Kador Group




EXCLUSIVE War in Ukraine

“In 1991, No One Cared about the UN Charter.” – Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UN S.Kyslytsia

The Ukrainians who were fighting along with you, with apartheid. Now, we say very often in the meetings of the Security Council: “Oh, Russia violates all possible provisions of the [U.N.] Charter.” (U

Oct. 4, 2022

The Ukrainians who were fighting along with you, with apartheid. Now, we say very often in the meetings of the Security Council: “Oh, Russia violates all possible provisions of the [U.N.] Charter.” (Unintelligible) To accept the fact that the Russian Federation acquired the seat illegally.

So Mr Ambassador, thank you for being here. Let me begin by saying that you belong to this new class of Ukrainian diplomats who are not at all low-key or afraid of being blunt and provocative. And you were that even before the war because I saw one of your interviews, where you didn’t mince words. And it seems to have become the new norm, right? Because Ukraine’s Foreign Minister [Dmytro] Kuleba was also quite vocal. He is, I’m sorry, quite vocal. And so is the Ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk.

Is that type of diplomacy the “new black” worldwide? Or is Ukraine acting as a trend setter here?

Well, I think that is the natural evolution of Ukrainian society as a whole. And I think that this change of culture was pretty much (Unintelligible), it was gradual. Let me remind you that Ukraine at the moment of proclamation of Independence [in August 1991] was basically a hard-core post-Soviet state with the apparatus and administration basically built with Soviet apparatchiks and Soviet diplomats. No disrespect to many wonderful people whom I met, whom I joined in the foreign service in the early 1990s. There were many seasoned, experienced diplomats, to name a few: Minister [Hennadiy] Udovenko, Minister [Anatoliy] Zlenko, [Borys] Tarasyuk, [Volodymr] Ohryzko and others.

They were wonderful and they still are wonderful, with the exception of those who have, unfortunately, died. It would be very unrealistic to expect that in the early 90-ies we would have European style diplomacy. In fact, the whole Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the early 1990s at the moment of proclamation of Independence was about 100 staff members, including drivers and the security guards. Then evolution brought us to a multi-vector sort of diplomacy [under President Leonid Kuchma] and people were trying to sit on many chairs at the same time, while occasionally speaking one thing in Brussels and another in Moscow, and another somewhere else in Vienna. And I think we finally parted from the multilateral way of diplomacy after the Revolution of Dignity [in 2014] and the final nail in the coffin of multilateral diplomacy was the military invasion, followed by full scale aggression on the night of February 23rd/24th. I think that we all look at President Zelensky and others as leaders, national leaders. I think Kuleba is wonderful in terms of his creativity and his unconventional attitude to many things. So I think that is a national trend. I think that I am only part of this trend. And I quite enjoy it. I am so sick and tired of ambiguities, and I am sick and tired of hypocrisy. And if hypocrisy is no longer a feature of Ukrainian diplomatic language, it is still very much present and pervasive, including in the United Nations and other international fora.

But aren’t those changing too? Because I mean your style of diplomacy is quite… It’s an interesting style. It’s an aggressive one, a very honest one. Aren’t others acting in the same way in the U.N.?

I think that when I came to New York in February 2020, among those who were quite assertive and quite honest was the German permanent representative Christoph Heugsen. And you can google many videos of him addressing the General Assembly or the Security Council, because Germany was part of the Security Council back then, and you will see how honest he was and why the Russians hated him so much, because he would call a spade a spade. And I do really appreciate it, because as I say, hypocrisy and indecisiveness are so pervasive. I can admit the need to be polite, but I cannot stand any longer blatant lies that I have to hear practically every session of the Security Council from the Russian delegation.

I understand. These weeks have been busy for the U.N. with the 77th Session and the sham referenda held by Russia in the temporarilyoccupied territories of Ukraine. We have seen many powerful speeches by Joe Biden, Secretary Blinken, Charles Michel. But what is the sentiment behind the scenes? Can you share a glimpse of that with us, especially when it comes to countries that are somewhat sceptical of Ukraine, not really our “best friends”? 

Look, let me begin my answer from a different angle. You, yourself and many others, we hear very often that the U.N. is a failure, that the U.N. is not functional, up to the extreme of some people suggesting that we must leave the U.N., or that the U.N. should be cancelled. Let me offer you this reply: if you take a picture of the General Assembly, literally, take a picture of the General Assembly – that is a picture of the world as it is. And that is a picture that you cannot doctor or photoshop, that being a true picture of the world. It’s true that the General Assembly is not Europe. It’s true that the General Assembly is not the Transatlantic community. There are 193 countries. So to say that we don’t like this photo, and that this photo can be shredded and we can turn our back to the world is not the way to deal with the world.

I mean it is a very primitive and populistic reply to what we see when we look at the world as a whole. Instead, we have to continue to work very hard with all the members of the General Assembly. We have to find ways to reach out and explain to them. There are hard-core thugs, that I wouldn’t even spend time on, trying to reach out to. For example, North Korea or Syria. I mean that is a lost case and there is no need to waste time on them. But there are also countries that belong in the group of nations that are ignorant, literally ignorant.

There are many missions in New York that only have two staff members – an ambassador and secretary, and that’s it. Believe it or not, 30% of the missions are like that. It’s one thing that the United States always has 200 staff members, and the Russian Federation has a diplomatic staff of 72-75 members (I don’t remember exactly) plus administrative staff. But there are literally countries that just have an ambassador and a secretary. You know, they have no embassies there for natural and objective reasons. That’s the special feature of being an ambassador and permanent representative in New York, compared with many important capitals, where with all my due regard you just have a government to deal with. You have just one foreign ministry to deal with. You just have a handful of interlocutors in the government who deal with foreign relations.

Here in New York, just to meet with all permanent representatives – almost 200 – and observers, you need at least one year just to shake their hands once. So to reach out takes time. Therefore, it’s very good that President Zelensky now seems to appreciate the importance of addressing the United Nations. He spoke to the General Assembly despite all the difficulties that Russia tried to put. He spoke several times to the Security Council. Minister Kuleba was here, Prime Minister [Denys] Shmyhal was here, and the First Lady [Olena Zelenska] was here. They all had intensive programs, including with countries that are beyond our usual circle of friends, from Europe and also America. On the other hand we have also to acknowledge the troubles that the world faces, the calamities, and wars are not only happening in Ukraine. You know, people dying in Yemen literally every day, including of starvation. There are thousands and thousands of Yemeni children that were killed in Yemen as a result of the ongoing war there. There are global-scale problems with energy supply, food supply, and it’s the case that most of them were either created artificially or were escalated by Russian aggression.

And, on the other hand, let’s admit this: when we say that we are poor according to the statistics, we are poor in the eyes of Brussels, right? But we are not poor in the eyes of Africans, Central Americans, Asians, who look at you and say you are coming from one of the richest parts of the world, white, European. So they see Ukraine from a different kind of optics. And they see that it may not necessarily be the way many people see from Europe or from Ukraine. So, the world is very complex, and it takes a lot of effort to fight with Russian propaganda. Russians have embassies practically in every single African country. And if I say something, or Kuleba says something, I can guarantee that the next day, if not the same day, a Russian ambassador or a local foreign ministry will offer them vaccination from the Ukrainian version of events. African policy for the European Union has not been successful.

How come?

U.S. foreign policy has not been successful, as a matter of fact. And I am speaking of the European Union, I am speaking of the United States who have a very developed network of embassies and presence on the ground in Africa.

So how come it wasn’t successful?

It was not successful in terms of promotion of the policies and values and standards that the collective democratic world believes are prerequisites for social and economic development for many reasons. I do not blame Africans by default, I’m trying to offer you a look from their perspective. Many of them are post colonial nations, practically all of them, right?

So they have this post-colonial sentiment. And when they look at their ex-colonial powers they are genetically suspicious about what is originating from certain capitals, European capitals. They are also not ready from the point of view of their institutional capacity and strength to absorb the standards that the United States or European Union put as a condition for receiving technical or financial assistance. You see, neither the United States nor the European Union just give away money unconditionally, like some other countries do.

I would not name them, but there are those who offer money to third world countries with no conditions. Basically, they just want to be there in the field, filling the empty niches that are not filled by the Europeans or by the Americans. There is also this sentiment, which is wrong and which I try to fight with and Kuleba does as well. Oftentimes you may hear in New York that: “We support Russia, because Russia was helping us to fight colonialism and apartheid”. Which is total nonsense! The Russian Federation was not a member of the United Nations till 1991. And let me tell you that in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, it was the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic who was a member of the United Nations. And who, according to the division, non-public division of labour within the Soviet delegation, Belarusian delegation and the Ukrainian delegation, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was putting to a vote many anti-colonialist, anti-apartheid if not resolutions, but amendments on proposals. So, basically, those were Soviet, but still Ukrainian diplomats, who were working very hard in the General Assembly to fight apartheid. And you can pull out many apartheid documents where you could see the name of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and probably even of Udovenko, who was the Permanent Representative of Ukraine before Independence. So, I try to remind those African countries: “Guys, it was the Ukrainians who were fighting along with you with  apartheid.”

Are they reacting well to that? Does it convince them?

They do react to that. And you know, really you have to remember that we became independent 30 years ago. And most of the current ambassadors, not only from Africa but also from European countries, were high-school children then. I mean, they don’t remember. One of the fundamental problems of multilateral diplomacy in New York is that people must have very deep institutional memory. Because if you don’t remember what happened in New York only 30, 40, 50 years ago…

I will give you an example: you want to suggest something and go to the General Assembly, you have a proposal, let’s do something, right? And if you haven’t really looked into the archives, there is a very high chance that the Cuban delegation will come and say: “No-no, thank you very much, we already considered that in 1963.”

The problem is that many members of the young generation, diplomats, including well-educated Europeans do not have institutional memory. They do not remember what happened in the 1960s or 1970s, let alone in 1991. When I tell some colleagues how the permanent seat of the Soviet Union was transferred to the Russian Federation behind closed doors [in December 1991], it’s like an eyeopener to them. These people have simply either never read the full story, or they never saw the original papers that relate to that unfortunate development.

So you touched upon this fact, that the permanent seat was transferred to Russia. And I know this is Ukraine’s legal position, that this was wrong and unlawful. Tell me please, when did Ukraine first voice this position? What was the UN’s response to it?

Right. It’s a very long conversation, so I would try to give you a concise version of it.

The story is that it’s not the first time that people raise questions, including legal questions: How come Russia sits in the Soviet seat? It would be totally untrue to say it was just Ambassador Kyslytsia, who after his arrival to New York started to raise this issue.

It is another thing however, that in the course of the last two years it was Ukraine who became very vocal and very persistent about the need to revisit that very complicated both political and legal issues. The fact that Russia sits for more than thirty years in that seat does not change the legal factors that existed in December 1991.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union had become imminent by the end of the summer 1991. Although the Soviet Union ceased to exist legally around Christmas time in December 1991, the experts in many capitals and in the secretariat had been very busy advising what is going to happen with the Soviet seat in general and in the security council in particular.

So the legal counsel of the secretariat prepared a number of memos, memoranda, to the secretary-general, starting from summer until December, where he explained to the secretary-general what, in his legal opinion, are the consequences and difficulties that may arise from the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In one of his last memorandums addressed to the secretary-general in December 1991, he once again stated that, in his legal opinion, there were three possible scenarios of how and what could happen with the Soviet seat, including in the security council. But the most important thing was that all three options would require votes in the security council and a vote in the general assembly.

The charter of the United Nations proscribes that members are admitted on recommendation by the security council, followed by a vote in the general assembly. You would not find a single phrase, or any vote – neither of the security council nor of the general assembly – on the issue of transferring the powers of a permanent member, or admitting the Russian Federation as a member state.

And there are no other legal documents that offer you means or ways to assume responsibilities of a permanent member of the security council other than they still exist in the UN Charter, right? There are no general assembly resolutions and no resolutions of the security council that would say you can be acknowledged as a permanent member by virtue or by letter of your president.

So, basically, what happened was President Yeltsin sent a letter to the United Nations that said: “Let me inform you of the wish of the Russian Federation to continue the membership of the Soviet Union both in the United Nations and in the security council.”

The then-Ambassador Yuli Vorontsov who, by irony, was president of the security council in the month of December 1991, closing one of the meetings of the security council as the Soviet ambassador said: “And by the way, there is this letter from Yeltsin that says that the Russian Federation wants to be a continuator of the Soviet Union.” He closes the meeting.

Around Christmas time he goes to the secretary-general, presents his credentials as ambassador of the Russian Federation, and he opens the next meeting after Christmas as the Russian ambassador! So it was like a coup d’etat, you know? He closes one meeting as the Soviet ambassador, and after Christmas time he opens the meeting as a Russian ambassador.

Not a single open discussion in the security council, not a single instance of vote. The members of the UN General Assembly, in my opinion, were robbed of their right to express themselves, whether they agree. I tell you, I believe, that should the vote take place, Russia would be admitted legally. I’m sure that the general assembly would vote for the admission of Russia. I’m sure that, believe it or not, the Ukrainian delegation would vote for that.

As we mentioned in the beginning of our conversation, (those) who were in power in Ukraine at that moment, no credit is needed to President Kravchuk or other high-ranking officials, but it is a matter of fact that they discussed this issue in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. They discussed this issue in Almaty.

Nevertheless, Moscow decided not to go for a full vote, not to go via legal procedures and they did it on purpose, because then setting a precedent that Russia was a new entity, that Russia acquires rights through the process of agreement of other countries. They would set the precedent that would have very awful consequences, like the domino effect on other issues: to begin with property of the Soviet Union, to begin with the assets of  the Soviet Union in foreign lands, to continue with very, very many other assets.

So, they did it on purpose. It was a very informed decision to bypass the legal requirements and, basically, the decision was made behind closed doors by the then-permanent members of the security council, and that’s it!

So, now we say very often in the meetings of the security council: “Oh, Russia violates all possible provisions of the UN Charter,” but let me remind all of us – including Ukraine and Ukranians – that we were all complacent and we all allowed Russia to assume responsibilities of the Soviet Union in the security council in the most illegal way possible.

And the rest of the three decades of the presence of the Russian Federation in the security council and the UN in general have been a sequence of violations of the charter, which was brutally violated in December 1991. So, we shouldn’t really be surprised that from the very first instance of the presence of the Russian Federation in the UN we let them believe that the most egregious violations of the charter would not be punished.

Mr Ambassador, you were talking about the security council, which I heard you dubbed “insecurity council.” I thought that was quite funny.

My question is, everyone is talking and everyone is supposing about the need to reform it. It’s nothing new. These discussions have been around for a while, but now they are targeted directly at Russia: How do we suspend this membership? Maybe kick it out altogether? And you were talking about, basically, the fact that it doesn’t have that seat, according to that violation in the past. Isn’t that one of the ways to make the reform feasible, which seems to be very difficult?

Well, I’ll tell you after this long answer to the question about the legality of the Russian presence in the security council. It is still the matter of fact that even the closest allies of Ukraine are not ready yet to accept the fact that the Russian Federation acquired the seat illegally. They are ready to admit, and they do openly, that the behaviour of the Russian Federation including in the security council is unacceptable and that’s very important.

You know, I noticed – and many of us noticed here in New York – a very clear position of the US delegation beginning from probably August if not earlier. If you look at the speech of my very good friend American Ambassador Linda (Thomas-Greenfield), that she delivered in San Francisco at one of the universities about the need to reform the security council in response to what’s going on in the security council and that’s a very important if not game changer, then it’s a very important  turn on the road towards the reform of the security council.

The way the UN is organized and designed immobilises any changes whatsoever, unless the permanent members agree to those changes. If you open Article 108, you will see amendments adopted by two-thirds of members of the United Nations, including all permanent members of the security council, any meaningful change to the charter is impossible.

Any change to the charter is impossible unless all permanent members of the security council agree to it. So, we can try to change the rules of procedure, and try to change methods of work, (but) we will not change the charter unless all permanent members agree to the change.

That is where the most important question is: Will we reach a point in time when four permanent members – the United States, the UK, France and China – will say: “We will not count the Russian vote for the purposes of the change of the charter.” One may say: “Oh, that’s illegal! We have to follow the charter! We have signed the charter in San Francisco! We ratified the charter! The charter is our Bible!” But, “What the hell!” my answer will be.

And I bring you back to what we just discussed about December 1991, when you could not care less about the charter, when you brought in the Russian Federation in violation of the charter.

So, I think that if this war, this aggression does not bring about meaningful change of the architecture of the security council and of how the security council deals with military aggressions, that will mean basically the end for the security council and its reputation and that will be very much unfortunate.

Once again, as I said, it would not mean in my opinion, that we should turn our back on the world, because that’s how the world is. If we leave the United Nations, and say we don’t like it, we would probably be the only country in the world that would turn its back to it.

I’d like to point out just two things. Apparently, the Charter leads to a Catch22 situation. So that’s a bit weird in the sense that that’s how it was developed. Also, probably where there is a will, there is also a way.

Joking aside, Russia’s bold behaviour in the UN and dissemination of all sorts of lies, including Lavrov’s outrageous speech where he dubbed Ukraine a totalitarian state of Nazi kind, makes it look like the UN really lacks determination to stop and say no – as if it allows Goebbels to come to the stage and say something along the lines of Germany liberating Jews in concentration camps.

Does the UN apparatus the bureaucrats understand that? If so, what are they doing to address the problem, to find a way of dealing with this?

First of all, let us not blow out of proportion the role and the powers of the secretariat of the United Nations, including the secretary-general himself. Let me remind you that the UN was conceived by three old gentlemen, including one secretary-general – Stalin – and it’s not a joke. He would not allow any other secretary-generals to be even comparable to him. That is why, out of the many, many more than one hundred articles of the UN Charter, there are only five articles dedicated to the secretary-general. And out of the five articles dedicated to the secretary-general, there are even less articles about his powers. So, basically, the secretary-general is a secretary more than he is a general. And the only secretary-general who was more powerful in times of his open confrontation with the Soviet Union and the position of Moscow was Dag Hammarskjöld.

Let us not forget how he ended up dying in an aircraft catastrophe that is still not fully investigated. I’m not saying he was killed, I’m just reminding you of the facts of history. So, after him, practically all the secretary-generals were very quiet, more efficient, less efficient.

I mean, Kofi Annan was very successful in terms of delivering his mandate. But it is also a matter of fact that not only in the charter, but also in the policies of the permanent members of the security council, they would never allow any secretary-general to play a meaningful role, rather a role in implementing decisions of the security council and of the general assembly.

That’s one thing. Another thing is, the secretariat is not there to tell the members what to do. The secretariat is there to provide expertise and to implement decisions of the governments. And, as rightly said by President Zelensky last year when he was in person addressing the general assembly (you can pull up his speech from 2021) he says: “We’ve all criticised the United Nations, and rightly so, but let me remind you that the United Nations and the secretariat is not a building. It is a gathering of member states.”

So when we criticise the United Nations, we criticise the governments that compose the UN. Therefore, that’s on a grand scale. On a not-so-grand scale, but at a practical level, yes, the secretariat of the United Nations does not have thousands of employees hired by member states to work for member states, but you would see even inconsistency of position among the deputies of Guterres, his assistant secretary-generals.

Some of them are not diligent enough to follow the lines on aggression. On the aggression, rather. They allow themselves to give their own versions or their own vision of what’s going on, and we try to fight with that. We try to remind members of the secretariat that, firstly, they are hired and that, secondly, they must follow what the general assembly has decided on the aggression, and what their boss, the secretary-general, has already said on many occasions about the war.

How come they behave like that, do you think?

Many reasons. Some of them have lost touch with reality. Some of them are useful (I will not use the second word). Some of them are infiltrated by our opponents and enemies.

I wouldn’t be surprised if among thousands of Russian citizens who are employees of the UN there is a good dozen of clear spies, but I wouldn’t say those are only Russian citizens. There are many other countries that have their citizens as part of the secretariat and I also hate conspiracy theories. I think that it is the duty of the leadership of the secretariat to ensure and enforce that the secretariat follows the decisions of member states including those adopted by the general assembly.

One final question, Mr Ambassador. NATO is said to be discussing its response to a potential partial nuclear strike, the likelihood of which has grown in the past few weeks, unfortunately, and they are said to be discussing that on a daily basis. What is the UN doing in that respect? Perhaps even in the not so public area, outside the typical graveconcern type of action?

Let me tell you once again, that the UN is not the staff members of the secretariat. The UN are the member states and their governments. The member states of the UN were trying to achieve and approve a meaningful decision.

For example, not long ago – a couple of weeks ago – during the review conference on the Treaty of Non-proliferation, including the nuclear aspects and nuclear dangers emanating from the Russian presence in the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, it was the Russian Federation who blocked the decision because they didn’t like the language, though the nuclear threats are discussed in the security council where, as we know, the Russian Federation is allowed to use the Soviet right to veto and the nuclear threats are now discussed in the committees of the general assembly that have opened their work after high-level debates.

So, basically, the answer to your question is not what the UN will say, but what the member states will be able to generate at the composition in New York in the United Nations.

Coming back to the picture of the general assembly as it is, let me remind you that the collective democratic world has a strong presence there but this presence is only 85-80 votes, because if you look at the record of the general assembly, records of the votes on the suggestions of the collective democratic world, those votes are around 85-80 votes, unless it is a consensus.