US-Russian Verbal Skirmishes Expected at UN Security Council in May Under US Presidency

By Manik Mehta

NEW YORK: May promises to be a “high-voltage month” with the US assuming presidency of the United Nations Security Council during the month. Indeed, many UN accredited diplomats and journalists expect verbal skirmishes between the US and Russian permanent representatives at the UNSC.

Even before the US assumed the UNSC presidency, the US and Russian permanent representatives were locked in heated exchanges over the ongoing Ukrainian crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Not to miss the opportunity as she addressed journalists on May 3, the US permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, reminded the media gathering that May 3, when the US assumed the monthly UNSC presidency, was also the World Press Freedom Day. “A free and independent press serves as the cornerstone of every democracy,” she said, adding that “… we pay respects to journalists who lost their lives to deliver the news, to report the truth, and to ensure that all of us can – can make fact-based decisions that makes us safer, stronger, and more secure”. She cited the “devastating loss” of Radio Free Europe journalist Vera Gyrych who was killed by a Russian missile that struck her building in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Thomas-Greenfield revealed that the US mission would hold two “signature events” during its presidency – first, the US would convene a UNSC open debate on May 19 to examine the nexus between conflict and food security.  She has asked US Secretary of States, Anthony Blinken, to come to New York to chair the meeting.  The UNSC would consider taking steps to ensure “increasing food security does not drive new conflict, instability, particularly in fragile states”.

“Our second signature event for the month, on May 23, will focus on the role of the use of digital technologies in maintaining international peace and security. This is a new and important focus for the Security Council,” she said.

Other issues that would be discussed would include the humanitarian situation in Syria, chemical weapons and political situation. Finally, she said, she would highlight the annual debate on protection of civilians. “The debate takes on heightened importance given the attacks on civilians in Ukraine, but also in other conflicts around the world like in Ethiopia and Yemen and Burma (Myanmar).” 

Explaining her interest in the first signature event on food security, she recalled her personal exposure to starvation “with my own eyes”; “That famine and malnutrition are largely caused by war, sometimes intentionally, is really unacceptable.”

She blamed Russia for the food shortages and starvation, resulting in a sharp rise in food prices.  “Ukraine, as you all know, used to be a breadbasket for the developing world, but since Russia has spurned the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, blocked crucial ports and destroyed civilian infrastructure and grain silos, desperate hunger situations in Africa and the Middle East are getting even more dire”  

This meeting of the Security Council will fall during a week of action which the US will be launching to address food insecurity across the globe. As part of that, on May 18, on the eve of this crucial UNSC meeting, Secretary Blinken will chair a global food security call to action ministerial meeting here in New York. This meeting will take place at the UN and will include foreign ministers from many regionally diverse countries to review urgent humanitarian needs and take steps to build future resilience.  

Thomas-Greenfield said that important work is already underway on this topic in other international fora, including the G7. “The UN is the right venue for such a meeting, especially given the role of UN agencies in meeting humanitarian needs and implementation of solutions. We cannot look away from the millions who are worried about where they’ll find their next meal or how they’ll feed their families,” she maintained.

The second signature event would focus on digital technology and its contribution to peace and security. These tools, she acknowledged, can be abused to spread disinformation, restrict access to information, and deny human rights, but she added “we also see opportunities to use digital technologies to do tremendous good”   “Digital tools can help to identify emerging threats. They can protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and reconnect and reunite displaced peoples with their families. They have prosecutors collect evidence to build cases for war crimes, and they connect refugees to host families and employment opportunities …”