It’s been over a year since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. World leaders have condemned Russia’s actions and in March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin for war crimes related to the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.
So the news came as a surprise for many when they heard Russia was ascending to a leadership position within the United Nations. One reader reached out to VERIFY to ask if this means Putin is now the president of the U.N.
Has Vladimir Putin become president of the United Nations?
No, Vladimir Putin has not become president of the United Nations.
WHAT WE FOUND
Russia is assuming a month-long, rotating United Nations Security Council leadership role that is required by the Security Council’s rules. The position is administrative, and does not allow Russia to implement any changes without the rest of the Security Council’s approval. Russia is not becoming the leader of the entire U.N. The U.N. is led by Secretary-General António Guterres of Portugal.
There are 15 members of the Security Council, five of which are permanent. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia, which inherited the position from the Soviet Union, are the Security Council’s five permanent members.
The Security Council’s rules of procedure stipulate that the council’s presidency, or presiding country, changes between its members each month based on the English alphabetical order of the member countries’ names.
The U.N. Security Council has a public schedule listing the council’s president for each month of 2023. Mozambique was the Security Council president in March, Russia is the Security Council president in April and Switzerland will hold the position in May.
Vladimir Putin does not represent Russia in the U.N. Security Council. Vassily Nebenzia, a diplomat of the USSR and now Russia, is the country’s permanent Security Council representative, according to the Russian U.N. Mission and the U.N. Nebenzia therefore serves as president of the Security Council when Russia’s turn comes up.
The Security Council exists “to maintain international peace and security” in accordance with the U.N. Charter. This can include agreeing to take military action against an aggressor and calling on the rest of the U.N. to impose economic sanctions to pressure an aggressive nation. All Security Council decisions are decided based on vote, and each of its five permanent members has the power to veto a decision.
The president of the Security Council presides over meetings, sets meeting agendas, represents the Security Council and can call meetings at any time they deem necessary. The president cannot force the Security Council to act or make decisions independently.
Russia is using its month as president of the Security Council to set an agenda favorable to its war. The country plans to host a meeting arguing for its policy of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia, hold a debate about exporting weapons and military equipment to other countries and hold another debate on the defense of a “new multipolar world order,” Nebenzia said in a press conference.
The U.K.’s U.N. delegation has criticized Russia’s agenda given the country’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that reform of the U.N. Security Council is “clearly overdue.” He said that countries like Russia, which he called a terrorist state, must not preside anywhere.
Nebenzia will not be able to force the rest of the Security Council to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or force the rest of the Security Council to stop supporting Ukraine’s defense. Nebenzia will also be unable to force the rest of the U.N. to act as he wishes.
The Secretary-General is the leader of the U.N. as a whole, the U.N. website explains. Guterres took office in 2017. There have been eight previous Secretaries-General, usually serving 10 years at a time each.