As Ukraine burns, UN Security Council watches Russia halt group's action with its veto power

The UN Security Council's reach has come under the fire amid the Ukraine crisis

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The United Nations Security Council has convened almost a dozen meetings on Ukraine since late January, six of those coming since the brutal Russian invasion began last month. The resulting meetings seeking to condemn Russia’s invasion, calling for a cease-fire and humanitarian corridors, have achieved almost nothing – because Russia, as one of five permanent members of the 15-member body, has veto power and so far has used that veto to halt any action against it.

The United Nations was formed after World War II with the aim of halting future wars, but as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warns the world about a new world war, the Security Council is being used by Russia to deflect any meaningful action against it. And it seems that even the United Nations secretary-general is frustrated by the inaction. 

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Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, acknowledged those frustrations. "The complicating factor to put an end to this crisis is the division within the Security Council. As we have seen before, whenever the Security Council is divided, whenever especially the five permanent members of the Security Council are divided, it just makes achieving peace that much more complicated."

Kelly Craft, who was the United States ambassador to the world body from 2019-2021, told Fox News Digital that the council has failed when it comes to Ukraine. "While the U.N. Security Council can reach majority opinion and sometimes consensus on pressing international issues, there are glaring times when it is a complete failure. This is one such case," said Craft. "With Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the council, there is no way to avoid Moscow blocking a resolution that would condemn Russian aggression and support a ceasefire that would end to this horrific war."

Russia Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia confers during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, Thursday, March 17, 2022 at U.N. headquarters.

Russia Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia confers during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, Thursday, March 17, 2022 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Craft said that while the nonbinding U.N. General Assembly vote to condemn Russia earlier this month was helpful in isolating President Vladimir Putin in the international community and noted the U.N.’s essential humanitarian efforts in Ukraine and neighboring countries, she said the Russian invasion has shown the U.N.’s weakness. "The basic truth is that meaningful UN action on a geopolitical front is woefully inadequate in putting an end to this conflict. This underscores the limitations of the United Nations as an international body to address the perils of our times and makes it abundantly clear that other ways to resolve the conflict need to be pursued in tandem."

Richard Gowan, the U.N. director of the International Crisis Group (ICG), recently wrote in Foreign Affairs that the war in Ukraine threatened to do long-term damage to the U.N. and said that while observers of the Security Council were not surprised at its inability to come together over Ukraine, noting past council failures over Syria and Burma, he told Fox News Digital the council still had a useful role to play. "We have to be realistic about what the Security Council can and cannot do. It is quite useful when it comes to managing peacekeeping Africa or humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. One small bright spot in the recent mess over Ukraine is that Russia decided not to block an important UN resolution on keeping a UN mission in Afghanistan, which will help get aid to suffering Afghans."

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One of the critics taking issue with the performance of the United Nations Security Council and the organization’s handling of the Ukraine crisis is Clifford May, the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). May said the world body has become an increasingly dysfunctional organization, noting, "This has been apparent for years to anyone paying close attention. Sadly, very few people in Congress or the State Department have been paying close attention."

Addressing the inability of the U.N. Security Council to get anything done over Ukraine, May said he could see the potential for a different approach: "One can imagine an alternative to the U.N. Security Council and, indeed, to the increasingly dysfunctional U.N. system… but that would require a long-term project, one that the current administration is unlikely even to begin."

May also took aim at the performance of Guterres during the present crisis, "The U.N. secretary-general is hardly a profile in courage. But he almost certainly sees his job as performing functions "entrusted" to him by the United Nations Security Council on which Russia and China sit as permanent, veto-wielding members. And neither Russia nor China are entrusting him to help save Ukrainian lives or preserve the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, a UN member-state."

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Dujarric took issue with criticism aimed at his boss and told Fox News Digital that Guterres remained actively focused on the humanitarian and diplomatic aspects of the Russian invasion. "The secretary-general has been in constant contact with numerous leaders and parties. Among them are heads of the governments and senior leaders of Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, Turkey, Israel. Finland, France, Russia, and many others."

He said the secretary-general had been outspoken and made clear from day one of the conflict that the war needed to stop immediately and Russian troops needed to end hostilities and withdraw from Ukraine. "From the very first day of the conflict, he made an appeal to the President of the Russian Federation to cease fighting. As he has been emphasizing, countless innocent people – including women and children – have been killed, and this escalating violence is totally unacceptable. The protection of civilians must be priority number one."

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking during an interview at the U.N. headquarters in New York City.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaking during an interview at the U.N. headquarters in New York City. (AP/Robert Bumsted, File)

The ICG’s Gowan said there could still be a bigger role for Guterres and the U.N. in helping to end the invasion. He said Guterres "had no choice but to condemn Russia's war last month, and that was the right thing to do. But as soon as he spoke out against Moscow, Russia decided that they cannot trust him as a mediator. So he has little political traction with Moscow and cannot play a significant diplomatic role unless Putin decides it needs UN help to end the war."

He said there may even be a point when Russia will need the U.N.’s help. "I can just about imagine a scenario in which Moscow decides it needs to cut its losses and cease hostilities and turns to the UN to help it do so. That could mean asking for UN observers to patrol a ceasefire line for example. Russia could try to take credit for this diplomatic solution at the U.N. to offset its military problems, but this sort of idea remains quite hypothetical at the moment."

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The United Nations General Assembly is again expected to meet this week in an emergency special session on Ukraine. A draft resolution entitled "Humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine" will be debated and come up for a vote.

The resolution is expected to be similar to the one sponsored by France and Mexico that failed to get even a hearing at the Security Council. If, as expected, it does get a majority of votes in the general assembly the resolution, unlike a Security Council one, is not legally binding and therefore a largely symbolic one.