- Russia assumed the presidency of the U.N. Security Council, even as its invasion of Ukraine escalates.
- The last time Moscow presided over the body tasked with the "maintenance of international peace and security" was February 2022, the month it invaded Ukraine.
- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the situation "a bad joke."
Russia assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council over the weekend, even as its invasion of Ukraine escalates.
Russia is one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and therefore holds veto authority on any measure proposed before the international forum.
The presidency rotates each month among 15 members, with the other permanent members being China, France, the U.K. and the U.S. along with 10 non-permanent members elected to two-year terms by the U.N. General Assembly.
The scheduled presidency change comes on the heels of the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes committed during his invasion of Ukraine. The warrant is the first time the ICC, a body of the United Nations, has taken such a measure against a leader whose country is a permanent member of the Security Council.
Last week, Ukraine's top diplomat panned Russia's upcoming chairmanship of the United Nations Security Council and called the situation "a bad joke."
"Frankly speaking, you cannot imagine a worse joke for April Fools' Day. The country that systematically violated all fundamental rules of international security is presiding over a body whose only mission is to protect international security," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told a Chatham House event via video link from Kyiv.
"I don't think Russia will be able to change the balance inside the Security Council during its presidency. It will try to abuse its rights of the presidency to push for its own narratives, but I doubt they will be able to secure the sufficient number of votes to make the council adopt decisions on matters related specifically to Ukraine."
The last time Russia's ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, presided over the body tasked with the "maintenance of international peace and security" was February 2022, the month Moscow invaded Ukraine. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year, Russia vetoed a resolution aimed at halting the war, while China, India and the UAE abstained.
The presidency will not result in the passage of any pro-Russian affirmations and the role is largely seen as procedural, but Moscow will be able to set the agenda for debates over the next month.
What's more, Nebenzya is expected to use the forum to advance pro-Russian narratives.
However, the presidency being held by a country whose president is currently subject to an arrest warrant by the ICC has raised serious questions about its purpose.
"Russia's presidency of the U.N. Security Council is largely symbolic but it's deeply offensive," Daniel Runde, a senior vice president at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC.
"A permanent member of the Security Council has invaded another sovereign country, is committing war crimes and annexing territory is ironic," Runde added.
A 'systemic blow'
Ukrainian officials and a number of international observers and Members of the European Parliament have called for Russia to be removed from its membership, and in recent weeks called on Western permanent members to veto the presidency.
However, the U.S. claimed it was bound by the U.N. charter, which does not permit the expulsion of a permanent member.
"Unfortunately, Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and no feasible international legal pathway exists to change that reality," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told a briefing in Washington last week.
President Joe Biden's ambassador to the United Nations told reporters on Monday that the U.S. expects Russia to "carry their presidency in a professional way."
"We also expect that they will use their seat to spread disinformation and to promote their own agenda as it relates to Ukraine and we will stand ready to call them out at every single moment that they attempt to do that," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.
Last year, Thomas-Greenfield led efforts to strip Russia of its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. At the time, she said that Russia's membership on the council hurts its credibility, "undermines the entire U.N. and it is just plain wrong."
Ahead of the vote, reports emerged that Russian troops tortured and killed Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, a suburb near Kyiv.
The bodies were discovered after Moscow withdrew its troops following a stunning Ukrainian offensive. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the aftermath, which he saw firsthand, as a "genocide" and accused Russia of war crimes. The Kremlin has previously described its military actions in Ukraine as a "special operation" and has denied targeting civilians.
The resolution to strip Russia of its seat on the Human Rights Council passed with 93 votes in favor, 24 against and 58 abstentions. Belarus, China, Iran, Russia and Syria were among the U.N. members that voted against the resolution. India abstained from voting.
Meanwhile, Nebenzya told Russia's TASS news agency recently that he intends to oversee several debates, including a discussion of a "new world order" that he claimed will "replace the unipolar one," a frequent reference among Russia and its allies to the toppling of long-established U.S. hegemony.
"This presidency is a stark reminder that something is wrong with the way international security is functioning if a country which has illegitimately acquired the seat of a permanent member of the UN Security Council is presiding over a body while conducting a large scale act of aggression against another sovereign member and another founding member of the United Nations," Kuleba said.
"The best we can do is to take these months to actually highlight the problems that exist in multilateralism and the problems that Russia is exploiting for its own benefit."
His outrage was echoed on Saturday by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who said of Russia's ascent to the chair that "it is hard to imagine something more evident that proves the complete bankruptcy of such institutions."
Zelenskyy's Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak wrote on Twitter over the weekend that the situation was "another symbolic blow to the rules-based system of international relations."