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Russia’s Presidency of the UN Security Council – how States and Civil Society should respond

Article by Florian Irminger

March 30, 2023

Russia’s Presidency of the UN Security Council – how States and Civil Society should respond

An arsonist is (once again) presiding over the international firefighting institution. However, there are steps states and civil society can take to push back during Russia’s Presidency of the UN Security Council in April.


On 24 February 2022, Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya from Ukraine called upon his peers at the table of the United Nations Security Council to do the right thing: “Call [President] Putin, call [Foreign Minister] Lavrov to stop aggression![1]  It would have been the right thing to do for any President of the Security Council on that day. But the Security Council was not presided over by anybody; Russia’s Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya was the chair in February 2022.


Ambassador Nebenzya will once again take over the rotating presidency of the Security Council in April 2023, the very institution tasked to safeguard “the maintenance of international peace and security.[2]


This presidency must be used as an opportunity to shame Russia and raise key thematic concerns highlighting Russia’s responsibility for war crimes in Ukraine and against the Ukrainian people. There are four areas of work, which can – and should – be addressed by States and civil society at the Security Council this April:


  • Raise publicly the issue of protection of children in armed conflicts: Security Council resolution 2225 establishes abduction of children as a trigger to list parties to armed conflict in the annual report of the Secretary General on the issue.[3] As the International Criminal Court Pre-Trial Chamber issued warrants of arrest for the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, the Security Council has the opportunity to discuss the situation of children in armed conflict again, with reports from the ground in Ukraine and from the Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry, which itself reported on the abduction of Ukrainian children by Russian forces.[4] States should request for the Council to hold such a briefing; should the presidency refuse or not include it in the programme of work, member states should hold a public event — for example under the Arria-Formula— of their own with high-level speakers.[5] The Secretary General is to publish his annual report on the issue in June, and not addressing the issue during Russia’s presidency would be a failure.


  • Shed the light on the repression against freedom of expression in Russia: We cannot ignore that Putin’s war against Ukraine comes amidst two decades of repression and criminalisation of dissent. Just days ago, Moscow police raided the homes of nine staff and board members of Memorial, one of Russia’s leading human rights organisations and a co-recipient of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. Russia’s presidency provides an opportunity to thematise the interrelation between peace and stability, human rights, and the rule of law.[6] Seventy one states had signed up to such an intention through the Appeal of 13 June.[7] Human rights should be better integrated into the work of the Council, but the opportunity to seize in April is rather to discuss how repression of dissent, opposition, independent media and civil society is an early warning sign of potential regional instability.[8] Russia is in this way a case study, upon which Council members should shine a spotlight.


  • Take action to address the environmental disaster of the war: The Security Council should take action firstly in welcoming the work of the UN International Law Commission, which adopted its Draft principles on protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts.[9] Based on that action, it should recognise the importance of the activities undertaken by the UN Environment Programme in Ukraine in relation to the war and mandate an assessment of the impact of the war in Ukraine on the environment to be presented to the Council swiftly.


  • States should hold the presidency to the rules of procedure of the Council: Security Council member states must prepare their diplomats to lead “floor fights” against the presidency on the interpretation and respect of the rules of procedures of the Council and the United Nations Charter itself. Holding Russia accountable to UN rules of procedures are “necessary fights” in order to highlight the responsibility of a permanent member of the Security Council towards the institution and, in the words of the Preamble of the UN Charter, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” In order to avoid the scenes of 24 February 2022, states must compel Ambassador Nebenzya, in order to “for the proper fulfilment of the responsibilities of the presidency” to step aside during the consideration of issues directly connected to the Russian Federation, as foreseen by rule 20 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure.[10] However, this will not suffice; should there be a renewed attempt in April to vote on a Security Council resolution — in fact Ukraine and its allies would be well inspired to once again come to the table of the Security Council — member states should require explanation from the presidency and interpretation by the Secretariat of the duty foreseen in paragraph 3 of Article 27 of the UN Charter that “a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting.”[11]


When an arsonist is playing the firefighter, you cannot continue business as usual. Making use of the mechanisms provided by the institutions is a way to ensure that Russia does not have a comfortable month at the presidency of the United Nations Security Council. The above outlined actions would in no way hamper the Council’s ability to function in April, utilising the spirit of “compartmentalistion” in order to avoid the Council being blocked.[12] Yet taking these steps would ensure that Russia’s leadership of the Council is never again just a normal presidency.



Florian Irminger, a member of FPC’s Advisory Council, is a dedicated strategist for human rights and climate justice advocacy. Over the past two decades, he has served as a local elected official, as secretary general of a national political party, and in leadership positions of local and international NGOs. Florian’s experience extends from Europe to the United Nations, Central Asia to Central Africa, Baku to Minsk through Kyiv. He led Human Rights House Foundation’s advocacy, in which function he was instrumental in securing the attention of the Security Council to the situation in Crimea, including through organising the first events and Arria Formula briefings at the United Nations.



Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.


[1]  Alex Leff, The impassioned plea from Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador to Russia to stop the war, npr news, 24 February 2022,


[2] Security Council Presidency, United Nations Security Council, December 2022,


[3] Security Council Resolution 2225, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, 21 September 2017,


[4] Situation in Ukraine: ICC judges issue arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, International Criminal Court, 17 March 2023,; Laura Gozzi, Deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia is war crime – UN, BBC News, 16 March 2023,


[5] Arria-Formula Meetings, UN Security Council Working Methods, Security Council Report, 16 December 2020,


[6] Rachel Denber, Russia Opens New Case against Memorial, Human Rights Watch, 21 March 2023,


[7] Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland launches the appeal of June 13th to put Human Rights at the Heart of Conflict Prevention: “Security and human rights make a perfect match”, The Federal Council, Switzerland Government, 13 June 2016,


[8] Joanna Weschler, Human rights and the Security Council: practical steps to build effectiveness, Universal Rights Group Geneva, 12 December 2022,


[9] Protection of the environment in relation to armed conflicts, International Law Commission, 22 September 2022,


[10] Provisional Rules of Procedure, Chapter IV: Presidency, United Nations Security Council,


[11] Composition, Article 13, United Nations Charter, Chapter V: The Security Council, United Nations,


[12] Sebastian von Einsiedel et al, The UN Security Council in an Age of Great Power Rivalry, United Nations University Working Paper Series Number 04, February 2015,


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