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Veto Russia’s UN veto

AP Photo/John Minchillo
Hayashi Yoshimasa, minister for foreign affairs of Japan, chairs a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters on Jan. 12, 2023.

Two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, in a televised ceremony honoring young geographers, Vladimir Putin quizzed a boy about where Russia’s borders end. “At the Bering Strait with the United States,” the 9-year-old ventured hesitantly. “The borders of Russia,” Putin declared, “never end.” (Thunderous applause.) “It was a joke,” Putin then added.  

Russia’s border is longer than the circumference of the earth. The faux “federation” occupies fully one-third of Asia. Only one of its sub-regions is larger than France, Spain, Japan, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Greece, Sweden and North Korea, combined. And the European part is larger than Turkey and India, also combined — 40 percent of continental Europe.

Russia needs Lebensraum? Its invasion of Ukraine is not just a crime of aggression, an illegal war that subsumes war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It’s explicitly and proudly a war of extinction against a founding member of the United Nations. The country whose independence helped “make America great again” by winning the Cold War is now a death pit.  Add the resulting global food, energy, refugee, financial and economic disaster for all.  

The UN was founded to prevent the invasion and ensuing synthesis of horrors, its Security Council having “the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” But abject Western fealty to the veto of a terrorist state interring the “rules-based international order” continues.

Using the UN’s credentials procedure is one way to dispose of Russia’s vote. It was used previously — effectively — to kick out Taiwan and South Africa. Since it’s a “procedural matter,” under the UN Charter, Russia’s purported veto right wouldn’t come into play.

Or, expel Russia by vote of the General Assembly. The long-held interpretation of the relevant Article 6 has been that this cannot be done without the Security Council first recommending expulsion, which means a Russian veto. But there is an argument that that is not necessary. Regardless, even if such recommendation is required, a Russia veto would not be determinative since the UN Charter sidelines a party (Russia) to a dispute.

But contortions around Russia’s veto power necessarily concedes the very legitimacy of its membership. Ukraine’s position avoids the calisthenics and gets to the very core of it all. The League of Nations kicked out the Soviet Union after its invasion of Finland, even though the USSR was a member. But Russia is not a UN member. It never should have been one in the first place. It’s not a question of overriding its veto; non-members don’t get a veto. 

Admitting a new member to the UN requires a decision by the General Assembly. There was no such decision. Article 23 lists the Permanent Members of the Security Council. Russia is not mentioned; the USSR is but it hasn’t existed since December 1991.  

Consider that the General Assembly voted to recognize the communist regime in Beijing (not the government in Taiwan) as  the “legitimate” government of “China.” If there’s a vote to determine which government rules, certainly there must be a vote if a country (Russia) purports to occupy the seat of an entirely different (and defunct) state (USSR) with a vastly different territory, population, etc. But there was no such vote. Russia presented no credentials to the UN Credentials Committee. The committee had nothing to approve. If the UN both represents and (we’re told) enforces the “rules-based international order,” then how about enforcing its own rules?

It’s not a matter of merely a name change. Russia (the “RSFSR”) was never the same state as the USSR, but one of 15 “republics.” On Dec. 8 and Dec. 17, 1991, the  republics declared the USSR dissolved. Mikhail Gorbachev’s resignation as president of a nominal “USSR” on Dec. 25, 1991, and the self-dissolution of the Soviet “parliament” were pro forma. By that time, the USSR no longer existed. It could not have been otherwise. Each of its constituent parts having gone their separate ways, no “union” remained.

That on Dec. 17, 1991, they agreed that Russia take the place of the USSR for purposes of UN membership is moot. First, their declaration was wholly outside the UN and can hardly usurp or amend the UN Charter. Second, Russia grossly and repeatedly breached its pledge to them and the world, along with ongoing conditions of UN membership. 

More critically, the charter makes no provision for substitution or succession of membership.  When Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, each had to apply for membership. Neither was a “successor state.” The same happened with the break-up of Yugoslavia.

“But this was 30 years ago,” one might argue. A self-styled “statute of limitations” interjected to prevent application of cynically dismissed UN membership criteria would absolve guilt and grant a perpetual license for genocide, for which there is no such time limit. It would be back-door subversion, converting original UN recklessness to intentional felonious malfeasance by 193 countries as the perpetrators.  

But what of the retroactive effect on the 30 years of UN decision-making? There is nothing preventing the UN from removing Russia but keeping those decisions intact. If that discomfits the suddenly diligent apparatchiks, so be it. 

Pivotal to comprehending it all is that Russia’s negation of 192 countries is classic reality reversal. The UN was born of a war that, for Adolf Hitler, had as its purpose the occupation and colonization of Ukraine. Both Berlin and Moscow considered Ukrainians as sub-human. Little wonder that the highest price paid in World War II for the rules and institutions that America championed was by Ukraine. Oxford’s Norman Davies judged that significantly more than 5 million Ukrainian civilians were killed. Even the lower range exceeds the combined military deaths in Europe of the United States, Canada, England, France, Germany and Italy. Millions more Ukrainians were killed serving in the Red Army and as slave laborers in Germany.

Moscow has tossed the rules, except those castrating the institution forged by the very conflagration it engineered as Hitler’s partner, thereby obliterating the country that most paid for those rules. “Russia has the bizarre power to act like a criminal defendant who, with farcical impunity, single-handedly vetoes his own indictment.” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was straight-faced: “Never again will there be a situation when you lie, sign documents and then refuse to fulfill them.”

As the cheerleader for Russia’s UN membership, we dived into a tar pit of our own making. Worse, we’re wielding a companion veto, compounding our strategic witlessness. Consider Putin’s 2013 New York Times opinion piece: “[I]f you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus, a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: If you have the bomb, no one will touch you.”

In 1994, we hectored Ukraine into surrendering its nuclear arsenal to Russia — not just to destroy it, or at least to turn it over to us. Today we’re apoplectic about Russia’s nuclear bombast as it pulverizes Ukraine with those very same missiles (sans nuclear warhead). We then veto the victim’s ability to prevent that by targeting launch sites in Russia. Result? We grant the criminal immunity and sanctuary on its territory and confine the apocalyptic destruction to the victim’s territory. Not to worry. If Russia adds the warheads, we promised to refer the matter to the Security Council.

Victor Rud is the past chairman of the Ukrainian American Bar Association and now chairs its Committee on Foreign Affairs. He is a senior adviser to Open Ukraine, a nongovernmental organization in Ukraine, and the senior adviser to the Centre for Eastern European Democracy in Toronto. The opinions expressed here are his alone.

Tags Russia Ukraine UN Security Council United Nations

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