The Danger of Russia Becoming President of the U.N. Security Council
People attend a Security Council meeting concerning the war in Ukraine at United Nations headquarters on February 24, 2023 in New York City. Blinken was one of the international officials to attend the Security Council meeting marking the one-year mark of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Thursday, the UN General Assembly passed 141-7 with 32 abstentions calling for a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine and for Russia to withdraw its forces immediately. Credit - Michael M. Santiago-Getty Images
Can you imagine such blood thirsty despots as: Adolf Hitler; Saddam Hussein; or Pol Pot presiding over the U.N. Security Council, charged with preserving global peace and harmony?
It may read like one, but this is no April Fool’s prank—next month, Russia—and by extension, Vladimir Putin—will assume the Presidency of the U.N. Security Council.
Known burglars are not given banks to run, nor are convicted sex offenders given charge of daycare centers. In the same vein, Putin should not be allowed to make a mockery of international diplomacy by becoming the face of global peace as he escalates his unjust invasion of Ukraine with new attacks daily.
The potential damage of a gavel-wielding Putin is hard to overstate. Even beyond its symbolic value; the Presidency of the U.N. Security Council carries very real institutional power within the U.N., chairing all discussions, applying the rules, controlling the docket, schedule, and credentialing for all debates, and managing all draft resolutions. And Russia has proven adept in the past at abusing the vast procedural power of the Security Council Presidency.
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In fact, the last time Russia held the rotating Security Council Presidency was, not coincidentally, February 2022. Back then, Russia sought to exploit the Security Council to confuse and mislead the world of its real intentions, and Russia’s devious machinations were aimed at impeding international support for Ukraine both leading up to and immediately following the start of the invasion on February 24.
The U.N. is an imperfect institution and it would have been challenging for the U.N. to effectively respond to the early warning signs of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine of due to periodic bureaucratic paralysis. However, Russia’s holding of the Security Council Presidency seriously exacerbated these challenges and rendered the U.N. largely impotent when the world most needed it, and even as the international community rallied around Ukraine.
For example, in the weeks leading up to the invasion, Russia abused its Presidency to anoint pro-Russian stooges as “Ukrainian civil society activists” at Security Council meetings, ostensibly speaking on behalf of Ukrainian civil society, and legitimized by bearing the ostensible institutional imprimatur of the UN. Their disinformation about the “evil Ukrainian regime” and their own “peaceful intentions” were supposed to confuse other countries and erode the efforts of the Ukrainian delegation to build international support for last-ditch peace efforts within the insular halls of the U.N.
In the weeks before the invasion, Russia manipulated the rules of the U.N. to force unprecedented institutional condemnation of economic sanctions, which escaped notice in the west but which was happily spread far and wide by the Kremlin, especially to third world countries. Russia was apparently thinking two steps ahead – when the invasion broke out in late February, Russian propagandists were quick to build on these discussions as a cudgel to erode the legitimacy of the western coalition in the eyes of developing nations.
Similarly, Russia used the Security Council as a venue to advertise an alphabet soup of their puppet international organizations, including the military block it leads, CSTO—providing these Putin puppets a veneer of international legitimacy right as the invasion started.
These startling examples do not even include countless other, smaller ways in which Russia leveraged obscure procedural rules to make life for the Ukrainian delegation difficult both within the U.N. and in the broader diplomatic arena.
Just as Russia’s abuse of the Presidency last February effectively immobilized the Security Council at the moment of maximum peril, we are now at a similar juncture, and if the first round was any indication, the consequences of unleashing Putin for a second go at the gavel are genuinely horrific. With warning signs that global support for Ukraine may be under increasing strain, it does not take much imagination to conceive how Russia will once again misuse the powers of the Presidency to sow disinformation and drive wedges between U.N. member states.
Fortunately, the members of the UN have a way out of this predicament—if they are courageous enough to enforce their own U.N. Charter.
As others have pointed out, the legal basis of Russia’s membership in the Security Council is dubious to begin with, as Russian membership was never subject to a confirmation vote, nor was Russia an original founding member of the U.N.
Rather, Russia merely seized a seat at the table for itself. Once the USSR dissolved, thirteen of the fifteen former socialist republics, from Armenia to Azerbaijan to Uzbekistan, had to apply to membership with no nation grandfathered in, excepting Ukraine and Belarus which had been among the original members along with the USSR since 1945. Yet, somehow, like an uninvited dinner guest, Russia showed up and began gobbling up other diners’ meals, even though Russia’s wish to be recognized as the continuator state to the USSR was never formally discussed or voted upon.
Russia’s lack of legal standing aligns with the fact that it simply does not have the political, diplomatic, or economic power needed to be a permanent member of the Security Council. Their aspirations are woefully misaligned with their actual capabilities. Despite its swagger as an a neighborhood bully in eastern Europe, Russia is a failing economy running unfunded massive deficits and not remotely an economic superpower. As we’ve documented, over 1,000 major multinationals have pulled out of Russia crippling over one third of its economy. Russia brings no finished goods to the global marketplace while its raw materials are commodities from fuel and food to metals all affordably available elsewhere.
It is therefore little surprise that in reality, Russia is little more than a freeloader at the U.N.—at the expense of far smaller nations. Russia squeezed its way onto the Security Council despite contributing much less than any Security Council permanent member, less than 2% of the U.N. budget, which is less than half of the financial contributions of Italy and comparable to the budgetary contribution of much smaller states such as the Netherlands. For comparison, the U.S. provides 22% of the U.N.’s budget.
We therefore lay out an urgent three-step process to block Putin from taking over the Security Council by invoking the U.N.’s own charter and to bring Russia’s standing into better alignment with its actual capabilities.
Now that Russia has been designated an aggressor state by the U.N., leading international law scholars have noted that this technically disqualifies Russia from presiding over any U.N. body, much less the U.N. Security Council. The U.N. should thus invoke its charter and prohibit Russia from assuming the Presidency of the Security Council.
Russia should be removed from the Security Council and General Assembly, given its unlawful presence; if Russia is interested, it may apply for a non-voting observatory status in the General Assembly as a provisional step.
Russia should then have to formally apply for membership, to be discussed and voted upon both in the General Assembly and in the Security Council, like every other new member of the U.N.
Ultimately, the President of the U.N. Security Council is supposed to safeguard global peace and harmony. Putin cannot be allowed to claim this mantle as long as he continues his invasion of Ukraine, and the member states of the U.N.—in particular, the U.S., the U.K., and France, three of the five permanent members of the Security Council, should be ready to stand up to the convening of the Security Council under the illegitimate leadership of warlord Putin. These actions must be immediate—with only two weeks left before Putin takes over the U.N.
With research contributions from Katya Pinchuk, Yevheniia Podurets and Daria Valska