Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks at a UNSC meeting on 18 January 2018. Credit: Russian MFA/Flickr
On 26 February 2022, Russia blocked a UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution on Ukraine condemning the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, despite having an obvious conflict of interests in the area.
The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 stated that the priorities of the international security architecture are:
- Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty;
- Refraining from the threat or use of force;
- Inviolability of frontiers;
- The territorial integrity of states.
Since Vladimir Putin became president of the Russian Federation, the international security architecture has been put at threat multiple times through Russia’s sabotage of the UNSC, a major instrument of international security.
Conflict of interest #1: Russia initiated armed conflicts
First of all, Russia started and participated in armed conflicts and military aggressions by itself. This was and continues to be the basic reason why Russia has a deep conflict of interest, compromising its permanent membership in the UNSC.
Second Chechen War
16 August 1999: Vladimir Putin was appointed acting prime minister of Russia. And on 26 August 1999, Russia started the Second Chechen War through attacks of Russian government forces against Chechnya and Dagestan.
According to open sources information, after 9 months and 5 days, up to 7,425 people were killed.
It is estimated that the Insurgency in the North Caucasus after the Chechen War has taken an additional 1,170 lives.
War against Georgia
1-12 August 2008: Vladimir Putin launched unprovoked aggression against Georgia. Despite international peacekeeping efforts, the UNSC failed to agree on a statement regarding the breakaway South Ossetia enclave because of blocking by Russia.
Around 450 people were killed in the conflict, according to official reports.
Intervention in Syrian civil war
On 30 September 2015, Russia started its military intervention in the Syrian civil war. UNSC again failed to agree on a joint Syria declaration because Russia blocked any efforts to adopt a resolution. The death toll of the war in Syria is still rising. According to the last estimates, at least 350,000 people were killed over the entire decade of war, with 3,700 losing their lives in 2021.
Since 2016, Vladimir Putin has been deeply engaged in the Libyan conflict, supporting Supreme Commander of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Haftar, who visited Moscow in 2018-2020 to meet Russia’s Minister of Defense Shoigu and the chief “sponsor” of the Wagner mercenary group Evgeny Prigozhin. Since spring 2019, Russia has been covertly sending its military support to Libya.
In its final report, the Panel of Experts on Libya – established pursuant to resolution 1973 (2011) — admitted that the arms embargo imposed on Libya by the Security Council in 2011 remains “totally ineffective.”
Multiple investigations show that Russia is violating the embargo by supporting Khalifa Haftar via air bridge supplies.
In September 2021, Russia reportedly blocked the extension of the UN mission to Libya.
Intervention in Central African Republic
In January 2021 Russia started its participation in the civil war in the Central African Republic using the forces of the “Wagner group” mercenaries, supported by munitions and military techniques of Russia’s Ministry of Defense. This support was provided in violation of the embargo imposed by the UNSC.
A UN panel of experts found that Russian military instructors were engaged in combat operations in the Central African Republic and had indiscriminately killed civilians, as well as stolen food and supply from locals.
Participation in Sudan conflict
Russian mercenaries also heavily participated in the conflict in Sudan. At the same time, the Russian delegation to the UN persistently blocked UNSC resolutions on Sudan issues.
Conflict #2: persistently blocking UNSC resolutions in its own interests
Over the past 30 years, Russia has used its veto power to block decisions of the UN Security Council in its own interests. It has used its veto to facilitate its own occupation of Georgia and Crimea, blocked the creation of an international tribunal to investigate those guilty of shooting down MH17. It has vetoed to defend the atrocities condemning the governments of Myanmar, Zimbabwe, and, repeatedly, Syria (supported by vetoes of Russia’s Security Council ally China).
There are at least seven cases where Russia not only actively participated in conflicts but intentionally ruined international efforts to condemn them, not to mention stopping them.
That means Russia is not only ruining the international security architecture. It has been silencing the voices of the civilized community at least to give an official evaluation of the real events and tragedies all over the world.
That should be done to release the United Nations Security Council’s abilities:
- to fulfill the task of upholding international peace and security among the countries of the world
- to determine the existence of a threat to international peace or act of aggression
- to recommend what necessary action should be taken.
Article 39 of the Charter of the United Nations states that ‘‘the Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.”
Multiple arguments and facts say that Russian actions continuously do not allow the UNSC members to implement the Article 39 of the Charter of the United Nations provisions which leads to failures of the international community to uphold the international security architecture in the world.
Russia’s membership in the UNSC may already be illegitimate
Russia grossly violated the UN statute when replacing the USSR in the UN back in 1991. Russia proclaimed itself as a successor of the USSR. However, the USSR and the Russian Federation are two different subjects in terms of international law.
The UN Statute did not have any procedure of transferring or continuing the permanent membership in UNSC from one country to another. In the 1990s, the parliaments of the country members of the USSR proclaimed the supremacy of their laws over the legislation of the USSR, and in 1991, the USSR stopped its existence.
On 4 December 1991, the states that were parts of the former Soviet Union, “…taking into account the need for a radical overhaul of the whole complex of relations between the states that were part of the USSR…”, signed the “Agreement on Succession of External Public Debt and Assets of the USSR” (the so-called “Moscow Treaty”).
Its parties defined that “succession of states” means the change of one state to another in its responsibility for international relations of any territory. “The moment of succession” means the date when the predecessor state changed to the successor state in terms of carrying responsibilities according to international agreements regarding the territory that is the object of succession of state.
Pursuant to Article 4 of the Moscow Treaty, the parties agreed that the shares of the subjects of the “former USSR” (pay attention to the official word “former”) in the total amount of Debt and Assets are being divided between the successor states.
On 8 December 1991, the Agreement on the Establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (“Bialowieza Agreement“) was adopted between the Republic of Belarus, the RSFSR (not the Russian Federation), and Ukraine. That agreement was adopted not by all members of the USSR, but only by three former republics. The agreement confirmed the recognition of the termination of the USSR.
In addition, the Bialowieza Agreement stipulates that Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine guarantee the fulfillment of the international obligations arising for the mentioned states from the treaties and agreements of the former USSR.
On 21 December 1991, the Almaty Declaration was concluded between 12 independent states, including the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) (not to be confused with the Russian Federation, which emerged later), which reaffirmed that
On the same day, 21 December 1991, the CIS Council of Heads of States decided that the CIS states
“support Russia in continuing its membership in the United Nations, including permanent membership in the Security Council and other international organizations.”
However, according to the decision of the CIS Council of Heads of States, this document was made by only 11 of the 15 subjects of the former USSR, without the participation and consent of the Soviet Union itself, after its termination. It is obvious that 11 out of 15 members of the USSR can not make decisions for the USSR as a whole.
On 25 December 1991, the parliament of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic renamed the country to the Russian Federation by a special law.
So, the Russian Federation can not refer to this agreement, as an agreement to voluntarily transfer the right of sole succession of a non-existent entity — the USSR. Because, the Russian Federation did not exist.
24 December 1991, President Yeltsin, who was still president of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, sent a letter to the UN where he officially informed the Secretary-General of the United Nations that Russia continues Soviet membership in all UN bodies.
However, this is not legal. The already did not USSR did not exist and the Russian Federation did not yet exist. The RSFSR could not be a subject for these legal actions.
As for the USSR, all former Soviet republics are its successors, not some of its individual spare parts.
67 countries support limiting Russia’s veto powers in UNSC, Ukrainian permanent rep says
- According to the Constitution of the USSR, the union republics, including the RSFSR, had the status of individual states with the right to withdraw from the USSR. In turn, the USSR was a separate state from the union republics;
- The UN Charter does not allow the change or continuation of permanent membership in the UN Security Council from one country to another;
- The Constitution of the USSR does not provide any procedures of the replacement of the Soviet Union by one of the USSR’s parts in international organizations and bodies, including the UN Security Council;
- The highest bodies of state power and administration of the USSR did not take a decision to replace the Soviet Union with the RSFSR in international organizations and bodies, including the UN Security Council;
- No international treaty made with the participation of the USSR provides for the replacement of the Soviet Union with the RSFSR in international organizations and bodies, including the UN Security Council.
The arguments for this matter were published so many times. But, now is a real moment to act.
How is it possible to achieve that?
There are three possible paths, according to my information.
- The General Assembly recommends suspension/expulsion from UN/ UNSC, then the UNSC fails to adopt a resolution, then the General Assembly votes by 2/3 of its participants (if it is realistic that those 2/3 can be gathered).
- Request the International Court of Justice to produce an opinion that if a member of UNSC initiates a war, it is acting against the Charter, therefore invalidating its membership.
- Initiate proceedings down the line that Russia had never been considered a successor to the USSR, as requested by Ukraine.
It is tricky, but, believe me, please – it is much trickier to explain to a five-year-old kid why we are being shelled if we did not do anything wrong?
Even going through these steps would create great pressure on Russia and give Ukraine some relief for a moment.
Dmytro Zolotukhin served as deputy minister of Information Policy from 2017-to 2019, is a lecturer at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy on crisis communications and information warfare, and Head of the Institute for the Post-information Society.
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