The Problem with Russia's Presidency of the UN Security Council

April 10, 2023
In spite of its multiple violations of international law, Russia took over the presidency of the UN Security Council on April 1.
Photo credit: Reuters

Russia has been using its position at the UN as a platform to share its narratives on the global level and legitimize its war crimes before the international community. This approach can be seen both in resolutions that their delegates propose and in the statements they make.

Cynical Resolutions

"Combating Nazism" is one of the key messages which Russia's propaganda hammers home for both internal and external audiences. It eventually manifested in Russia proclaiming the "denazification of Ukraine" to be one of the chief aims of their full-scale invasion, and they have used the narrative to accuse countries which do oppose Russia's aggression of being "Nazi."

One of the most prominent reflections of the strategy is Russia's frequent General Assembly resolutions on "Combating the glorification of Nazism." Russia uses appeals to the tragedy of WWII to portray themselves as the only country that remembers the sacrifices involved in defeating the Third Reich and portray those who resist its imperialism as modern-day Nazis.

Moreover, despite their country engaging in an openly imperialist war, Russia's diplomats like to portray their country to non-Western audiences as a bastion of anti-imperialism.

This can be seen in public messaging from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that portrays the West as applying strong but ineffective pressure on other countries to submit to their anti-Russian designs.

Russia's diplomats have also used the forum of the UN to portray itself as dedicated to making peace and helping those suffering in a war they themselves created.

In one proposed draft resolution, Russia offered generic statements about the humanitarian problems caused by the conflict while paying no attention to their direct responsibility for causing them. When this resolution was not adopted, Russia tried to push forward amendments proposed by its ally Belarus expressing concerns about weapons being supplied by third parties, calling for "understanding of the cause of conflict and legal concerns about state safety," and insisting on "stopping weapon supplies to Ukraine."

Rather than expressing any actual intention to ameliorate the suffering caused by the war, Russia simply uses the UN as a forum to accuse the West and Ukraine of prolonging the fighting which Russia itself began, and to call for an early end to the conflict which entrenches Russia's occupation of Ukrainian territory and ensures Russia faces no accountability for its war crimes.

In addition to this amendment, Russia also supported Belarusian proposals to remove any mention of the one-year anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, to strike demands for Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory, and to insert words about the "violation of the Minsk process." This is consistent with Russia's insistence upon calling their invasion a "special military operation" instead of "war" and ignores Russia's occupation of Ukrainian territories since 2014.

However, when these amendments were rejected, the Russian delegation released a statement decrying "the groundless criticism of Russia unleashed in the West and... support for the criminal nationalist regime in Kyiv, which the collective West intentionally prepared for war against our country over the past several years."

It is also worth noting Russia's cynical appeals to the values of the UN and "respect for the UN Charter."

While Russia on the one hand declares its respect for international law and the UN's principles, it also accuses UN institutions of "propaganda" and "prejudice" when its bodies and member states offer unfriendly judgments of Russian actions.

For example, after the establishment of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine and publishing of the report on war crimes, violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Ukraine, Russia's Foreign Ministry responded by denouncing the UN Human Rights Council resolution 49/1 on the "Situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression" as "anti-Russian" and claimed that Russia "do[es] not recognize the activities of this entity."

In the same briefing, Russia again accused the West of prejudice towards Russia and Ukraine of war crimes against the people of Donbas, and made clear that Russia is not interested in violations of human rights in Ukraine committed by its own troops.

Orwellian Speeches

The second element to look at in Russia's actions in the UN is the addresses made by its United Nations Ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya.  Mr. Nebenzya has become famous for his speeches full of accusations against the West and Ukraine and denials of Russian war crimes and occupation.

On February 24, when Russian troops were beginning their invasion of Ukraine, Nebenzya gave a speech accusing the Ukrainian government of taking power in a coup in 2014 and committing terror against the people of Donbas region. He also insisted that the Russian military was only targeting its military infrastructure.

The Russian ambassador ended by asserting that Russia was conducting its "special military operation" to destroy nationalists, to "denazify and demilitarize" Ukraine, and to protect the people of Donbas. He said these objectives would soon be achieved, and that Ukrainians would then have the chance to decide their destiny while living in peace and cooperation with all their neighbors."

After the first phase of the Russian invasion failed, Ukrainian forces liberated the north of the country, and the world began discovering the mass executions, rapes, torture, and other horrific war crimes committed by Russian forces during their attempt to take Kyiv, Russia's representative stated that "there is no evidence or witnesses of these actions by Russian troops" and that all crimes "were committed by Ukrainian nationalists to discredit Russia."

The same rhetoric was used to dismiss accusations against Russian soldiers after revelations of their use of sexual violence against Ukrainian women in occupied territories. Russia's representative rejected all evidence and accused the Ukrainian military and people from EU countries of sexual violence against women.

It is also worth mentioning how Nebenzya condemns Western help for Ukraine.

While avoiding any recognition of how Russia has carried out a hybrid war against Ukraine and occupied its territories since 2014, the ambassador accuses the West of "war crimes and prolonging the war with weapon supplies to Ukraine," violating the Minsk agreements, and carrying out generally "anti-Russian policies."

To sum up, Russia has been using its platform at the UN to share its propagandistic narratives, reject its responsibility for war crimes against Ukraine, and use its veto to ensure its own impunity for its horrific violations of other countries' territorial integrity, international humanitarian law, and human rights.

Analyst and Journalist at UkraineWorld