New York City was a busy place last week as the United Nations (UN) held its 77th session of the General Assembly. Taking place over five days from Sep.19-23, the event brought together leaders from around the globe for crucial talks.

At the same time, Russia – a permanent member of the UN – triggered sham “referenda” in four temporarily occupied regions of Ukraine, while Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the partial mobilization of 300,000 men, sparking a wave of protests and arrests in Moscow and other parts of the country.

The event was also marked by the Kremlin’s failed attempt to stop Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky from remotely addressing the UN Security Council; and the unwillingness of the U.S. to issue visas to Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov’s delegation.


Most speeches from western leaders in the UN were focused on the situation in Ukraine, deploring Russia’s war on the country and the lies Moscow spreads on a recurring basis. Many did not mince their words, including U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken who delivered the succinct line: “If Russia stops fighting, the war ends. If Ukrainians stop fighting, Ukraine ends.”

Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba was similarly vocal, noting that “the Russian diplomats flee almost as aptly as the Russian soldiers” – a reference to the successful counteroffensive of Ukrainian forces in the Kharkiv region and Lavrov’s rapid departure from the chamber.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly added: “[Lavrov] has left the chamber. I’m not surprised, I don’t think Mr Lavrov wants to hear the collective condemnation of this council.”


However, it was not only the denunciation of Russia’s war on Ukraine that dominated the agenda, but the-not-so-covert criticism of the UN’s rigid apparatus and modus operandi, which has allowed Russia to freely and repeatedly take the organization for a ride.

Among those who directly pressed for prompt action was U.S. President Joe Biden, who asserted that Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the UN Charter. President of the European Council Charles Michel also noted in his speech that “the use of the veto should be the exception, but it is becoming the rule.”


“Reform is needed, as a matter of urgency. Let me share with you this conviction: when a permanent member of the Security Council starts an unprovoked, unjustified war which has been condemned by the General Assembly, its suspension from the Security Council should be automatic,” he added.

Meanwhile, Turkey expressed support for the elimination of the veto in the UN’s Security Council altogether.

While calls for the reform of the UN Security Council are nothing new for an array of reasons, including those related to representation, it is the first time that they have been linked so directly to the actions of Russia.

And with good reason. Moscow has consistently shown utter disrespect for the organization by bombing Kyiv during the visit of UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres in the spring; attacking Odesa less than 24 hours after the grain export deal had been concluded in late July; repeatedly abusing its veto right; and launching multiple wars over the years, including against Ukraine and Georgia.


Still, the UN has hitherto taken no solid and clear action in limiting Russia’s influence in the Council other than producing non-binding resolutions.

Although this behavior is symptomatic of all hefty bureaucratic machines, the UN’s hesitation in acting decisively is not just a matter of doing what is morally right and necessary, but also one of self-respect.

Gutteres’ bizarre decision to take a picture smiling and shaking hands with Lavrov, who came around to deliver a speech on Ukraine being “a totalitarian state with elements of Nazi kind” questioned the degree of reasonableness within the institution. Furthermore, since last week, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has published the results of an investigation of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry into Ukraine, according to which Russian soldiers raped, among others, a four-year old child.

This is a serious problem as no matter how pompous and necessary the speeches delivered by world leaders were in New York, they remain just that – speeches. Without the UN’s willingness to take any concrete action concerning its dated structures, and with no specific person planning to take the lead in taking Russia to task, including the Secretary-General, it is unclear what the UN is planning to do in its current form.


Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Some may argue that meaningful action is difficult, if not impossible for the UN to take due to imperfectly written rules which lead to a catch-22 situation. However, there are two circumstances to bear in mind.

First, the UN can – and must – reveal details of how and why Russia received a seat at the Security Council after the collapse of the USSR. The circumstances surrounding this in 1991 were brought to light by Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsia shortly before the war, along with other figures such as Andrew MacLeod, visiting professor at the department of war studies at King’s College London.

Second, albeit more banal than the previous, is the mere notion that where there’s a will, there’s a way. And where the will is absent, rules can always be cited as an excuse for inaction.

Following its poor military performance on the battlefield, Russia has upped the ante by invoking the nuclear threat – taken seriously in both Washington and Brussels – and the UN must now find an overdue solution to a problem which can no longer be brushed under the carpet. The UN has already shown it can act, having managed to suspend Russia’s membership in the Human Rights Council, and acknowledges its own need to reform.

If it chooses not to, it will eventually follow in the footsteps of its predecessor the League of Nations, a scenario that will become virtually inevitable if Russia chooses to push the nuclear button after all.


The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.


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