Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at UNSC open Debate on the working methods of the Security Council

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September 5, 2023


We congratulate you on assuming Presidency of the Security Council in September. We hope that the working methods will not fail you and that you will not fail the working methods.

We thank Ambassador Hoxha for the remarks and the guidance of the Security Council Informal Working Group (IWG) on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions and for organizing this meeting. For several years now, the Security Council has been discussing its working methods in an open format with the participation of a wide circle of UN member states. We believe this is a useful practice, since a periodic review of the current toolkit allows us to identify reserves for its further improvement.

We are convinced that today’s discussion, as well as an external assessment of the current state of affairs, will make a palpable contribution to the activities of the IWG, and will help it develop some fresh ideas. Of course given an understanding that the working methods themselves and any steps for their modification have been and remain in the ownership of Security Council members.

Russia has consistently supported and continues to support a comprehensive open-format discussion of this issue at the Security Council with participation of all interested member states of the United Nations. We assume that this discussion that has been lasting for many years now is very relevant in practical terms, because it unlocks opportunities for the Security Council to enhance coordination with broader UN membership. We welcome the result that was made in the past years. Many ideas that were first voiced in the Security Council chamber provided basis for Note 507 by UNSC President. The Note has particular relevance as a compilation of UNSC working practices that non-permanent member states turn to as a reference.

Working methods of the Security Council is a very sensitive topic, therefore any changes to them must aim at ensuring a real increase in effectiveness and operativeness of the Security Council as it implements its main tasks of maintenance international peace and security. Use of populist rhetoric, including in the context of infinitely “increasing the level of transparency” of the Council does not facilitate achievement of results, and would often become a hindrance.

We note the efforts of Albanian delegation in improving Security Council’s working methods. We note the latest practice of preparing annual reports by the Informal Working Group. We welcome the adoption of Notes by UNSC President that were drafted by Albania with a view to boosting efficiency of the Council, including its subsidiary bodies. We see an active interest in procedural aspects of the work of the Council on the part of non-permanent members. By all means, this helps the process of developing best practices for the Security Council by collective efforts.


Unfortunately, the Security Council has started to encounter substantive problems a regards its activities way more often recently. We consistently stress that “lip-deep changes” will not be enough. We need a profound complex discussion.

The practice by certain member states to use the Security Council in pursuit of their narrow national interests has assumed an alarming scale. Due to their purposeful pressure, agenda of the Security Council undergoes continuous extensions due to adding internal political, climatic, human rights, and other aspects. Of course, this is always done on very plausible pretexts. What they conscientiously ignore is the fact that the UN Charter says the Security Council should not address those issues. To say nothing of the fact, that it cannot be of any help when dealing with related problems. Such acts show once again that their real goal is to exert pressure on unwanted states.

Real causes that have led up to emergence of a conflict quite often get silenced down or covered up on purpose. This brings about situations where some UN missions, including peacekeeping operations, receive unclear mandates with uncharacteristic functions that they obviously cannot fulfil. This but makes one doubt their impartiality and effectiveness. As an example, we can cite the situation with the harmonization of the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq. There are also attempts to shift own responsibility for crises that have emerged to others’ shoulders, as was the case when the Council considered the Afghan problem while certain UNSC members were trying insistently to narrow a comprehensive discussion to the issue of upholding human rights.

We have always underscored that it is inadmissible to ignore the opinion of a host country of a United Nations peacekeeping contingent. For example, the Lebanese leadership has repeatedly conveyed an unequivocal message to the members of the Security Council on the need to strengthen the coordination of UNIFIL with the government and the army of the Republic, among other things in order to ensure the protection and security of United Nations personnel along the Blue Line. However, penholders of the Lebanese file on the Council chose to ignore the opinion of the Lebanese.

It is noteworthy that Western colleagues tend to change the focus of a discussion if the issue raised does not reconcile with their narrow national interests. A telling example of this is the discussion of revising or lifting sanctions against countries where they no longer meet the actual situation. It is no secret that sanctions regimes are used by some states as levers for exerting political pressure under the international UN umbrella. Such an approach can hardly be called constructive and conducive to maintaining effectiveness of sanctions regimes. Although the reasons for which the sanctions were imposed are no longer valid, more prompts are invented every time to keep them in force. At the same time, we note that the informal penholders of sanctions files are often guided by the spirit of their own engagement with a country on UNSC agenda. Once again, the Council has witnessed persistent attempts to extend restrictions on the Central African Republic and Mali with the sole purpose of maintaining external pressure on them. The sovereign opinion of these countries, which have made significant progress in stabilizing the situation at home, has been blatantly ignored. As were their legitimate concerns, that were systematically disregarded. Speaking of our steps, they were respectful towards Mali.

We note with regret that Security Council is gradually losing capacity for constructive discussion and negotiation. Instead of finding solutions to complex problems, which indeed requires both time and a willingness to compromise, Western countries often deliberately choose the easiest path, provoking the use of the veto or abstention on draft decisions. Again, a recent example is the situation with Mali’s sanctions, when our repeated strong calls to the sponsors of the draft resolution to adopt a constructive approach and “come to senses” were simply ignored. Please waste no energy telling us what colossal efforts you made to negotiate a resolution on Mali. All your efforts were that you disregarded the concerns of that country. I will let you in on a little secret. One of the permanent members of the Council said in closed consultations, “We are the Security Council, and we do what we want, not what the country under consideration wants”. Is that not a manifestation of neo-colonial approaches?

Let me stress this one thing: the veto right does not belong with the scope of the working methods of the Security Council. Veto is the cornerstone of the entire UNSC architecture and a prerequisite for making well-balanced decisions. This however does not negate the need for such working methods and approaches of the Council that would facilitate compromise. We should be willing to agree, act wisely and be pragmatic, as well as listen to and heed what our fellow Council members say. Some from the P5 readily criticize the use of the veto while humbly keeping silent that they actually need no veto, because they have eight votes “in their pocket”. As a matter of fact, they use a “hidden veto” without having to use the real one. This is exactly why the Security Council does not need to expand by more like-minded Western states.

Our Western colleagues have started to favor the tactic of making allegations in absentia, pinning labels, sabotage, dictate, and manipulation. On some episodes, such as Ukraine, the Security Council has long become a platform for the most absurd fakes and propaganda narratives on the part of Western countries. Moreover, the opinion of the West is peremptorily presented as the only one that is correct. Does this destructive line contribute to the unity of the Council? Hardly so.

Against this background, the issue of informal penholdership of certain files becomes increasingly acute. Only three delegations continue to hold pen on most issues. Despite the long-lost status of “metropoles”, they have come to think of themselves as exceptional, pose as regional experts and be condescending to other states or even regions. Thereby they ignore the opinion of the host country, regional players (who often have more knowledge of the situation on the ground), and sometimes even representatives of the UN Secretariat.

A perennially relevant example of delegations abusing their role as penholders is the methodology of negotiating UNSC resolutions. Quite often, the Council has to work under artificial deadlines preventing a comprehensive expert study of documents. Moreover, in order to obtain the desired result during the voting, our Western colleagues’ favorite tool was to exert unprecedented pressure on all countries that disagreed with their approach in the spirit of the principle “whoever is not with us is against us”. Colleagues, what do we have in the end? “Raw” documents that do not take into account the key concerns of Security Council members, give unclear instructions to the Secretariat, and are often unrealistic in terms of goals and objectives. Such an approach is not conducive to effective conflict resolution. What’s worse, it undermines the credibility of the UN Security Council.

We consistently stand in favor of expanding the circle of informal penholders, first of all at the expense of non-permanent members. In this regard, we are guided by the provision enshrined in Note 507 by President of the Security Council that “any member of the Council may be a penholder, and more than one member may act as co-penholders”. In doing so, we pay special attention to taking into account the views of African states. We are convinced that revisiting the issue of penholdership will contribute to enhancing the effectiveness of the work of the Security Council. In this regard, we welcome the launching, with our active participation, of a permanent discussion of this issue at the Informal Working Group on Documentation and Other Procedural Questions. We will continue to engage constructively with interested colleagues to agree on a draft Note on penholdership.

We have repeatedly pointed out the Council’s overload with documentation. UNSC issues several hundred documents per year. Alas, some of them have rather questionable added value. Speaking of other “distortions”, there is excessive preoccupation with micromanagement in UNSC resolutions. This can be observed on a regular basis. We always proceed from the assumption that final “products” of the Council should be clear, concise, easy to understand and, most importantly, action-oriented.

The issue of the optimal ratio between open and closed meetings in the Security Council remains pressing. Russia has consistently advocated a balance between the two. We see, however, that some members of the Council, while arguing loudly for maximum transparency when considering individual country-specific issues, are in fact using them solely for the sake of propaganda, still preferring to consider sensitive or inconvenient topics behind closed doors.

In conclusion, I cannot but mention the burning issue of inviting briefers to UNSC meetings on a particular topic. Persistent attempts by our Western colleagues to subject to censorship those briefers who, in their view, do not meet certain Western criteria (simply speaking, those who are not prepared to “sing along”) and have an alternative view of various international problems, do not stand up to any criticism. Unfortunately, we also note cases of insults and personal attacks on briefers expressing a non-Western position. Such actions are unacceptable and do not contribute to an objective and balanced discussion.

Thank you.

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