Blog: Does Russia legitimately occupy its seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council?
February 28, 2023

Blog: Does Russia legitimately occupy its seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council?

On 16 February 2023, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution on one year of Russia’s invasion and war of aggression against Ukraine. MEPs condemned Russia’s aggression, reiterated the EU’s solidarity with Ukraine and reaffirmed their readiness to support the country for as long as necessary.

However, I would like to draw your attention to another particular provision of the resolution.

The European Parliament, among other things, called on the EU and its member states to take further action to continue the international isolation of the Russian Federation, including with regard to Russia’s membership of international organisations and bodies such as the United Nations Security Council.

It should be noted that Russia has already been expelled from a number of international organisations and bodies, including the Council of Europe, the UN Human Rights Council, the World Tourism Organisation, and the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Nevertheless, the Russian Federation is still a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a member of the United Nations in general.

The European Parliament has now become the first EU institution to raise this very important issue in its resolution. Hopefully, after the EP’s resolution, the idea of expelling Russia from the UN and, in particular from the Security Council, will gain further support from the EU and the international community.

However, the problem is not just that the aggressor country is a member of the Security Council, a body whose main task is to maintain international peace and security.

The question is also whether Russia legitimately became a member of the United Nations when it took its seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The answer to this question will surprise you.

But first, some statistics. Since 1991, the Russian Federation has used its veto in the UN Security Council 31 times, almost twice as many as any other permanent member of the Council.

Thus, Russia is clearly abusing its veto power. It has vetoed some vital decisions of the Security Council, and now it is blocking the work of the Council, not allowing it to carry out its functions of maintaining international peace and security, in particular in the situation of the war in Ukraine. This is another reason why Russia has no place in such bodies as the UN Security Council.

But let’s return to the legitimacy of Russia’s membership in the United Nations.

Members of the Security Council participate in a meeting about the Ukrainian conflict at the United Nations headquarters on November 16, 2022 © John Lamparski via Reuters Connect

In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and new states appeared on the political map of the world. They had to join the United Nations in accordance with the procedure specified in the UN Charter.

Meanwhile, it is worth mentioning that after the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine and Belarus did not have to go through the procedure of joining the Organisation, as the Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republics had joined as founder members in 1945, even though they were part of the Soviet Union at the time.

Russia, however, was not an official member of the UN. In 1991, it took over the place of the no longer existing entity, the USSR.

The Russian Federation had to go through the procedure under Article 4 of the UN Charter. The Article says that the membership of peace-loving states is acquired on the decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. For example, the Czech Republic and Slovakia followed this path after Czechoslovakia – a founding member of the UN in 1945 – had ceased to exist.

Had the Russian Federation following the same path, the General Assembly would have had to vote for its admission to the UN. Instead, Russia took over the seat of the Soviet Union, on the basis of a letter from the President of the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) Boris Yeltsin to the UN Secretary-General, simply informing that the membership of the Soviet Union Security Council and all other United Nations organs were being continued by the Russian Federation with the support of the 11 member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

As a result, the Russian Federation has never signed the UN Charter, which still refers to the Soviet Union.

Considering this, it can be argued that Russia is illegally present not only in the UN in general but also in the Security Council in particular, having simply replaced the sign “Soviet Union” with “Russian Federation”.

Indeed, Article 23 of the UN Charter, which lists the permanent members of the Security Council, still includes the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, not Russia.

It is worth noting that Ukraine has already officially raised the question of the legitimacy of Russia’s membership in the UN, in a statement to the UN on 26 December 2022.

Now Ukraine needs to get as much support as possible from the international community in order to defend the UN Charter and expel Russia from the Organisation. In this context, the resolution adopted by the European Parliament is extremely important. It opens up new opportunities to promote this issue at the international level. I am sure this is the first but not the last signal from the European Union on this matter.

The removal of the Russian Federation from the UN Security Council and the United Nations, in general, will certainly not be an easy task. But with the support of Ukraine’s partners, including the EU, nothing is impossible, especially when the truth is on your side. Because now, more than ever, it is clear that justice must finally prevail, procedures must work, and the UN Charter must be defended.

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