UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will start a difficult three-day trip to Russia and Ukraine on Tuesday amid criticism for the limited role played by the United Nations in the management of the crisis.
Three months into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, UN agencies are struggling to reach civilians under siege in the east of the country, where humanitarian assistance is sporadic.
Meanwhile the UN Security Council, where Russia is one of five permanent members with veto power, has failed to pass any resolutions condemning the war.
Guterres may want to use this trip to revitalise the UN initiative in the humanitarian field, experts said, while staying away from more controversial political questions.
“Guterres will try to provide a new momentum for the UN to play a role for humanitarian access in the evacuation of civilians, especially from Mariupol, and in a broader context to allow better access of UN and other humanitarian agencies to the conflict zones,” said Jean-Marc Rickli, head of Global and Emerging Risks at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
Guterres is due to meet in Moscow with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin. But the Secretary-General’s decision to kick off the first leg of his trip at the Kremlin has caused upset in Ukraine.
“From the outset this trip has started off on the wrong foot,” said Rickli. “In such a polarised environment where disinformation is so facilitated by social media, anything Guterres will do or say might be weaponised from one side or the other of the conflict.”
Last month, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR came under fire by Ukrainian officials who accused it of being unprepared to address the humanitarian crisis. Similarly, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was criticised for its alleged inaction and for visiting Russia. ICRC’s President Peter Maurer was in Moscow in a bid to negotiate access to the conflict areas.
In addition, the UN has also been sidelined diplomatically in the peace talks led by Turkey. Analysts said Guterres may wish to discuss the role the UN could provide in future peace talks with regard to UN infrastructure and services, especially in case of a future agreement where there could be peacekeeping forces deployed. Nevertheless, they agree it is premature to talk about peace.
“We should not expect any major breakthroughs out of this meeting, because the situation is not ripe for a compromise,” said Andrey Kortunov, the Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council.