Russia’s presiding over the Security Council is no big deal

062217 gehrke lavrov pic
Lavrov delivered the rebuke to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by phone after canceling a high-level diplomatic summit in Moscow that had been scheduled for Friday. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin) Pavel Golovkin

Russia’s presiding over the Security Council is no big deal

Russia now holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council. The country that is currently flattening Ukraine with missiles, forcefully deporting thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, and committing war crimes during the most blatant act of aggression thus far in the 21st century is now responsible for a body whose core mission is the “maintenance of international peace and security.”

The fox is guarding the henhouse.

Ukrainian officials are livid. “The Russian presidency in the UNSC is a stark reminder that something is wrong with the way international security architecture is functioning,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. The U.S. is no less apoplectic. “A country that flagrantly violates the U.N. Charter and invades its neighbor has no place on the U.N. Security Council,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. Others are pleading for the Biden administration to do something, anything, to prevent Russia from attaining the presidency. They are doing so despite the fact that there is nothing in the U.N. Charter or its administrative documents that makes such a scenario remotely possible.

Let’s add a small dose of reality to the picture. Here’s the bottom line: while Russia presiding over the Security Council is certainly bad optics, it’s not a major event that will alter the course of history. At best, the Russians will be able to organize some ridiculous meetings, like a briefing from an international fugitive, that other members of the council will have to sit through.


Those who aren’t in tune with the bureaucratic minutia of the U.N. could be forgiven for thinking that Russia controls the institution’s most powerful organ for the month: That the Security Council will now be at the mercy of an aggressor state, while the rest of its members, like the U.S., will be compelled to vote on Russian-orchestrated initiatives.

Such a view is mistaken.

Being president of the Security Council sounds like a powerful position, yet it’s actually quite mundane. There is far more symbolism to the gig than substance. Russia won’t be dictating the agenda, but rather leading Security Council meetings, keeping the U.N. General Assembly informed of its actions, ensuring ordinary sessions run smoothly, and briefing members of the press as the UNSC’s official representative. Responsibilities are spelled out in the Provisional Rules of Procedure and the Security Council’s official documentation. It’s all very technical, monotonous, and frankly, about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Of course, the Russians will relish their role as president for the month and seek to capitalize on it to the fullest extent. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will reportedly preside over several Security Council sessions on select topics. Moscow will use its chair as a desperate way to thrust itself more fully into the international conversation, particularly on matters like Ukraine. And as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield observed, we can expect the usual disinformation as well.

But nobody should be under any illusions that Russia will be able to throw sand into the U.N.’s gears or unilaterally prevent debates that other members, such as the U.S., U.K., and France, wish to have. Russia won’t be able to cancel any pending votes, doesn’t have the power to shut down the council’s operations, and will be powerless to change the Security Council’s schedule — much of which was established by the entire body well in advance.

Ideally, a state whose president is now wanted by the International Criminal Court wouldn’t be technically in charge of a body tasked with maintaining global peace. The situation leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Russia’s presidency will add more grist to the mill for those who already believe the U.N. is a largely ineffectual, ceremonial organization that deserves nothing less than a big budget cut. But it’s not the end of the world.


Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. His opinions are his own.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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