United Nations and Ukraine: Seventy Years Together

UA HES Special Event: Contested Ground
The Legacy of the Second World War in Eastern Europe

United Nations and Ukraine: Seventy Years Together

Valerii Kuchynskyi

Featured remarks by former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the United Nations Dr. Valerii Kuchynskyi delivered during UA HES Special Event: Contested Ground, at the University of Alberta in Edmonton AB, October 23-24, 2015.

From the San Francisco Conference to the Present Day

Tomorrow, October 24th marks the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations, which, by rights, remains the world’s largest universal, intergovernmental organization.

Another very significant, historical event took place seven days ago. Ukraine was elected non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, the most important international body responsible for the maintenance of global peace and security. A vote of 177 in favor of Ukraine clearly demonstrated the level of support for and the solidarity with my country who became a victim of ruthless aggression and a proxy war unleashed by the Russian Federation.

Incidentally, in March last year after the annexation of Crimea by Russian military, the UN General Assembly in its resolution condemned the aggression and confirmed sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine by a vote of one hundred member states.

So, seventy years ago, burnt by the horrors and devastation of the Second World War, the peoples of our planet decided to create an international organization to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”.

The UN Charter unanimously adopted by the delegates at the San Francisco Conference on June 26, 1945 stated the broad aims of the United Nations: to maintain international peace and security; to develop friendly relations among nations; to achieve international cooperation in resolving economic, social and cultural problems; to encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedom for all.

After ratification by member-countries the UN Charter took effect formally on October 24, 1945- a date later proclaimed UN Day. Thus, a new world order was established.

There were several contentious issues at the San Francisco Conference. One was Stalin’s proposal, that the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR be invited to become members of the new international body.

The Soviets had been laying the groundwork for this proposal for some time. On 1 February 1944 the Supreme Soviet had amended the Constitution of the Soviet Union to say that each of the 16 constituent republics had the right to conduct its own foreign relations. This provided something of a legal basis for later claims that they were independent states.

The reason behind Stalin’s proposal was the fear of isolation in a capitalist organization and, as Stalin privately confessed to Roosevelt: “the voice of Ukraine is necessary to preserve the unity of the USSR”. The delegations of Ukraine and Belarus were invited to take part in the San Francisco Conference and became founding members of the new international organization.

Ukraine’s delegation was actively involved in working on the UN Charter. People’s Commissar of
Foreign Affairs Dmytro Manuilsky, head of Ukrainian delegation, chaired the First Committee that was preparing the preamble and the first chapter of the Charter.

Another contentious issue at the San Francisco forum centered on the veto in the Security Council. The Americans, the British and the Soviets all agreed that a veto was essential. The premise was: “there will be no peace in the postwar world if the United States and the Soviet Union did not agree”. After intensive consultations the formulas acceptable to all was found. By the way, the use of veto in the Security Council was voted by twenty to ten with fifteen abstaining and five absent!!

Through the years member-states have tried to reform the Security Council and to limit or altogether eliminate the veto power abused on many occasions by the Permanent Five. But, to no avail,- the P-5 would not give up their special status and privileges. National interests and regional rivalries trumped the common good.

The Security Council has preserved the influence of the victors in WWII, freezing a moment in a time, in spite of tremendous changes that have occurred since then.

Preposterously, one veto-wielding power can thwart the will of the rest of member-states.

Ukraine’s accession to the United Nations has had a tremendous historical significance in the eyes of international community: together with the other founding members of the UN Ukraine was legally an equal and a sovereign state. I think, in a sense, this event paved the way for declaration of Ukraine’s Independence in 1991.

From its inception, the UN was envisaged as a body that would represent all the world’s nations. Although, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt coined the phrase: “United Nations” he was referring to the Allied Powers, but not to the countries of the world.

For the first two decades the actual admission policy was rather selective. Through 1954, only nine nations were added to the original 51 members. This meant that the American “automatic” majority was protected.

After 1954, however, the number of new members began to increase rapidly. In 1955 alone, 16 new nations were admitted; by 1983 the total membership had grown to 158.

A good number of countries joined after the end of the cold war and after the demise of the Soviet Union. Currently, the Organization is a forum of 193 member-states

ts achievements, failures and problems are those of its members. Therefore, the ever-present tension between sovereignty and internationalism is inherent, persistent and unavoidable.

Another conclusion: the UN shortcomings through the years did not develop out of failure of application; they were to a certain degree an intentional part of the plan for the world body. The plan was negotiated by the Great Powers in 1943 in Teheran, in 1944 at Dumbarton Oaks and at Yalta in 1945,- later to be embodied in the UN Charter.

Therefore, the privileges and the special position of the Big-5 who would play the major role in keeping the peace had been envisaged by the founding fathers at the very beginning.

In the first decades of its existence, the Organization contributed powerfully to the elaboration of international norms in all sectors of human activity- from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the binding conventions that have followed it to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Law of the Sea Convention. Decolonization was a major enterprise successfully concluded!

Peace-keeping- not mentioned in the UN Charter- was a brilliant improvisation. Dag Hammarskjold referred to it as “chapter three and a half”.

The division of the world into two blocks, which the founders had failed to foresee, severely limited the potential for the Security Council. Indeed during that period, many crises, for instance, the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan- were kept off the Council’s agenda altogether- because one or more of its permanent members were directly involved.

The end of the cold war somewhat unblocked the Security Council by making it possible for permanent members to reach agreements on a variety of issues.

The early years of the twenty-first century saw a remarkable resurgence of interest in and funding for humanitarian, social and development issues through and outside of the UN.

The turn of the century saw the adoption by the UN of the Millennium Development goals to halve poverty, to conduct massive global campaigns against pandemics and natural disasters. These plans have been successfully implemented. Incidentally, during this year’s Sustainable Development Summit, world leaders adopted 17 new goals with 169 targets to eradicate poverty, fight inequality and combat climate change over the next 15 years.

Unfortunately, the post-cold war euphoria gave way to the growing confrontation. The veto power in the Security Council is again being abused. In the case of Syria, Russia and China have used their veto seven times to block Security Council action, and to shake down threats of sanctions against the Government of Syrian President Bashar-al Assad.

Still, the UN has been indispensable in helping people caught in conflict and trapped in poverty.
Now, over 120 000 UN peace keepers are deployed in 16 missions.

Last year the UN helped 80 million people with food in 82 countries. It has responded to unprecedented humanitarian crises in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and South Sudan. It has procured almost 3 billion vaccines for 100 countries..

But, the UN has not always been up to the mark.

To its member states’ eternal shame, on some occasions it has been a bystander to genocide. In any historical ledger, Rwanda and Srebrenica stand out as ghastly failures.

During the Rwanda genocide, UN peace-keepers, deployed in the country, failed to intervene as some 800,000 Tutsis and sympathetic Hutus were slaughtered. In Srebrenica in July 1995, more than 8,000 Muslims, mostly men and boys were massacred in “safe heavens” , in areas under the protection of the UN .

In some countries, such as Yugoslavia, the UN was slow to respond. In others, such as Vietnam and Iraq, it was sidelined. Its efforts to broker peace talks during Syria’s civil war, have ended in failure.

Peace has never been achieved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of the UN biggest problems.

Sometimes, the UN has been part of the problem, rather than a solution.
Peace-keepers have been accused of multiple sexual abuses, most recently in Central African Republic.

In Haiti, peace-keepers from Nepal were,allegedly, the source of a cholera outbreak that killed over 8000.

“The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell”,- these words of Dag Hammarskjold have come to serve as a mission statement of sorts.

For all its shortcomings, the UN can look back on much of the past seventy years with pride. Indeed, it has passed the test of time. The cold war never turned hot, though there were cold war proxy conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola, Afghanistan and now war is going on in Ukraine.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told a recent news conference that he was conscious of the criticism about the UN’s effectiveness, accountability and even its relevance. -Were there no United Nations, however, where countries could sit down to discuss the major issues of the day; I’m afraid to tell you that the world might have been much bloodier, much more tragic”- Ban said.

Ukraine’s Participation

From the moment the UN came to the existence till the Declaration of Ukraine’s Independence,the Organization had been a major forum through which the world community received information on the history, culture, identity of Ukrainian people and could see Ukraine as a separate entity. The powerful Ukrainian communities overseas, especially in the US, Canada, UK and Latin America have also played a unique role in fostering the Ukrainian cause.

During the Soviet period, despite severe limitations, Ukraine did participate in foreign relations and maintained various international ties. But it lacked the most important prerequisite of a sovereign state- that of genuine foreign policy. Kyiv’s foreign policy course was made in Moscow. Still, in contrast to other former Soviet republics, Ukraine, as a member of the United Nations, managed to gain priceless experience and to create its own highly professional diplomatic corps.

When the time came, the transition for Ukraine was much easier that for other former Soviet republics. Under a strict control from the Kremlin, Ukraine still managed to play an active role on international arena.

Unfortunately, this turbulent period of Ukraine’s diplomatic history has never been properly recorded and analyzed. There were outstanding diplomats, real patriots of their Motherland: G.Shevel, G.Udovenko, A.Zlenko, B.Tarasuk,- to name just a few.

Through the years Ukraine has been elected on many occasions to various working and Governing bodies of the UN and the specialized agencies; its representatives served in high posts in the UN hierarchy- President of the Security Council, President of the General Assembly, President of the UNDP/UNFPA Governing Council and Chairmen of the Main Committees.

In 1948-1949 and in 1984-1985, Ukraine served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council . For the third time Ukraine became Council’s member in 2000-2001 as an independent and sovereign state..

A new stage of Ukraine’s participation on international arena opened up on 24 August 1991, after the country regained its independence. In September 1991, for the first time in 45 years of membership in the UN, Ukrainian delegation took part at the UN General Assembly, guided by purely national interests of the country.

Immediately after regaining its independence, Ukraine’s activities at the UN, specifically its participation in peacekeeping operations, contributed not only to fostering its positive image on international arena, but also to strengthening the organization as such.

Since 1992, some 35 000 Ukrainian citizens have participated in 20 peacekeeping operations around the globe.

Ukraine has put forward scores of important diplomatic initiatives, specifically, on establishing the International Day of Peacekeepers on 29 May, on holding the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on the fight against HIV/AIDS, on adopting SC special resolution on Women Rights and many others.

In 1997, Gennadiy Udovenko, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, was elected President of the 52nd Session of the UN General Assembly. This session came into history as the “Forum for Reforms”. A comprehensive radical reform program, initiated by Secretary General Kofi Annan, was adopted and immediately started to be implemented.

In 2006-2008 Ukraine was a member of the newly created Human Rights Council.

In the framework of cooperation with the UN Development Program in mitigating the consequences of Chernobyl catastrophe, in combating HIV/AIDS, in protecting the environment, Ukraine has been rendered considerable financial assistance.

When in 1993 , the then Parliament of the Russian Federation approved a hideous resolution on Sevastopol, the UN Security Council unequivocally expressed full and complete support for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Ten years later, in 2003 during 58th session of the General Assembly, Ukraine initiated a special event commemorating the victims of “Holodomor”, the man-made famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933.

A Joint Statement on Holodomor circulated as an official document of the UN was endorsed by over 60 countries, including Russia, the United States, Canada, Argentina, former Soviet Republics, Israel and EU countries.

The statement became the first ever UN document to identify and condemn the Soviet totalitarian regime’s actions and policies that resulted in Holodomor. The term “Holodomor” became a part of the international vocabulary.

When in March 2014 , the Russian Federation annexed Crimea, the integral part of Ukraine and started to unleash a bloody conflict in Donbas, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 68/262 by which it affirmed, I quote: “The sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders”. Similar resolution in the UN Security Council was vetoed by Russia.
From the very beginning of the war, the UN was very much involved in the efforts to minimize the bloodshed and to act as mediator. The Secretary General visited Kyiv and sent his emissaries to the conflict zones. The UN Security Council has had over 35 sessions dealing with the conflict. The majority of member-states resolutely condemned the Russian aggression and demanded the full implementation of the Minsk accords.

A very Important General Assembly resolution, sponsored by a large group of member-states, would have set up an international tribunal into the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17. It was also vetoed by the Russian Federation. According to investigative report by the Dutch Safety Board, the airliner was shot down by a Russian BUK anti-aircraft missile system, killing 298 passengers aboard.

So it was no surprise that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, speaking in the General Debate at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly made particular mention of the issue of UN reform, calling for “the gradual limitation of the veto right, with its further cancellation”.

Poroshenko told the UN General Assembly and I quote: “In every democratic country, if someone has stolen your property, an independent court will restore justice, in order to protect your rights, and punish the offender. However, we must recognize that in 21 century our organization lacks an effective instrument to bring to justice an aggressor country that has stolen the territory of another sovereign state”.

In making its call to limit veto rights in cases of mass atrocities, Ukraine has found a powerful ally in France. This proposal has also been supported by over 70 member states.

Ukraine’s forthcoming membership in the UN Security Council opens up additional opportunities to contribute not only to strengthening world peace and security but also to revitalizing and reforming this august body.

Thank you.