On Thursday, February 24, in complete violation of international law, Russia began a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine. Since then, the world has watched in horror as over 150,000 well-armed members of the Russian army and air force attacked Ukraine from the north, east, and south, shelling major cities including Kyiv and Kharkiv and killing civilians and Ukrainian military defending their country.
On Friday, February 25, the United States called a meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to address the invasion. Russia didn't want the meeting called at all, but nine members of the fifteen-member council voted to convene.
In that meeting, the United States proposed aresolution on behalf of 52 member states of the UN "to hold Russia accountable for its aggression against Ukraine, to protect civilians, including children, and call for the facilitation of rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian assistance to those in need."
Eleven UNSC members voted in support of the resolution (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway). Three abstained (China, India, UAE).
Only one member voted against the motion: Russia. And then, as a permanent member, Russia exercised its veto power to veto the measure
There are five permanent members of the Security Council, all of which hold veto power over substantive measures: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the People's Republic of China, and the Russian Federation. These five, which were allies during World War II, were chosen as permanent members of the Security Council in 1945 on the belief they would protect world security and prevent another world war. It happens that Russia is this month's chair of the Council (the chair rotates monthly among members).
However, as Russia well knows, since it was the subject of the resolution, it should have abstained from voting. Article 27 of the UN Charter states that "a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting." If Russia abstained—as the UN Charter requires—the resolution would have passed (it required nine votes and received eleven.)
Russia's vote was clearly a violation of the Charter. Therefore, the pressing question is why Article 27 was not invoked to prevent Russia from voting and vetoing this critically important resolution.
I asked this question of people who are experts on the Security Council, and their answer is perplexing. They said no permanent member of the Security Council was willing to challenge the unlawful action by Russia because they want to leave open the possibility of vetoing any resolution in which they might be involved.
This means that Article 27's prohibition on votes that present conflicts of interest has no meaning at all.
Two days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I attended an exit briefing of the elected members of the Security Council whose two-year terms have expired. Several of us asked what could be done if Russia was the subject of a resolution condemning its actions (it was widely expected that Russia would invade Ukraine.) The permanent representative of Estonia said that Article 27 of the UN Charter would force Russia to abstain from voting or vetoing on a measure that involved Russia.
Of course, Russia arrogantly rolled over Article 27 just like it rolled past the borders of Ukraine with no justification beyond Putin's absurd claim that he wanted to de-Nazify a nation whose president is Jewish and who lost family members in the Holocaust.
After Russia vetoed the motion, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, promised to raise this issue in the UN General Assembly, where no member state has a veto.
Let's hope she does.
The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council carry the primary burden to protect the world's peace. Civil society NGOs at the UN, like the UU@UN, work to hold accountable our governments who have been granted powers and authority at the UN to maintain the peace of the world.
We can’t allow Russia to roll its tanks over the UN Charter.