TANZANIA – Russia’s U.N. ambassador on Monday dismissed U.S. and European Union descriptions of its presidency of the Security Council this month as an April Fool’s joke and announced a meeting to be chaired by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on defending the principles of the U.N. Charter, which Moscow is widely accused of breaking by invading Ukraine.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters earlier Monday that the U.S. expects the Russians will be professional but will use their presiding seat “to spread disinformation and promote their own agenda as it relates to Ukraine, and we will stand ready to call them out at every single moment that they attempt to do that.”
She and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell both called Russia's takeover of the council presidency an April Fool's joke.
Under Security Council rules, the presidency rotates monthly in alphabetical order among its 15 members. Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters there will be no change in the rules of the council, which is charged with maintaining international peace and security.
He said Russia has been “an honest broker” during past council presidencies, a role “which we value and cherish, and we are always trying to maintain it.”
The council president presides over meetings and gets to decide the topics of key sessions, often presided over by foreign ministers and sometimes presidents. Lavrov on April 24 will preside over a session on "effective multilateralism through the defense of the principles of the U.N. Charter.”
There are also required monthly meetings, including on the Middle East, which Lavrov will also preside over, Syria and other global hotspots, including Mali, Libya, Yemen, Haiti, Africa’s Great Lakes region and Colombia.
Nebenzia responded to the U.S. ambassador’s expectation that Russia will spread disinformation about Ukraine by calling it “a Western narrative” and stressing that “we think just the opposite.”
He said Russia plans to hold an informal council meeting on Wednesday on what Moscow claims is disinformation being spread by Western officials and media about the Ukrainian children taken to Russia. He said the aim of the meeting is “to dispel this narrative” that they were abducted.
The issue was put in the spotlight when the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants last month for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his country’s commissioner for children’s rights, accusing them of war crimes for the “unlawful deportation” of Ukrainian children to Russia. Moscow called the warrants “outrageous” and “legally void.”
An Associated Press investigation first published in October found that the open effort to put Ukrainian children up for adoption in Russia was well underway. Ukrainian officials claimed at the time that nearly 8,000 children had been deported to Russia, but the exact number was difficult to pin down.
Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador, James Kariuki, said Russia was in no position to talk about international law or U.N. values.
“It is waging a war of aggression against Ukraine, violating the most basic principle of the U.N. Charter — you don’t redraw borders by force — and its president has been indicted by the ICC for the systematic abduction of Ukrainian children,” he said.
“The U.K. will keep using our seat on the council to challenge their illegal war, expose their disinformation, and protect the council’s vital work tackling other threats to international peace and security, including across Africa and the Middle East.”
Russia’s assumption of the council presidency also drew strong criticism from Ukraine and Baltic nations.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced the “bankruptcy” of the Security Council and reiterated his call for an overhaul of the U.N. body and other global institutions.
Estonia’s U.N. Ambassador Rein Tammsaar, speaking also on behalf of Latvia and Lithuania, called the Russian presidency “shameful, humiliating and dangerous” for the council’s credibility.
Under Security Council rules, a member directly connected to an issue should withdraw from participation, and Nebenzia was asked if Russia would recuse itself when Ukraine was discussed.
“No,” he replied, indicating that the U.S., Britain and France, which have been supporting Ukraine, would have to withdraw as well.
The Russian ambassador recalled that following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the U.K. and U.S. held the council presidency consecutively that September and October.
“Nobody raised the question of their legitimacy to hold the presidency,” Nebenzia said. “And nobody put on the table the question that they withdraw from discussing an issue that was perhaps the most hot and topical then.”