, it seems that there is an understanding that such an envoy should be of a high-enough level to command the respect of all parties. While it is unlikely that this idea will be discussed today in a public forum it is possible that it could be taken up in the near future. Members are aware, particularly in the light of current attempts in Syria and past examples like Kosovo, that for a special envoy to be effective certain conditions need to be met, including having credible instruments to persuade the parties to resolve the conflict. Otherwise such a move may amount to nothing more than a process that could lead to a long-drawn out conflict.