Russia’s role at UN under scrutiny as Ukraine calls for Security Council vote to be removed

United Nations estimates over 150,000 Ukrainians have fled the country as Russian invasion continues

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Russia’s role at the United Nations, where it sits on the Security Council, is under fresh scrutiny as it presides over the council’s discussions of its invasion into Ukraine — and the Ukrainian president demands Moscow be stripped of its vote.

“To deprive the aggressor country of the right to vote in the U.N. Security Council, to qualify Russian actions and statements as genocide of the Ukrainian people, to help with the delivery of corpses of Russian soldiers. Talked about it in a conversation with UN Secretary General [Antonio Guterres],” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted.

That came after Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution that denounced its invasion of Ukraine and called on it to withdraw.

The call to take Russia out of the Security Council has found support among some Republican lawmakers in the United States. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., has introduced a resolution to encourage the U.N. to remove Russia from the Security Council.

“Russia should be kicked off the UN Security Council,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, said on Twitter. “The U.N. has become a complete joke and this might be a good first step to correcting that problem.”

The Soviet Union was written into the charter as one of the permanent five (P5) members of the council — meaning it was given a veto over the council’s business.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia took the Soviet Union’s spot — a move that was not challenged. Meanwhile, the presidency of the council rotates on a month-by-month basis. Russia is the president for February, and will be replaced by the United Arab Emirates in March. The U.S. will preside over the Council in May.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield appeared to dismiss the possibility of Russia being scrubbed out of the Security Council on Sunday when asked about Zelenskyy’s call.

“Russia is a member of the Security Council. That’s in the U.N. Charter,” she said on CNN. “But we are going to hold Russia accountable for disrespecting the U.N. Charter. And they have been isolated in many different ways. So just to indicate, 80 countries joined us in co-sponsoring the resolution, more than 50 countries joined us at the podium to call out Russia’s aggression, so the fact of their sitting on the Security Council does not mean they’re protected from criticism, protected from isolation, and protected from condemnation.”

Experts also expressed doubt that Russia could realistically be stripped of its U.N. membership, given the fact that Russia can veto many matters of Security Council business.

Feb 23, 2022: In this image from UNTV video, Vasily Nebenzya, Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations, speaks during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. (UNTV via AP)

“I think that specialists in U.N. procedure are pretty skeptical that you can strip Russia of its U.N. membership,” Richard Gowan, U.N. Director of the International Crisis Group, told Fox News in an interview, noting that Russia could kill the process “stone dead” with its veto.

Gowan also said that even if it were possible, members should be careful about the consequences of throwing Russia out of the U.N.

“There’s clearly a moral argument for doing that, it’d clearly be very satisfying as a political signal, but we should also consider that Russia on the outside of the U.N. might be even harder to talk to and even more resentful, making it potentially even more disruptive.”

Hugh Dugan, a former U.S. Delegate to the United Nations, raised the possibility that Russia could theoretically be suspended of its membership by the General Assembly, where Russia does not hold a veto, similar to how South Africa was suspended in the 1970s over apartheid. However, he noted that such a move would require significant political muscle and unity, and it would be extremely time-consuming.

“I haven’t heard of any country making that effort yet,” he said.

Russia’s use of the veto to block measures on matters related to its own crises is not unusual, either. The Soviet Union wielded its veto on Security Council votes on the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

As for the presidency, while the symbolism of Russia leading the council’s deliberations on its own actions is striking, it is far from clear that its presidency is having an effect on those questions.

“If the U.S. was president, they might have called for more consultations, they could issue a statement on behalf of the council, a presidential statement, kind of a summary of activity, and you could editorialize a little bit in that,” Dugan said, emphasizing that Russia’s real power lies in its veto, not the rotating presidency.

“I think people overestimate the importance of the Security Council president, it’s largely a procedural, diplomatic function and the fact that Russia has been chairing all these meetings on Ukraine hasn’t enabled it to stop the Council meeting pretty much every other day since Monday and meeting again [Saturday] to refer the situation to the General Assembly,” Gowan said.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations nominee Linda Thomas-Greenfield testifies during for her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington.
(Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)

However, both experts recognized that Russia spearheading the U.N.’s response to its invasion is bad optics coming out of Turtle Bay, and could provide the impetus for some self-analysis down the road.

“On the surface, to the guy in the street, it looks very hypocritical with this organization giving a podium to that regime,” Dugan said.

“What I sense now is a very large number of U.N. members, and not only European members, really feel that this is highlighting some fundamental dysfunctions and some fundamental anachronisms in how the U.N. works and when hopefully the immediate drama of the war is over, we’re going to hear a lot of talk about U.N. reform, although I don’t know what that will really deliver at the end of the day,” Gowan said.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, where the U.N.’s Human Rights Council sits, critics have noted that Russia has been elected to sit on that body — along with other human rights abusers like China and Cuba. The Trump administration removed the U.S. from the council in 2018, but the Biden administration sought and won re-election. 

“The Biden administration rushed to get back on the Human Rights Council right after Russia joined it,” Haley said in a statement to Fox News on Friday. “They should call for Russia to be expelled immediately.”

But as the U.N. is caught up in another controversy about how it does its business, Gowan emphasized that the U.N. is doing a lot of good work elsewhere, including recent humanitarian action in places like Afghanistan.

“The U.N.has been alive for 75 years, it failed to stop many wars in that period, but in some cases it does do some good and we should keep in mind that it is playing a positive role in some crises that are currently off the radar due to the awful events in Eastern Europe,” he said.

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