Awkward Moments at the UN as Russia, Current President of the Security Council, Is Accused of ‘Shocking’ War Crime

Diplomats are unable to hide their anger after a Russian cruise missile hits a Kyiv hospital for cancer-stricken children.

AP/Evgeniy Maloletka
Rescue workers clear the rubble at the Kyiv site of the Okhmatdyt children's hospital hit by Russian missiles on Monday. AP/Evgeniy Maloletka

What happens when a guilty party presides over a panel of accusers? That is the situation the Russian ambassador at the United Nations, Vasili Nebenzya, found himself in on Tuesday morning. 

Nearly all members of the UN Security Council accused Russia of committing a “shocking” war crime by launching a deadly, multi-missile attack on Ukrainian cities Monday. Diplomats were unable to hide their anger, specifically as one of the Russian cruise missiles hit a Kyiv hospital for cancer-stricken children. 

As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia can veto any council action, so none was proposed Tuesday. It also holds the rotating council presidency for the month of July, which created some complications as members condemned Monday’s missile assault. 

While Russia was isolated at Turtle Bay, it found solace in another corner of the world, at Riyadh. When leaders of seven leading economies, known as the G-7, met in May and June, they looked for ways to punish Moscow for its war on Ukraine — including by seizing Russian assets that are frozen in European banks.

The idea was nixed, though, after Saudi Arabia threatened to sell European debt holdings if the G-7 were to go ahead with the plan, Bloomberg reported Tuesday. Mr. Nebenzya told the Sun that he is yet to learn the details of the Saudi move. Kyiv’s UN ambassador, Sergeiy Kyslytsya, also declined to comment. 

The Ukraine war, meanwhile, tops the agenda of this week’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization meetings at Washington, and the latest horrors could prompt the West to further punish President Putin and his loyalists. Mr. Nebenzya, in fact, speculated at the Security Council that the hospital attack might have been manufactured to increase NATO anger at Russia.   

Monday’s UN session, called for by America and others, started out with a speech by Mr. Nebenzya, explaining his opposition to allowing the Ukrainian ambassador, who is not currently a Security Council member, to speak. Mr. Kyslytsya, the Russian envoy said, violated “protocol” in his letter requesting to participate in the meeting. 

“It is not clear who the letter was addressed to,” Mr. Nebenzya said. Perhaps deliberately, the Ukrainian ambassador declined to send his request to the council president. 

When the Security Council convenes to address a dispute, involved countries that are not members are normally invited automatically to speak on their own behalf. Requests to do so are mere formality. 

Even as president, therefore, Mr. Nebenzya could hardly prevent Ukraine from addressing the council. Despite the protocol violation, the Russian ambassador said he would “reluctantly” allow Mr. Kyslytsya to participate in the session due to a “request by the United States.”  

“He is pathetic,” Mr. Kyslytsya told the Sun afterward. In the rules that govern Security Council meetings, specifically rule 37, “there is not a single pixel of reference to the council’s presidency,” he said, adding that Mr. Nebenzya “wanted to present us as an American puppet.” His letter, Mr. Kyslytsya added, was appropriately addressed to “the Security Council.”

Yet, there might be more to the incident than mere formalities. Kyiv has long contended that in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in 1991, following the dissolution of the USSR, a Russian ambassador informed the UN secretary-general that it would take the Soviet seat.

Unlike other cases, such as the ascension of Communist China to the seat formerly held by the Republic of China, the General Assembly never voted on Moscow’s request. Russia’s membership in the UN and its occupation of one of the Security Council’s permanent seats, therefore, is illegal, according to Mr. Kyslytsya.   

“I just ignore his statements,” Mr. Nebenzya said, when asked by the Sun about the Ukrainian’s repeated challenge. Addressing the slew of war crime accusations, he told the council that the damage to the Kyiv children’s hospital was caused by Ukrainian air defenses that intercepted a missile targeting a nearby arms manufacturing factory. 

Ukraine is violating the laws of war by placing such military targets in civilian centers, Mr. Nebenzya argued. He further speculated, based on what he said were Ukrainian postings on social media, that the hospital hit was deliberate, since the “Kyiv clique” needs to justify recruiting young men to “the meat grinder.”

Mr. Kyslytsya, though, presented the council with solid photographic evidence that a Russian KH131 cruise missile landed on the hospital. Unlike in the past, the Ukrainian ambassador said afterward, today’s technology makes it impossible to conceal war crimes. “Show me one council member” who adopted the Russian version of the event, Mr. Kyslytsya told the Sun

“I’ll cut to the chase,” the American UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the council. “We are here today because Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, the current rotational president of the Security Council, attacked a children’s hospital.”

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  Create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use