Ukraine decries ‘symbolic blow’ as Russia assumes UN presidency

The Kremlin said it planned to ‘exercise all its rights’ in the role amid anger from Kyiv and allies.

Vladimir Putin
The Kremlin said it planned to 'exercise all its rights' in the role [File: Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters]

Ukraine has branded Russia’s presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of April “a symbolic blow,” joining a chorus of outrage from Western countries.

Moscow assumes the presidency as part of its monthly rotation between the Security Council’s 15 member states, with ties with the West at their lowest point since the Cold War over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, said Russia’s tenure was a “symbolic blow”.

“It’s not just a shame. It is another symbolic blow to the rules-based system of international relations,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia assuming the presidency was “a slap in the face to the international community”.

“I urge the current UNSC members to thwart any Russian attempts to abuse its presidency,” he wrote on Twitter on Saturday, calling Russia “an outlaw on the UNSC”.

Moscow last chaired the council in February 2022, the same month it invaded Ukraine – prompting Kyiv to call for Russia’s removal from the council.

Russia will hold little influence on decisions but will be in charge of the agenda.

Moscow has said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is planning to chair a UN Security Council meeting this month on “effective multilateralism”.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also said that Lavrov would lead a debate on the Middle East on April 25.

The Kremlin said on Friday it planned to “exercise all its rights” in the role.

Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays reporting from the United Nations said that when Russia had the presidency last year in February, the month it invaded Ukraine, people were calling for Russia to be kicked off the security council and the United Nations.

“But if you look at the rules and you look at the UN charter, those things are not possible. What we do know is that later this month, Lavrov will be here in New York. He’ll be chairing a number of meetings, including one in defence of this document – the UN’s founding charter,” Bays said.

“Other diplomats say that is very cynical when it’s Russia that is currently breaching this charter with its ongoing war.”

International criticism

Washington also criticised Russia’s membership of the Security Council and its status as a permanent member.

The White House urged Russia to “conduct itself professionally” when it assumes the role, saying there was no means to block Moscow from the post.

“A country that flagrantly violates the UN Charter and invades its neighbour has no place on the UN Security Council,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said on Friday.

“Unfortunately, Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and no feasible international legal pathway exists to change that reality,” she added, calling the presidency “a largely ceremonial position”.

The Baltic states also expressed their concern.

Estonia’s UN envoy Rein Tammsaar, speaking also on behalf of Latvia and Lithuania, warned the Security Council Friday as it met to discuss Russia’s plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in neighbouring Belarus.

“Isn’t it telling that tomorrow, on the anniversary of the Bucha killings, Russia will assume the Presidency of the UN Security Council?

“This is shameful, humiliating and dangerous to the credibility and effective functioning of this body,” he said.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis mockingly congratulated Russia on assuming the presidency.

“Looking forward to some energetic discussions on Ukraine’s proposal for the destination of your warships,” he wrote on Saturday.

The strategic communications division of the Lithuanian foreign ministry tweeted meanwhile that “Russia, waging a brutal war against Ukraine, can only lead #InsecurityCouncil”.

Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group told Al Jazeera that “we shouldn’t overestimate the importance of Russia having the presidency.

“The presidency is largely a procedural, functional job. It’s about convening meetings, it’s about shuffling paper. I can understand that to many people, especially people in Ukraine, it seems pretty grotesque that Russia is presiding over the security council in the current situation,” Gowan said.

“But I actually don’t think that it gives Moscow a significant platform to do much diplomatic damage to the Ukrainians.”

In an interview with the AFP news agency on Thursday, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said she expected Russia to behave “professionally” in the presidency, but expressed doubts.

“We also expect that they will also seek opportunities to advance their disinformation campaign against Ukraine, the United States and all of our allies,” she said.

“At every opportunity, we will raise our concerns about Russia’s actions,” she added, reiterating Washington’s condemnation of Moscow’s “war crimes and human rights violations” in Ukraine.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies