The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, is set to arrive in Odesa, Ukraine’s largest port city, on Friday amidst a conflict that has demonstrated the limitations of his organization when one of its most powerful members instigates a war.
One of the most concrete recent successes for the United Nations will be on display for Mr. Guterres the day after he meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Lviv, in western Ukraine: grain shipments leaving Ukraine for global markets.
The shipments are the result of a tentative agreement mediated by the United Nations and Turkey to restore grain exports from Russia and fertilizer exports from Ukraine, which Moscow claims have been hampered by international sanctions on banking and shipping. Grain prices skyrocketed and famine spread across Africa as a result of the global food crisis that was exacerbated by the lack of supply for months.
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Mr. Guterres praised the agreement’s success on Thursday, saying it proved the United Nations’ value as a mediator.
Mr. Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, said, “The positive momentum on the food front reflects a victory for diplomacy — for multilateralism.”
And he did admit that the war was the unresolved issue that had led him to Ukraine in the first place. Mr. Guterres, as the leader of an international organization whose charter vows to end “the scourge of war,” has repeatedly called for a political solution to end the conflict and offered to mediate, to no avail.
According to his spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, Mr. Guterres was unable to speak with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin by phone from the start of Russia’s invasion in late February until April.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is a Russian-occupied complex in Ukraine that has sparked fears of a radiation disaster due to persistent shelling and, more recently, tit-for-tat accusations of preparations for an outright attack. This is an urgent issue facing the United Nations in the country. For the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to send inspectors inside the facility, they need the cooperation of both parties.
If damage to the plant is not prevented, Mr. Guterres said on Thursday, it will be “suicide.”
Although the United Nations Security Council has the authority to impose sanctions, some of the most effective measures taken to punish Russia have been the severe economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union.
The war has exposed the limitations of the United Nations’ ability to resolve global conflicts, but it has also highlighted the U.N.’s crucial humanitarian role by highlighting its provision of aid, food, and healthcare to millions of Ukrainian refugees. A former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Guterres assumed the role of Secretary General in 2017. His tenure as High Commissioner spanned from June 2005 to December 2015.
The human toll of the Ukraine conflict has been devastating. The United Nations has called this the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II, with an unknown number of civilians killed and millions more displaced within and outside the country. There have been allegations of war crimes committed by Russia due to its targeting of civilians and its treatment of captured enemy fighters.
Russia, however, has the veto power in the Security Council, making it impossible for the Council to pass any resolutions holding Russia accountable that would actually be enforceable. Russia also has a strong ally in the Security Council, China, which has veto power.
Russia, China, the United States, Britain, and France all hold permanent veto seats on the United Nations Security Council, and they have all used them in the Ukraine conflict.
The years-long Syrian civil war is one of the council’s most glaring recent failures, as Russia has blocked decisive action. Allies between China and Russia prevented the Security Council from taking strong action to counter atrocities against the Rohingya ethnic group in Myanmar. China’s ally North Korea has disregarded numerous U.N. resolutions banning nuclear testing.
When it had the authority to do so, the Council imposed severe sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program. Russia’s reluctance didn’t stop the council from authorizing military intervention in support of Libyan rebels in 2011; however, after the death of Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Russian distrust of the council only grew.
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