The UN Security Council will experience an unprecedented, almost baroque situation from 1er next April: this key body for global peace and security issues will be chaired for a month by a pariah country on the international scene, Russia.
More than 140 states out of 193 voted for two resolutions condemning it for its invasion of Ukraine. They represent three quarters of the members of the international organization, an unprecedented level. Its president, Vladimir Putin, is the subject of an arrest warrant for war crimes, issued by the International Criminal Court in mid-March.
Threats to credibility
An unprecedented situation, which seriously undermines the credibility of the Security Council. The latter has already been chaired by countries with controversial actions: its presidency rotates every month among its fifteen members, including five major powers that have been involved in a number of military interventions or colonial operations.
But this is the first time that the Council will be chaired by a country whose head of state is the subject of an arrest warrant from the ICC. Never had the Council been chaired, either, by a country accused of such documented war crimes, having invaded a neighbor and annexed four of its regions a few months earlier, an annexation recognized by a single country, North Korea.
This amounts to entrusting the debates on the fight against fires to an arsonist, argue kyiv supporters. Russia’s assumption of the presidency was called a “bad joke” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday.
This will not paralyze the work of the Council, however, since the presidency cannot oppose the request for an exceptional emergency meeting requested by nine of its members. In addition to the five permanent members with the right of veto (Russia, United States, China, United Kingdom, France), the Council currently has ten countries (Albania, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Ecuador, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta , Mozambique and Switzerland) not very complacent towards the Kremlin about the war in Ukraine, except Brazil.
It is also customary for the President of the Council to confine himself to the role of observer when a conflict that concerns him comes to the table… but there is no proof that the Kremlin will comply with customs if the question of its bombardments of Ukrainian cities is broached. .
In addition, the country chairing the Council has real institutional powers in this body, which meets on average twice a week, often behind closed doors. It is he who sets the agenda and organizes the debates. The Kremlin is generally good at abusing arcane procedures. The last time he chaired the Council was… in February 2022, just before his invasion of Ukraine: he imposed a resolution generally condemning economic sanctions, we understand better why today.
However, we can be reassured by recalling that the Russian presidency will last only one month. Moscow will hand over the presidency to Switzerland in May. In addition, the actions of the Security Council, in particular concerning the use of armed force (chapter VII of the charter), are generally blocked by the veto of one or more permanent members.
The question of the status of permanent members
This problematic month of presidency also raises the recurring question of the status of the permanent members and the right of veto of the Council. This privilege is not linked, contrary to what many believe, to their possession of nuclear weapons (in 1945, only the United States had them) but to the fact that they were originally the main winners of the Second World War and that they represented, with their colonies, half of the world’s population.
Much water has flowed under the bridge in seventy-eight years. Although they all have nuclear weapons, three of the five permanent members now have a population equivalent to less than 2% of humanity and a GDP less than 3% of the world total. Supporters of Kiev also argue that the way in which Russia succeeded the USSR in the Security Council in 1991 was not legally irrefutable: it was never validated by a formal vote of the member states… Last anomaly: the two-year election to the UN Security Council requiring a certain consensus (in 1979, 165 ballots failed to decide between Cuba and Colombia), some sixty countries have never sat on it.
A bunkered president
Because of the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against him, an extremely rare operation against a head of state, Vladimir Putin can no longer go to any of the 124 signatory countries of the ICC charter without risking being arrested. . In practice, none of these countries, or even most of the forty states that do not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC, will invite it because of the reputational risk. De facto, the master of the Kremlin can only go to Iran, China, India, Syria and half a dozen former Soviet republics.
Moreover, for security reasons in particular, Vladimir Putin travels very little. He has not left his country since his visit to Belarus in mid-December, and has only been to a western country, Switzerland, in three years. Since 2021, he has only visited ex-Soviet republics, Iran and China.