NEW YORK – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took the floor at the UN Security Council on Wednesday (20 September) to launch an appeal for its reform, in a nod to countries of the Global South he hopes to win over for Kyiv’s peace efforts.
Debates of the 15-member UN Security Council, charged with ensuring international peace and security, are almost always contentious but have achieved relatively few results when it comes to Ukraine, due to Moscow’s ability to veto any council resolution critical of its actions.
Exactly one year ago, the atmosphere was charged when Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba both attended.
The UN’s security body has held more than 50 meetings on Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
Kyiv and its Western allies have managed to isolate Russia diplomatically at the UN, where the 193-member General Assembly has overwhelmingly voted several times to condemn the invasion and demand Moscow withdraw its troops.
Thursday’s highlight was the encounter between Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russia’s Lavrov – and it got heated even before the actual debate started as Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia objected to Zelenskyy addressing the body.
In a standoff with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who is presiding over the session as the current president and who chose the meeting’s topic, Nebenzia asked why Zelenskyy, whose country is not a member of the UNSC, has been allowed to speak before the 15 members.
Rama responded: “I want to assure our Russian colleagues and everyone here that this is not a special operation by the Albanian presidency.”
“There is a solution for this: If you agree, you stop the war and President Zelenskyy will not take the floor,” Rama said, explaining that giving Zelenskyy the floor first would allow members to reply to his remarks.
Beyond Ukraine, a dozen other countries that are not UNSC members, including North Macedonia as the current chair of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), were also invited to participate in Wednesday’s debate on the war in Ukraine.
Remove veto power, add members
Zelenskyy has addressed the UN’s security body several times by videolink from Ukraine since Russia’s invasion started but this was the first time he personally attended a session.
Addressing members in his trademark green military fatigues, Zelenskyy urged United Nations reform as a “necessary step” to stop what he called Russia’s abuse of the veto power in the Security Council.
“It is impossible to stop the war because all actions are vetoed by the aggressor,” he told the council.
Zelenskyy added that the United Nations “finds itself in a deadlock when it comes to resolving conflict” because of the Council’s structure.
His proposal would mean a fundamental change in the way the UNSC operate, with the General Assembly receiving the power to override vetos and unseating Russia from the Council.
Zelenskyy also said the Security Council should be “fully accountable” to UN members and that its permanent members should reflect the “current realities”.
Proposing an overhaul to broaden membership, Zelenskyy said Ukraine considers it “unjust” when billions of people do not have a permanent representative in the Security Council, while Russia does.
“The African Union must be here permanently, Asia deserves broader permanent representation. It cannot be considered normal when nations like Japan, India, or the Islamic world, remain outside the permanent membership of the Security Council.”
Germany should also have a place among the permanent members, as well as the Pacific states, he added.
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