West and Russia clash over UN probe of drone use in Ukraine

Many U.N. Security Council members led by the U.S. and its Western allies insist Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has the right to investigate whether Russia has used Iranian drones to attack civilians and power plants in Ukraine

Edith M. Lederer
Thursday 27 October 2022 02:40 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


The U.S. and its Western allies on the Security Council insisted Wednesday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has the right to investigate if Russia has used Iranian drones to attack civilians and power plants in Ukraine.

They dismissed Moscow’s argument that the U.N. chief would be violating the U.N. Charter.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, who called the council meeting, argued that only the Security Council can mandate an investigation. He cited Article 100 of the charter, which says the secretary-general “shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the organization.”

U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood called Russia’s contention “simply dumbfounding” and an attempt “to deflect attention from its own egregious wrongdoing in Ukraine.”

French Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere accused Russia of constantly violating the U.N. Charter “and trampling on its principles by invading its neighbor and claiming to annex its territories.”

Britain’s deputy ambassador, James Kariuki, called it “another attempt by Russia to distract from its crimes in Ukraine, and Iran and Russia’s failure to abide by their international obligations.”

The Western envoys said the Security Council's time is being wasted by Russia, which is engaged in a blitz of activity at the council.

Russia called closed-door consultations Tuesday about its unfounded allegations that Ukraine is preparing a dirty bomb. It called Wednesday's meeting to try to prevent the investigation of its purported use of Iranian drones. And it called a meeting Thursday on its claims that secret American labs in Ukraine were engaged in biological warfare — a charge denied by the U.S. and Ukraine.

In a letter to the Security Council last Wednesday, Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya accused Iran of violating a council ban on the transfer of drones capable of flying 300 kilometers (about 185 miles).

That provision was part of Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six key nations — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear activities and preventing the country from developing a nuclear weapon.

On Wednesday, Iranian Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani reiterated his country’s rejection of the “totally unfounded allegations.” He insisted that since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Iran has maintained “a position of active neutrality” and “has never provided the parties with weapons.”

Nebenzia told a council meeting Friday that the drones are Russian — not Iranian — and warned that an investigation would seriously affect relations between Russia and the United Nations.

This week he asked the U.N. legal office to state whether launching an investigation in response to a number of countries and not the entire Security Council would violate Article 100 of the U.N. Charter and provisions of Resolution 2231.

In a briefing for the council Wednesday, U.N. legal counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares did not directly answer Russia’s question, but he said “it is only natural” that the U.N.’s 193 member nations “wish to exercise as much influence as they can over the activities of the organization.”

Most days, he said, Guterres and himself are contacted by ambassadors trying to advance positions of their governments.

“All of this is to be expected; and I do not think that anyone here would wish to maintain that such activities are in any way inconsistent the Article 100 …,” Serpa Soares said.

As for Resolution 2231, he said, a 2016 council note on arrangements and procedures calls for the secretary-general to appoint a Security Affairs Division, which has prepared reports to the council every six months on its implementation.

He said the note “anticipates that the report will include findings and recommendations,” and in the 13 reports so far the secretary-general has been able “to express his views on relevant developments … and draw attention to matters of concern.”

“Absent further guidance by the Security Council," Serpa Soares said, “the secretary-general will continue to prepare these reports in the manner that they have been prepared to date.”

Wood, the deputy U.N. ambassador, noted that Russia helped negotiate and supported Resolution 2231 and said there is “ample precedent” in previous reports submitted by the secretary-general to the Security Council for independent investigations by the Secretariat, which he heads.

He cited a 2017 report in which the U.N. chief reported on an investigation of allegations that Iranian-supplied ballistic missiles were used by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in attacks on Saudi Arabia. More recently, he said, Secretariat investigators traveled to the Saudi capital of Riyadh in October 2021 to examine debris from six ballistic missiles tied to Houthi attacks. And in 2021, the U.N. team also went to Israel to examine Iranian drones that had infiltrated its airspace, Wood said.

Russia’s Nebenzia insisted that all those probes were against the U.N. Charter.

“We are grateful to our Western colleagues for the exhaustive list of violations by the U.N, Secretariat of Article 100 of the United Nations Charter,” he said.

Asked what will happen if the secretary-general does investigate the downed drones in Ukraine, Nebenzia said Moscow isn’t threatening to withdraw cooperation with the U.N. if that happened.

“But, of course, we will be viewing our cooperation in the light of the reaction of the Secretariat to our legitimate concerns,” he said.

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