May 1, 2023
Allowing Russia to be on the United Nations Security Council and assume its presidency in April is equivalent to placing a serial killer in charge of New York City’s police force. Russia is a terrorist nation run by a dictator charged with war crimes and should have been expelled a year ago after the General Assembly condemned its invasion of Ukraine as “illegal”, then demanded that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw” from Ukraine. But Russia remains one of five permanent members on the Security Council with a veto, a perch occupied by the five because of their sacrifices in the Second World War. However, Russia illegitimately grabbed the Soviet Union’s permanent seat in 1992 even though there were 14 other Soviet republics. Ironically, Ukraine should have been given the honor because it suffered more casualties in the Second World War, civilian and military, than did Russia, the other Soviet republics, or any other country except China. But Moscow’s scam worked. Russia replaced the Soviet Union and has “gamed” the UN ever since.
The presidency of the Security Council rotates monthly among its 15 members and Russia presided in February 2022, when it invaded, and again last month as its rampage continued. Any of the other four permanent members could have vetoed this, but none did. In March, Russian critic and chess champion Garry Kasparov called this out and said: “I’m shocked that the U.S. and France or Britain have done nothing to stop Russia’s rotation to the presidency.”
Russia’s veto has prevented the Security Council from meeting its responsibilities which are to identify threats to peace or acts of aggression. The Council is also empowered to ask parties in a dispute to settle their differences peacefully and it can recommend terms of settlement. It also has the authority to order the use of military force, impose sanctions on member states, and refer matters to the International Criminal Court. But it has fulfilled none of these responsibilities because of Russia’s veto. Frankly, vetos should be disallowed when the veto-holder is the cause of concern.
Russia has also “sold” its veto to protect allies whose aggressions should have resulted in sanctions or intervention. This has given Moscow leverage over many countries. It is also apparent that Putin timed his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 in part because Russia held the Security Council presidency that month. In the days proceeding the onslaught, as his troops gathered along Ukraine’s borders, Russia pushed through an anti-sanctions condemnation in the UN. Moscow then invited pro-Russian operatives to appear before the Council to claim atrocities were committed against them by the “evil, Nazi Ukrainian regime”. And when the invasion began, Russia was still in the presidency, and immobilized the Council from taking immediate action. Worse, even if action had been demanded, its veto, and presumably China’s, would have blocked any effort to intervene.
Instead of sending in the UN “blue berets”, or imposing severe sanctions, the world’s arbiter of peace has been in the grip of the world’s worst perpetrator. “The choice of an aggressor country
for the leader of the UN Security Council has been met with reflections on whether the UN can fulfil its fundamental principles enshrined in the UN Charter,” wrote Dr. Paulina Piasecka politely, a national security expert in Warsaw. “It forces us to face the bitter truth. The rules born from post-World War II trauma have less and less meaning.” Or, as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky put it, Russia’s presidency on the Security Council is “absurd”.
Russia has gamed UN rules too. The legal basis for allowing Russia to replace the Soviet Union was non-existent and the handover occurred without a confirmation vote. Even worse, now that it has parlayed that position to impede and degrade the United Nations, there are grounds, say some lawyers, to disqualify it from the Council, its presidency, or even membership in the General Assembly. But that is moot. Expulsion can only occur if UN Charter principles have been violated, which Russia has clearly done, but expulsion must be approved by the General Assembly which can only vote for expulsion if this is recommended by the Security Council where Russia has a veto. Checkmate Russia.
The institution is broken and has become simply a talking shop that’s permanently deadlocked. Russia is a scourge and must be removed. Ukraine meets the criteria for a permanent seat, not Russia, and so does India — both were major, and unsung, contributors to the Second World War effort. Ukraine and India were colonies in 1939, of Russia and Britain respectively. Between 22 and 27 million Soviets died, but roughly 14 million Ukrainians were killed, deported, sent to concentration camps, or exiled. The fiercest fighting with Germany took place in Ukraine where thousands of towns and villages were destroyed and pillaged, as is happening today. After the war, the Kremlin awarded 2.5 million Ukrainians with military commendations or medals, but in 2020, Putin lied when he said that Russia “would definitely have won without Ukraine as a member of the USSR, because we are the `winner state’.”
India’s contribution was also subsumed by Britain for years. In 1939, India officially and independently declared war against Nazi Germany and in 1942 its own government decided to join the war effort. Some 2.5 million volunteers fought under British command. Roughly 87,000 Indian troops died and three million civilians starved to death as food relief was diverted to feed war torn Europe. Eventually, after the war, Britain’s former commander in chief conceded that Britain “couldn’t have come through both wars [World War I and II] if they hadn’t had the Indian Army.”
India now lobbies for a permanent seat in advance of a planned enlargement of the Council in two years’ time. But India could replace Russia immediately — a proposition that China would likely veto. However, Western leverage may eventually prevail as Russia heads for bankruptcy and inevitable defeat, leaving the West as China’s only important customers. Some may argue against India because it, like China, has been buying Russian fossil fuels at bargain prices, and abstaining from the General Assembly votes to condemn the war and atrocities. But India is now the world most populous country and democracy and its Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly highlighted the importance of “the UN Charter, international law, and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states” when addressing Russia’s Ukrainian invasion and occupation. He also publicly rebuked Putin over his war at a conference last summer.
The United Nations does important work, in terms of oversight and aid, but must be rehabilitated. No country should have a veto over peacekeeping efforts, no marauding nation should be allowed to remain a member, and the growing importance of Ukraine and India must be represented properly within its governance system. The UN has been neutered by Russia and must be reconstituted or, if not, it must be relegated to the dustbin of history.