During the first 10 years of the work of the Security Council at the UN, the Soviet Union was the only member which used its veto. From 1946 to 1956 the USSR applied veto 56 times. From 1946 to 2022 the USSR, and then the Russian Federation, applied its veto approximately 120 times. This is about the same number as other permanent members of the Security Council used their veto. Particularly this veto is a blocking mechanism of collective security, which in many cases led to a complete paralysis of the UN efforts in addressing regional conflicts, with the most recent examples being in Georgia, Syria and Ukraine. Between 2014 and now Russia vetoed more than 20 Security Council resolutions, just to compare with only 3 vetoes by the United States.
One can hardly argue that 70+ years old international system of collective security based on the United Nations Charter and complemented by the creation of a variety of different regional and subregional organizations or unions like NATO, EU or OSCE in Europe, African Union, League of Arab States etc., did not sustain the series of tests at the beginning of the 21st century when Russia supported criminal Assad regime in Syria, invaded Georgia in 2008, occupied Crimea and the parts of Donbass in 2014, and finally unleashed the full-scale war against Ukraine in 2022.
All mentioned organizations appeared toothless in the face of Russian ruthless and cruel policies. And the UN Security Council has been effectively paralyzed by the power of the Russian veto.
As Ukraine continues its diplomatic and military fight against the ongoing Russian aggression, one pertinent question is being raised by more and more politicians and international experts whether Russia was indeed the true and legitimate successor to the former Soviet Union in the United Nations seat and, in particular, the powerful, veto-yielding permanent seat on the Security Council.
The UN Charter defines five permanent members of the Security Council – the Republic of China, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, and the United States. There is no such member as the Russian Federation. In fact, those familiar with UN history will recall that, back in 1971, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution which expelled the Republic of China, what is now Taiwan, and essentially transferred control of China’s place in the United Nations to Beijing. But no such decision has been made in relation to Russia taking place of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Russian representatives very often like to refer to the decision of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which supported the claim of the Russian Federation to continue the membership of the Soviet Union. But firstly, that decision was not supported by all CIS countries. For example, Georgia didn’t sign it, and Ukraine signed but never ratified the CIS Charter. Second, the mentioned CIS decision was sent in the letter to the UN Secretary General informing him of the fact. It was never debated, or considered, or taken for action, or voted on within the UN framework.
Moreover, in the UN archives, you can find the Memo signed by the then UN Legal Counsel, who in December 1991 unambiguously advised to the Secretary General that even in such case Russia should have fulfilled all relevant requirements that is formally applied to the reapplication to the UN as a new member. Russia never reapplied, unlike newly independent states such as the republics of the former Yugoslavia or Czechia and Slovakia.
This problem is not purely legal, it’s much more complicated and highly political. After unleashing unprovoked aggression against Ukraine and having violated every single provision of the UN Charter, after committing unseen atrocities against Ukrainians, does Russia really deserve to remain a member of the United Nations?
Let us give justice a chance.