By JEFFREY SONNENFELD , RICHARD BLUMENTHAL AND JON HUNTSMAN
March 28, 2023
It seems like the worst April Fools’ joke in history, but an indicted war criminal, Vladimir Putin, is about to take control of the U.N. Security Council—with the implicit blessing of the United States, France, and the U.K—just weeks after his global criminal indictment.
On top of this, the man just designated as Putin’s emissary to address this session of the Security Council is his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov—who stormed out of the Security Council this fall when confronted with evidence of Russia atrocities against Ukraine. Last month a G20 summit in New Delhi erupted in laughter when Lavrov complained that Ukraine started the war by attacking Russia. How can the U.S. watch as this speeding car heads towards the cliff?
In 1986, as First Lady, Nancy Reagan coined the expression “Just say no!” regarding drug abuse. The U.S. must use every ounce of its influence—including exercising its rarely-used veto power—to block Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crony at the U.N. from assuming the Presidency of the U.N.’s Security Council and abusing the platform of the U.N. to whitewash Russia’s genocidal war in Ukraine.
On March 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin asserting that “There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility” for an array of atrocities and war crimes committed against non-combatant civilians since his invasion last year of their peaceful sovereign neighbor Ukraine. There are five permanent members of the Security Council—the U.S., China, France, Russia, and the U.K.—which are collectively known as “the P5.” Each of them individually can veto any resolution.
The Security Council’s ten elected members, which serve two-year, rotating, nonconsecutive terms, are not afforded veto power and of course no other U.N. member nations have that power. In the decade since Putin’s return to office in 2012, Russia has exercised that valuable power a stunning 24 times, twice a year. China has used it ten times, once a year. But the U.S. has only exercised that power three times over the decade. What could be a better cause than to use that power now.
According to Article 27 on the U.N. charter, any member nation that is a party to a dispute must abstain from voting. Last year, in violation of Article 27 and several articles of the U.N. Charter, Russia vetoed a Security Council draft resolution intended to end the Russian Federation’s military invasion of Ukraine. As a party in the dispute and as an aggressor nation, Russia should have recused itself from voting and been denied its veto power.
That proposal, submitted by Albania and the U.S., gathered support from 11 Security Council members but was vetoed by the Russian Federation. China, India, and the United Arab Emirates all abstained. That resolution of the 15-member Council “would have deplored, in the strongest terms, the Russian Federation’s aggression as being in violation of Article 2, paragraph 4 of the Charter of the United Nations—an obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.”
This was followed by a sweeping show of global unity with 141 countries voting in favor of an UNGA resolution demanding an immediate end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russian blocked this, too. Shelby Magi and Yulia Shlamov of the Atlantic Council promptly and accurately condemned this situation stating that it “makes mockery of the Security Council.”
Astoundingly, history is repeating itself as, improbably, Russia also obtained control of the UN Security Council just after they launched their invasion on Ukraine a year ago. Russia exploited that position—part of a
long history of Russian shenanigans at the U.N.—to shamelessly promote a false counterfactual narrative of Ukrainian neo-Nazis while burying meetings, speakers, and resolutions which did not align with their diabolical agenda.
For example, they anointed pro-Russian counterfeits as “Ukrainian civil society activists” at Security Council meetings to show that ostensibly Ukrainian civil society despised Zelenskyy and would welcome Putin’s rule with open arms—which has been laughably disproven over the past year. They promoted disinformation about the “evil Ukrainian regime” and their own “peaceful intentions” intended to juxtapose Putin’s omniscient brilliance against a supposedly cowardly Ukrainian government which would flee at the first sign of trouble—even though President Zelenskyy courageously refused to leave Kyiv.
Russia further manipulated the rules of the U.N. to force unprecedented institutional condemnation of economic sanctions through procedural skullduggery, which was then feverishly broadcast by the Kremlin to third world countries to undermine peaceful economic blockades of Russia. Russia further convened nonsensical meetings on “biological weapons and war mosquitos” that Ukraine supposedly manufactured and non-existent “dirty bombs” that Ukraine is supposedly using deep within Russia.
On top of all this, Russia has never been admitted as a U.N. member nation, let alone a legitimate member of the U.N. Security Council. No nation, including Russia, has even been grandfathered in a surviving nation of a former fallen empire. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 thirteen of the fifteen former USSR republics, from Armenia to Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan, were required to apply for membership. Only Ukraine and Belarus had standing, as having been among the original members since 1945.
Nowhere in USSR diplomatic statements was Russia identified as the equivalent of the 15 member USSR. One cannot simply join the U.N. by expressing its wish to join—it must be ratified through the formal process. With no application for membership, no review of a nomination, and no ratification vote, Russia is simply not yet a nation with any legal standing at the U.N.
The U.S., across political parties and Administrations, has been reluctant to exercise its UNSC veto power as career diplomats often possess a near determination for compromise and backchannel conversation, but there are moments to stop the conversation and take a stand.
It is times like these that the U.S., the U.K., and De Gaulle had in mind in 1941 when they called for an international postwar peacekeeping institution with, crucially, veto powers by five superpowers—if their membership is in good standing. In the next five days, the U.S. merely needs to take a stand, saying no to Russia’s presidency, and calling to bypass Russia for the next nation in line to lead the Security Council.
Sonnenfeld is the Senior Associate Dean and Lester Crown Professor in Management Practice at Yale School of Management, and President of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute
Blumenthal is the senior U.S. Senator representing Connecticut since 2011 and sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee
Huntsman has served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2017-2019. Prior, he served in the administrations of five U.S. Presidents, including as U.S. Ambassador to China and Singapore and U.S. Deputy Trade Representative, and was elected to two terms as Governor of Utah