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'Really no big deal': How can Russia take on the UN Security Council presidency amid war?

Delegations gather for a United Nations Security Council in New York on Thursday, 23 March 2023 .
Delegations gather for a United Nations Security Council in New York on Thursday, 23 March 2023 . Copyright John Minchillo/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright John Minchillo/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Charlotte Lam with AP
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Russia takes over the UN Security Council presidency more than a year after launching a full-scale war in Ukraine. How can it manage a body whose primary responsibility is the maintenance of international peace and security?

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Russia is set to assume the presidency of the UN Security Council on Saturday, 1 April. 

As its war rages on in Ukraine, many have questioned how the nation could oversee a body striving to maintain international peace and security at this time. Well, experts have told Euronews, it's actually quite easy. 

The UN Security Council has 15 members (countries), and each member has one vote. Under the Charter of the United Nations, all Member States are obligated to comply with Council decisions. Each member takes turns being president and it's rotated each month in alphabetical order, according to the English language. 

"But one shouldn't exaggerate the importance of this position," Thomas Graham, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Euronews. 

"The president of the council basically presides over meetings, and handles a lot of the administrative work, but it has very little power to influence the actual decisions that the council makes".

John Minchillo/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Anna Evstigneeva, Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations, speaks at a Security Council meeting on Thursday.John Minchillo/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

The last time Russia held the presidency was February last year – the month it launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbour Ukraine. Ukraine supporters and even parliamentarians want Russia kicked out of the UN Security Council, but Graham said that's "almost impossible".

"It would require a vote of the Security Council, and Russia retains a veto. So that isn't going to happen." 

Visiting Professor Andrew Macleod from King's College London's Department of War Studies said it was ironic that Russia holds the presidency of the UN’s body delegated to make peace, just as Russia was perceived by many to be the greatest threat to that peace.

"It might seem a bit of a surprise to people to realise that Russia taking the presidency of the Security Council is really no big deal and it's fairly routine," he said.

Russia taking the presidency of the Security Council is really no big deal and it's fairly routine
Andrew Macleod
Visiting Professor, Department of War Studies, King's College London

"One of the truths in international affairs is that if one of the permanent members of the Security Council is involved in one side or the other of an armed conflict [...] there's nothing the Security Council can do to stop them because they will exercise their veto like Russia will now over Ukraine, potentially China will over Taiwan and the Americans did over Afghanistan and Iraq. So it is situation normal."

Could Putin gain anything from this role?

Graham said Russia taking on the UN Security Council Presidency this month would not give Moscow any advantage in the conflict.

"[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is not going to be able to use this," he told Euronews.

"All the members of the council still retain the right to speak at council sessions, and you can be quite confident that the US and European countries are not going to say anything positive about Russia and what it's doing in Ukraine or perhaps elsewhere in the world, for that matter.

"If Russia tries to introduce speakers at the council that the US and others find inappropriate, there is a way that they can, on procedural issues with only nine votes, prevent Russia from doing some of the things it might want to do."

UN renews call to end war in Ukraine

On 23 February, almost one year to the day since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the UN General Assembly demanded Russia’s immediate withdrawal from the country, in line with the UN Charter.

At its resumed eleventh emergency special session, the world body adopted a new resolution calling for an end to the war.

The results were 141 Member States in favour and seven against: Belarus, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, Russia and Syria. Among the 32 abstentions were China, India and Pakistan.

Russia plans to hold an informal meeting of the UN Security Council early in April on what it said was “the real situation” of Ukrainian children taken to Russia, an issue that has gained further spotlight following the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin for war crimes related to their alleged abduction.

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