UNITED NATIONS (AP) — First the Russians gave the U.N. spotlight to the commissioner of children’s rights accused with President Vladimir Putin of war crimes for deporting Ukrainian children to Russia, sparking a walkout by the U.S. and several others.
Then Russia went after the West by claiming it is violating international laws in arming Ukraine, drawing blistering retorts that Ukraine has every right to defend itself against Putin’s invading army.
So far, the Russian presidency of the U.N. Security Council has been the most contentious in the memory of longtime U.N. diplomats and officials. And it’s just at the midway point.
More fireworks are to come later in the month when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov presides over the premier event of the presidency — an open council meeting on defending the principles of the U.N. Charter. Russia is widely accused of violating the charter by invading Ukraine and flouting its underpinning principles of respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The presidency of the Security Council rotates monthly in alphabetical order of its 15 members. As Russia’s turn approached, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell both called it an April Fool’s joke. The U.S. envoy promised to “use every opportunity to push back on their using their perch in the chair to spread disinformation, and to use their chair to push support of their efforts.”
At the incoming president’s traditional first-day news conference, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia pushed back against the April Fool’s comments, asking Borrell, “Who’s talking?” He said Russia had been “an honest broker” when chairing the council in the past and would try to maintain that approach.
As for U.S. claims Russia would spread disinformation about Ukraine, Nebenzia dismissed it as part of “the Western narrative.”
“We think just the opposite,” he said.
The Security Council president presides over meetings and gets to decide the topics of signature sessions, often chaired by foreign ministers and sometimes presidents. Lavrov on April 24 will preside over a session on “effective multilateralism through the defense of the principles of the U.N. Charter,” where U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will brief members.
Nebenzia told reporters Russia is seeking a forward-looking discussion on the formation of “a new multipolar world order based on sovereign equality, equal rights and self-determination, justice and security, friendly relations and cooperation between nations, with full respect for the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter.” Ukraine’s allies are already preparing their rebuttals.
There are also required monthly meetings, including on the Middle East, which Lavrov will also preside over. Others focus on global hotspots, including Syria, Mali, Libya, Yemen, Haiti, Africa’s Great Lakes region and Colombia.
At last week’s Mali meeting, Russia’s Wagner Group, a private military contractor, which has close ties to the West African nation and is fighting in Ukraine, was raised by several of Kyiv’s supporters.
To start their presidency, the Russians chose one of the hottest issues of the Ukraine war — the fate of Ukrainian children taken to Russia. For the informal Security Council meeting, they chose as its briefer Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian children’s rights commissioner, who along with Putin is being sought by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.
In an initial protest, ambassadors from Western countries boycotted the meeting, sending low-level diplomats instead. And when Lvova-Belova started to address the council by video link from Russia, the diplomats from the United States, Britain, Malta and Albania walked out.
U.S. political adviser Ngoyi Ngoyi called it “outrageous” that she was allowed to speak and said children aged between 4 months and 17 years had been moved to 40 facilities in Russia or Russian-occupied Ukraine. He said at least two of those centers coordinate adoptions by Russians, which Russia denies.
“If Russia is not trying to hide a systematic program to force Russian citizenship upon Ukraine’s children, then it should give humanitarian organizations full access,” Ngoyi said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Lvova-Belova said the children were taken to Russia for their safety and Moscow was coordinating with international organizations to return them to their families. The International Committee of the Red Cross said later it has been in contact with her about returning Ukrainian children, and UNICEF also said it has been in communication with Russian officials “but has not received feedback on our offer to facilitate reunification processes.”
There is a huge discrepancy over how many children have been removed from Ukraine.
Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, tweeted that more than 19,500 children had been seized from their families or orphanages and forcibly deported. Lvova-Belova said that since Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Russia has taken in more than 5 million Ukrainians, including 700,000 children — all with parents, relatives or legal guardians, except for 2,000 from orphanages in the eastern Donbas.
France’s deputy human rights adviser, Thibault Samson, called the meeting a “new cynical exercise in disinformation,” accusing Lvova-Belova of spreading “propaganda” and “a false version of the situation.”
“A lie repeated ad nauseam remains a lie,” Samson said.
Before Russia’s second signature event, on the export of weapons and military equipment, its ambassador said the discussion would be “from an arms control perspective,” rather than focusing on a specific country.
But at the April 10 official council meeting, Nebenzia accused the West of encouraging countries to violate agreements not to export arms from Russia without its written consent, with the aim of increasing supplies to Ukraine. He said the West also is urging the resumption of production of Soviet weapons by East European countries that were once part of the Soviet block and are now Western allies.
Nebenzia then denied what he called “baseless accusations” from the West that Iran and North Korea are providing weapons to Moscow in violation of Security Council sanctions.
Again, Western ambassadors boycotted the meeting, leaving seats in the council chamber filled by deputies and low-level diplomats.
When Albania’s political coordinator, Arian Spasse, took the floor, he said the Security Council found itself in “unchartered waters” this month: “A country that has brutally violated the Charter of the United Nations and the very basic rules that govern relations among states is presiding over the body responsible for peace and security.”
Without naming Russia, he said the permanent council member “has done everything to undermine peace and security and has endangered the world.”
France’s deputy political coordinator, Alexandre Olmedo, told the council it is well documented that Russia uses combat drones from Iran and has purchased missiles and ammunition from North Korea.
“France and the European Union will continue to provide Ukraine all the support needed, for as long as it is necessary,” he said.
The U.S. deputy ambassador, Robert Wood, said Russia began its presidency “by trying to justify kidnapping Ukrainian children” and had moved on to making “a thinly veiled effort to portray Russia as a responsible actor on arms control, attempting to obfuscate the reality that it launched an unjustified armed invasion of its neighbor.”
“The most effective and obvious path towards peace and reducing risk of illicit diversion of arms would be for Russia to end the war that it started and withdraw its forces from all of Ukraine’s sovereign territory,” Wood said. “We once again urge Russia to do so, and to do it now.”