Russia has taken over the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the month of April, angering Ukraine.
The last time Russia chaired the council was in February 2022, the month when Russia launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
And last month, the The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes for his alleged involvement in abductions of children from Ukraine.
Russia’s prominent position at the UN points to problems with the structure of the international body, which was established in 1945 after World War II.
What has Ukraine said about the Russian Presidency of the UN Security Council?
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that the Russian presidency was a “slap in the face to the international community”.
“I urge the current members of the UN Security Council to thwart all Russian attempts to abuse his presidency.”
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry used the Russian increase as another opportunity to make the case the status of the Russian Federation as a permanent member of the Security Counciland even as a UN member state, is illegal.
Those claims relate to the breakup of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991. According to the UN charter, the USSR is the permanent member of the Security Council.
What does Russia have to say?
Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya told the Russian news agency Tass that the status of the Russian Federation as the continuation state of the USSR was officially recognized by the international community.
Excluding Russia from the Security Council was impossible without changes to the UN charter, just as it was impossible to strip Russia of its right to chair the council, he said.
“Without Russia, not only the work of the Security Council would lose its meaning, but also the work of the UN as a whole,” the state media agency said.
“And that would mean the destruction of the entire established system of international relations.”
What is the position of the US?
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US was pressing Russia for it behave professionally during her presidency in April.
“That said, we expect Russia to continue to use its seat on the council to spread disinformation, and to try to distract from the attempt to expose its actions in Ukraine and the war crimes committed by members of its armed forces and its excessive violations of the UN Charter,” she said.
“Unfortunately, Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and there is no viable international legal avenue to change that reality. That is what we are living with at the moment.”
Does Russia have extra powers as chairman of the Security Council?
“The reality is that this is a largely ceremonial position that rotates monthly in alphabetical order to councillors,” said Jean-Pierre.
Her understanding was echoed by Professor Andrew MacLeod, Visiting Professor of War and Security Studies at King’s College London. He told the ABC that the presidency did not bring Russia any advantage.
“Russia, along with the other permanent members of the Security Council, takes advantage of the veto it has whether or not it presides over the assembly.”
Nevertheless, Russia’s UN representative Nebenzya said in his interview with Tass that Russia is planning three pivotal events, all open debates, during its presidency of the Security Council.
The first would relate to risks arising from violations of agreements regulating the export of arms and military products, Nebenzya said.
These violations have “flooded international black markets with weapons that are untraceable and pose a serious threat.”
The second debate would look at “the contours of a new world order to replace the unipolar one”. The third would be in the Middle East.
What is the veto power of the Security Council?
The five permanent members of the council have the right to veto any resolution before the council. Here’s how the UN explains it:
“The creators of the United Nations Charter conceived that five countries – China, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) [which was succeeded in 1990 by the Russian Federation]the United Kingdom and the United States – because of their key role in the establishment of the United Nations, would continue to play an important role in the maintenance of international peace and security.
They were given the special status of permanent member states in the Security Council, along with a special right to vote known as the “veto power.”
“The drafters agreed that if any of the five permanent members cast a negative vote in the 15-member Security Council, the resolution or decision would not be adopted.”
How many countries belong to the UN Security Council?
The council has 15 members. They are the five permanent members and 10 others elected by the UN General Assembly for two-year terms.
Five of the non-permanent members are replaced each year. Of the 10 non-permanent members, 5 are from Africa or Asia, 1 from Eastern Europe, 2 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 2 from Western Europe and other states.
For a small country, New Zealand has done well in terms of council membership, having been a member four times – 1954-1955, 1966, 1993-94, 2015-2016.
India, which is neck-and-neck with China as the world’s most populous nation, has been a member only eight times – for the most part, a two-year membership per decade.
How does the Presidency of the Security Council work?
The presidency of the council is held by each of the members for one month, following the English alphabetical order of member states’ names.
So in May the presidency will be held by Switzerland, followed by the UAE, the UK and the US. It’s back to Albania in September, then Brazil and China, and Ecuador takes over in December.