Sergiy Kyslytsya, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the UN
Punishment for crimes committed in Ukraine should become a deterrent – like the Nuremberg trial at one time
01.05.2023 20:40

In April, the UN Security Council was chaired by Russia, which is considered a permanent member of this international body created to maintain peace and security around the world. Ukrinform sat down with Ukraine’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, to discuss the issue as agreed earlier but eventually our conversation went far beyond the scope of this topic...


- How would you summarize the work of the UN Security Council in April, when Russia presided over it? Can this month be considered "erased from the life" of the body responsible for world peace and security?

- You can't say that... Ukraine remains firm in its assessment that the chairmanship of the aggressor power for the first time in more than a year of full-scale aggression is unprecedented in the history of the UN and the Security Council in particular.

But let's recall that the war did not start on February 24, 2022 – the invasion of Ukraine has been going on since 2014.

That is, Russia, as a permanent member of the Security Council, which it considers itself to be, has been a brazen violator of international law ever since.

In addition, it was an aggressor even before the invasion of Ukraine. Russia waged war against Georgia in 2008, and participated in many other wars in violation of international law and the UN Charter.

But we see that the members of the Security Council, in particular the permanent members, did not ask the question of how these actions by Russia can be combined with it being a permanent member of the UNSC? Before Ukraine, even previous victims of Russian aggression did not raise this issue so acutely.

If Russia's chairmanship were to be blocked under the current conditions, this would obviously lead to them blocking the work of the UNSC.

- But are the members of the Security Council ready to actually have its work suspended?

  - They are not.

As we can see, on the one hand, the Security Council is helpless and ineffective when it comes to aggression against Ukraine, and on the other hand, it has almost 50 issues on its agenda. That is, only the Ukraine issue, which is one of the most systemic ones, cannot be resolved at least somehow in the UN Security Council.

But it would be wrong to say that the Security Council is ineffective in other matters. Discussions take place here, decisions are made on issues that are vital for some countries and groups of countries.

In particular, we are talking about at least 12 mandates for peacekeeping operations, 14 sanctions regimes introduced by the Security Council, including on non-proliferation. They are regularly reviewed and decisions are made regarding them.

It should not be forgotten that Russia agreed to some decisions, the introduction of sanctions regimes, and some mandates no matter how hard it was for them. They are against their interests. As, for example, was the sanctions regime against Iran, which both Iran and Russia, by the way, are actively violating...

Otherwise, the presence of Russia in the UNSC would be completely inappropriate from the point of view of almost all countries.


- In one of the interviews, you said that, despite all the flaws of the United Nations, you should not turn away from it as it is a bouquet of different cultures, traditions, and political systems...

But Russia seems to be a weed in this bouquet...

- You know that the Japanese also make ikebana using weeds. Ikebana is the art of perfection…

But who said that the world was perfect and fair even for one moment of its existence?

Let's look at the origins of the United Nations – at the Yalta Conference, where the three gentlemen met in February 1945, or rather - two gentlemen and a scumbag - the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. What were the main issues discussed there?

I dare say, it was not at all the creation of the UN. It was the third question at best... Everyone had their own thoughts.

There was no unity between the USA, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union on almost any issue because each pursued their own goals.

For some, the main thing was not to allow one country to rule in post-war Europe, for Stalin – to seize control over as much of the territory of Eastern Europe as possible. For Roosevelt, it was to maintain the role of world leader by returning American soldiers home as soon as possible. Although, as it turned out later, U.S. Congress was not against leaving the Americans in Europe for years longer.

And when they talked about the UN, they meant first of all how to create such a structure, where there are three countries – not even five, as it turned out in the end (the permanent membership of the Republic of France and China was decided upon later), and three global nations dictated the conditions for peace and the post-war world order.

At Yalta, Stalin insisted that other countries had no right to dictate their terms. It was then, as they say, that Churchill reasonably remarked to him, paraphrasing Shakespeare: "An eagle should permit the small birds (that is, the little states) to sing and care not wherefore they sang." Because, as Shakespeare wrote, an eagle can silence them with the shadow of its wing...

So in Yalta, to put it cynically, it was not about creating a harmonious, democratic, and equal environment.

It is obvious that today's discussions are the result of a profound evolution of the vision and approaches regarding the role of non-permanent Security Council member states, which today have a powerful voice and power, primarily in the General Assembly. And the situation of aggression against Ukraine by a country that considers itself a permanent member forced 143 GA countries to give a clear and decisive rebuff to its actions.

You can't scare the "small birds" with a wing wave.

Let us recall Liechtenstein's initiative on the need to report to the General Assembly in the event of a permanent member vetoing the Security Council. For a long time, it had no chance of approval. And only because full-scale aggression was unleased, Liechtenstein received support - together with other countries, in particular Ukraine, the states managed to pass the relevant resolution.

Although the real reform of the UNSC is still a long way off.

- And is this resolution used on practice?

- Yes, sure. Although, of course, this has a very limited effect on the Russian Federation in terms of its veto abuse.


- Because what is the difference for Russia where to lie – be it in the Security Council or in the General Assembly?

- Yes, you can write in your interview that these are your words, with which I agree: the Russian Federation absolutely doesn’t care where to lie – be it in the Security Council or in the General Assembly.

Be that as it may, today the situation in the General Assembly has changed a lot, and the level of democracy and involvement in discussions of almost 200 countries that are members of the UN General Assembly cannot be compared with the rights these countries had in the middle of the last century.

But the fact remains in place. Permanent members of the Security Council have unique rights, and the whole system is built in such a way that any problem affecting the interests of these permanent members cannot be resolved without their consent.

But let's return to the question of how important it is from a practical - not a moral or legal – perspective to deprive Russia of the right of veto if it continues to occupy for a certain time the place of the Soviet Union in the Security Council.

Let's imagine that the Russian Federation lost the opportunity to use the right of veto, and a draft decision of the UNSC is tabled on the immediate termination of the war and withdrawal of troops. And then the UNSC adopts it. But what’s next?

The decision is sent to Putin, and he reads it. And what does he do? Does he pick up the phone and call Shoigu via a government line to order Shoigu to do so?

Leave these illusions behind.

For more than two decades, the world allowed and forgave Putin almost everything. In fact, it was about appeasing his plans to create an autocracy that absolutely does not care about any decisions made by regional and global organizations.

Therefore, no matter how we feel about the veto, ultimately it is not the problem.


- Last week, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov was in New York, where he chaired the meetings of the UNSC. On April 24, the open meeting lasted a particularly long time, and it was clear that Russia had organized everything so that the speakers would thank Lavrov and Russia for their "successful chairmanship"...

- You are exaggerating here as not everyone thanked him... You must have noticed how many countries did not address Lavrov as head of the Security Council. And they didn't even say the traditional: "Thank you, Mr. Chairman" for being welcomed to speak. Some of them began their speech by thanking the Secretary General for the briefing (UN Secretary General António Guterres spoke at the UNSC meeting on behalf of the UN leadership - ed.), ignoring Lavrov.

This, of course, may seem like a trifle, but here everything has a certain connotation and meaning.

But if the speeches of the Moscow sycophants from North Korea and Syria were of no surprise to me, it was at least strange to see how at the press conference at the UN your colleagues rejoiced like children and laughed at some stupid jokes made by Lavrov, who should be sitting on the dock. Some began their questions with the words: "Minister, you know how we love when you come here and have a chat with us..."

And you say that the diplomats or the secretariat behaved wrongly...


- There are many propagandists among journalists who are called to show a positive impression...

Are you satisfied with the outcome of the UNSC Arria meeting on April 28, where the issues of forcible deportation and abduction of Ukrainian children by Russia were discussed?

- A large number of countries took part in the discussion directly or through group presentations. It was also important for the reasons that it took place on the last working day of the Russian presidency of the Security Council, which we could not let the Russians see as a holiday.

Early that month, they also held a meeting in the Arria format on this topic, but it was perceived as a propaganda spectacle (where they showcased the children's ombudsperson Maria Lviva-Belova, for whom the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant - ed.).

Let's remember that only members of the Security Council can convene meetings in the Arriya format. Although the idea belonged to us, technically we could not hold it, so we are very grateful, first of all, to Albania (the meeting was convened by Albania, the USA, and France with the participation of Ukraine - ed.). It is a very brave and principled country that always stands on the right side of history.

We deliberately chose the right message – that children are victims of any conflict. There is no conflict where children are not victims. Children are killed by hundreds and thousands, they are abducted in almost every conflict. Consider Yemen, where since 2015, more than 11,000 children have been killed in fighting alone.

Deportation is another type of violation of children's rights, although it is different from abduction. Abduction is one of the six crimes included in the mandate of the special representative of the Secretary General on children in conflicts, who will present his report to the Security Council in July. And it is very important that countries hear Ukrainian representatives speak: prosecuting criminals is important to prevent future conflicts.

Of course, the most important thing for us is to bring to justice those who violated the rights of Ukrainian citizens, including children. But it is also clear that Ukraine's efforts in promoting both the topic of the international tribunal and that of deportation and abduction of children are also an attempt to fill the gaps in international law and the practice of its application, which the international community has not been able to do before.

Holding accountable those guilty of war crimes in Ukraine and the crime of aggression should become their deterrent in the future, just as the Nuremberg Tribunal prevented new wars in Europe for decades to come.

- Regarding the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has also just adopted a corresponding resolution. They also recognized these actions as genocide...

- Yes, probably, the PACE adopting this decision will put significant pressure on the governments of the Council of Europe. But it’s not parliamentarians who work in the UN but government officials. By the way, in my opinion, the UN lacks a parliamentary wing...

Since in a democratic society, there is a division of powers between branches of power, a certain competition, competitiveness among them, in this sense, the PACE decision is very important because even among European governments, there is not always a unity of position.

And although by and large the Council of Europe covers less than a quarter of all members of the General Assembly, the importance of its decisions should not be underestimated (PACE has 46 states on board, including EU countries, Ukraine, Moldova, and Transcaucasia states - ed.).

But it is necessary to go beyond the established geographical framework, which is purely European.

It is important that our meeting in the Arria format was attended by members of the Security Council from Africa (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique - ed.), also Ecuador expressed its position, but the work must continue...

That is, if we rightly claim that the war against Ukraine has a global impact, then the discussions and decisions should be global, too. And in order for them to be truly global, they must receive support not only from the European and even Transatlantic community but also from other countries across the world.


- Returning to the UNSC meeting on April 24, which Lavrov referred to as a "ministerial". Despite the urgency of the topic - effective multilateralism and compliance with the principles of the UN Charter - Russia had problems with the support for the event. It seems there was only one minister from the UAE present, as well as two deputy ministers from African countries…

- I agree. Russia is desperately trying to make a good face with a bad game. Almost every meeting on their initiative is pretty much a shot in their own leg. It's a shame though that it’s only a leg...

- UN Secretary General António Guterres sat next to Lavrov. Could he refuse to participate in such an UNSC "ministerial"?

- Look, the Secretary General of the UN is not president, prime minister, minister, or even ambassador to the UN who represents his state and its head.

He is the most senior international official recruited through a competitive process to serve as the head of the Organization's secretariat. I do not belittle his role but readers should be aware that there is more than just an ideological gap between the words "General Secretary of the Communist Party" and "UN Secretary General."

- How do you assess that in his more than 10-minute speech at that meeting, he mentioned Ukraine only once in a very short sentence – on the fact that the war causes enormous suffering and has further worsened the economic situation in the world after COVID. The Secretary General talked about everything, especially Sudan. He mentioned Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Myanmar...

- It is not so easy to mention all the geography and all the most important issues of multilateral diplomacy within 10 minutes. However, I do not speak in his defense.

I believe that the Secretary General could, even within the framework of his authority, speak not once, but three or four times about Ukraine...

Let's be objective. It's easy for you to judge my work and me to judge yours. I am not defending the Secretary General, he is a really experienced politician and he knows how to defend himself. But I have no doubts about the strength of his position regarding the condemnation and rejection of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

He continues to work to save the grain agreement today. So I don’t agree with those who believe that this deal is not important for Ukraine.

Let's imagine that we were unable to export these millions of tonnes of grain from Ukraine. Neither Ukrainian producers nor the countries that are the largest consumers of agricultural products would have benefited from this. The Secretary General spoke on this topic with the President of Türkiye, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the leadership of the Russian Federation, as well as with the leadership of Ukraine. As you know, last week, he sent two letters: one to Ukraine and the other to Putin regarding this issue.

- When he speaks publicly, he often talks not about grain, but about the need to unblock Russian fertilizers, the export of which has become complicated due to sanctions.

- Yes, he is talking about fertilizers...

Had the world properly prepared for this war, everyone would have made sure that the Russian Federation did not have a unique niche in the world when it comes to the supply of fertilizers. But the governments of the Transatlantic community and African countries lacked foresight, and they all found themselves hostages of Russia's key role in the global fertilizer market.

It is good that Europe has found the strength and courage to get rid of dependence on Russian gas. But we see that it is not so easy to do the same with fertilizers. Without them, there will be no agriculture.

Russia knows this and manipulates the issue.


- At the UNSC meetings, you rightly point out to Russia's Representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, that he bears responsibility as Putin's envoy to the UN. Sometimes he would get "offended" and leave the session hall.

- I can only correct myself. If earlier I stated, in particular in the Security Council, that war criminals go straight to hell, now I should add that on the way there, they will still have to make a stop in The Hague.


- In May, Switzerland chairs the Security Council. What are the expectations of its presidency?

- It will probably be interesting to see how Switzerland will be “walking between drops” of the toxic rain of the modern world, which erodes its neutrality.

- But all the speeches by the Swiss delegation seem to be really close to the European ones.

- Switzerland is a European country where centuries of neutrality and the government's attitude toward the position of its citizens greatly influence what we hear, in particular at the UN.

At the same time, the attitude of the Swiss to what their diplomats say is not so unambiguous. The same applies to Switzerland's membership in the UN in general and the fact that for the first time in history it applied and was elected to the Security Council, where it has to state its stance on complex global issues almost every day. This is a powerful challenge facing the government.

- But they could still abstain...

- Then why go to the Security Council if you have to constantly abstain for two years (non-permanent members are elected to the Security Council for two years - ed.)? It would be simply impossible.

But now in New York, there is an immensely brilliant and hardened Permanent Representative to the UN (Pascale Baeriswyl - ed.), whom I’ve known since the days when both she and I worked in our respective capitals. I have no doubt that she will be an effective and fair chair of the Security Council.

Volodymyr Ilchenko, New York

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