Can we really exclude Russia from the UN Security Council, as demanded by Volodymyr Zelensky?

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Aggressor denounced by most Western countries, could Russia find itself banned from nations? Already economically sanctioned, its diplomats dismissed from several countries, now the UN General Assembly is considering this Thursday its possible suspension from the Human Rights Council. And on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky even suggested “excluding Russia as an aggressor and initiator of the war” from the UN Security Council, “so that it does not block decisions relating to his own aggression.

A request that seems almost logical, for a body supposed to be the guarantor of peace. But which comes up against the status of Russia, a permanent member and holder of a right of veto in this Security Council since 1946. “It is a system which is technically organized around the victors of the Second World War”, states d Jean de Gliniasty, former French ambassador to Moscow. And whose reform seems impossible. “The charter would have to be modified, which requires the agreement of the members”, explains the diplomat. However, Russia would immediately exercise its right of veto.

An impossible reform

The UN did not wait for the war in Ukraine to try to reform this body. In 1995, the secretary general at the time, the Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali, estimated that “the Security Council will become illegitimate if it is not deeply reformed”. From the following year, the possibility of seeing the losers of 1945, Germany and Japan, as well as at least one African nation, obtain a permanent seat was raised, with the support of France. A proposal that has remained a dead letter, like that of François Hollande to add Brazil and India. “It’s a sea serpent”, slice the historian Anne de Tinguy, researcher at the Center for International Research (CERI) of Sciences Po, also recalling the French desire to “limit the field of the right of veto”.

“You have to be lucid, the right of veto was designed to ensure that the great nations can preserve their interests”, admits Jean de Gliniasty. Built on the “realism” of Roosevelt and Truman at the end of the war, who had learned the lessons of the failure of the League of Nations, “dead because the small nations had the same status as the large ones”, the Council of security is now frozen in the image of the Yalta conference.

Record of use of veto power

The permanent seat then confers “an aura and an influence greater than its real power” to Russia, adds Anne de Tinguy. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Russians have also used their right of veto 29 times, a record. Moscow has thus made sure to keep the UN away from its intervention in Syria (which had already led to the rejection of its candidacy for the Human Rights Council the following year), and shows that Ukraine is part of of “his backyard”. As of February 25, Russia thus countered a resolution deploring the “aggression” of Ukraine and asking for the withdrawal of its troops, while being the only nation to vote “no”.

With this right of veto, Vladimir Putin also avoids a referral by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court for the “war crimes” of which he is accused, as well as a possible dispatch of blue helmets. “A ceasefire is already needed,” squeals the university professor at Inalco, who regrets that “Russia is preventing the Security Council from playing its role”.

The balance paradox

The historian even sees a paradox in this, emphasizing that Russia is “very attached to its seat” and would therefore have every interest in seeing that “the UN assumes its responsibility in the field of peace and security. “. Instead, the Security Council “is impotent” and the negotiations are not placed “under the aegis of the UN”, which could have a “leading role”, according to her. But this absence is perhaps the best proof of the balance that the United Nations must constantly seek. “Being the only universal organization, it is obliged to take into account realistic power relations”, analyzes Jean de Gliniasty.

Because the other paradox is that faced with the global repercussions of its decisions, “it is important for the great powers to avoid being called into question”, he adds. Even if it means looking away to avoid the ultimate danger? To exclude a large nation, or to see one slam the door, would in fact take the risk of creating “territorial UNs”, which would no longer really have to worry about world peace. The opportunity for Anne de Tinguy to recall that “Russia is a nuclear state”, otherwise “the reactions would have been different”.

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