posted on Thu 28 Aug 2014 1:58 PM
Emergency Meeting on Ukraine

The Security Council will hold a public meeting this afternoon at the request of Lithuania, following reports that Russian tanks and military vehicles have crossed into southeastern Ukraine. Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, is expected to brief. A representative from Ukraine is also expected to participate. The Council last met in consultations on Ukraine on 22 August when a Russian humanitarian convoy entered Ukraine without the consent of Ukraine or escort from ICRC. So far there have been 23 Council meetings on Ukraine since 28 February with no significant Council action to address the escalating situation. (The only formal outcome has been a resolution specifically addressing the 17 July downing of flight MH17.)

Feltman has just returned from Ukraine and Council members are likely to be keen to get his understanding of the situation in southeastern Ukraine. Media reports indicate that Russian forces in two armoured columns have entered Novoazovsk. The media is also reporting that there were rockets launched from Russian territory aimed at the Ukrainian army in the area.

Council members are also likely to ask Russia to clarify if there are troops inside Ukraine. Several Council members have for some time now indicated that they have evidence of Russia’s military presence inside Ukraine and apparently details have been provided during Council consultations. However, so far this has not led to stronger action from these members. It seems that, at most, at today’s meeting a number of Council members will demand that Russia withdraw its troops and for a deescalation of the situation, while Russia is likely to deny any involvement of Russian troops in the area.

However, if at today’s meeting there are strong positions taken on these new developments, it is possible that this could trigger a conversation on an outcome. Members are clearly aware that no Council decision on the situation in Ukraine, or for that matter in Crimea, will be possible without buy-in from Russia. If the Council becomes effectively deadlocked, due to the threat or use of the veto, Council members or others could explore other avenues, including a referral of the situation to the General Assembly under Uniting for Peace (General Assembly resolution 377 (V) of 3 November 1950). This was done in 1956 and 1980 after the Soviet Union vetoed draft resolutions S/3730/Rev.1 and S/13729 deploring its respective invasions of Hungary and Afghanistan. In light of the Soviet vetoes, the Council proceeded to adopt subsequent resolutions calling on the General Assembly to address the situations. (Due to the procedural nature of the resolutions the negative votes of the Soviet Union did not have the force of a veto.) Regarding Hungary, on 4 November 1956, the Council adopted resolution 120 deploring the “use of Soviet military forces” and calling for an emergency session of the General Assembly. (The Second Emergency Special Session then adopted five resolutions on the situation, including resolution 1004 ES-II mandating a commission of inquiry into foreign intervention in Hungary.) Regarding Afghanistan, on 9 January 1980, the Council adopted resolution 462 calling for an emergency session of the General Assembly. (The Sixth Emergency Special Session adopted resolution ES-6/2 of 14 January 1980, which strongly deplored the armed intervention and called for the immediate, unconditional and total withdrawal of the foreign troops from Afghanistan.)

Alternatively, Council members could seek to adopt a Chapter VI resolution and contend that Russia must abstain from voting in light of Article 27(3). This article states that on decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, “a party to the dispute shall abstain from voting”. While Russia may argue that it is not a party to this dispute, it would nevertheless have to face the preliminary debate into the question to determine this. With the increasing reports about Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine, it may become more difficult for Russia to argue that it is not a party to this dispute, particularly if Council members who have concrete evidence of the Russian presence in eastern Ukraine are willing to make the information public.

Over the years there have been at least 10 cases of “voluntary abstention” where a country has either chosen to abstain or not to participate in the vote. The last such case was in 1960, although since then there have been several cases where the use of Article 27 (3) was discussed. Nonetheless, when the Council voted on draft resolution S/2014/189 on 15 March 2014 regarding the situation in Crimea, no Council member decided to procedurally challenge Russia.

In a Chapter VI resolution, the Council could call on the parties to seek a solution by any one or more of the avenues identified in Article 33, including “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice”. This may provide the impetus needed for the parties to move towards a ceasefire. A more lasting ceasefire would possibly then require the presence of UN monitors along the ceasefire lines and borders. Alternatively, the Council could also use Article 34 to “investigate”, either in mandating a commission to do so or deciding to schedule a mission to eastern Ukraine by some or all Council members.

Recent high-level activity on Ukraine has done little to move the parties towards a resolution of the conflict. On 17 August, the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia met in Berlin where they focused their discussion on the details of a possible cease-fire and the humanitarian situation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev on 23 August. The eagerly anticipated meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian presidents in Minsk on 26 August did not result in any concrete agreements, and Russia has said that there are no plans for a second meeting so far.