Ukraine crisis: What’s the UN doing about it?

A reminder of how useless the United Nations is when it could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done more every time.

The United Nations Security Council during a meeting on the situation in Ukraine at the UN headquarters in New York City [EPA]

As the interim President of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchinov, appeals to the United Nations to send UN peacekeepers to his beleaguered nation, the question that raises its ugly head, and not for the first time, is this: What is it exactly that the “international community” is doing about Ukraine, which is slipping into total chaos and skating close to a possible civil war?  

Not much, is the answer. We don’t really hear about the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – the most powerful politician in the world, as the joke says, after Sarah Palin – and his lieutenants working their socks off, travelling between Washington, Brussels, Kiev and Moscow, as they try to work out some sort of solution to the crisis.

Up to now, the UN has come up with two “major” moves on Ukraine: First, there was a vote in the UN Security Council, convened in March at the request of the interim government in Kiev, on the draft resolution condemning the referendum in Crimea that saw it leaving Ukraine and joining Russia. The resolution was – surprise, surprise – vetoed by Russia, with China abstaining and the rest, including Chad, supporting it wholeheartedly. (By the way, I had suggested to the now exiled President Viktor Yanukovych’s people to ask the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting when anti-government protesters in Kiev got really violent back in February, and started shooting and killing policemen on the streets of Kiev, but Yanukovych refused for some unknown reason.)

And secondly, the UN General Assembly resolution on March 27 which called on nations not to accept the Crimean referendum and was approved by 100 countries, rejected by 11, with 58 abstaining. To listen to some UN officials, it was a huge diplomatic achievement that showed Russia that the international community was not going to tolerate all that nonsense with Crimea changing its status.  

Now, these two bold actions may be accepted by some as outstanding acts of international diplomacy, although they smacked more of propaganda and public relations and did absolutely nothing to resolve the crisis. I would even go so far as to say that they probably made matters worse, as the whole of eastern Ukraine felt alienated and decided it was their turn to follow the example of Crimeans, taking matters into their own hands – literally.

In effect, the UN has not offered any proposal on the resolution on the Ukrainian crisis that might have been considered even remotely workable. Total silence really – more of a ‘we are working hard behind the scenes’ thing.

No workable proposal

By now, 10 cities and towns have been taken over by anti-government protesters in the east, whom some people call “pro-Russian demonstrators”, others label “separatists” and some even imply that they are “terrorists”. As you read this, the so-called “anti-terrorist operation”, initiated by Turchinov is ongoing in the east, but its results are very confusing, with some of the Ukrainian troops, apparently switching sides and some surrendering to the demonstrators, protesters, separatists or terrorists – pick whichever description you fancy.

In effect, the UN has not offered any proposal on the resolution on the Ukrainian crisis that might have been considered even remotely workable. Total silence really – more of a “we are working hard behind the scenes” thing.      

But honestly, what is wrong with the UN? We have just been reminded of how useless it is in times of conflict: The 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide was marked in a sombre mood in Kigali, with Ban attending the events and even saying that the UN had done a lot to prevent the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis but, wait for it, “could have done much more“.

Yes, it could have done more to prevent the war in Iraq as well, if we follow this path, and it could have made an effort to prevent Libya from turning into a hellhole and could have been more enthusiastic, if this is the right word, in doing something about ending the civil war in Syria. Not to mention that the UN should have been more effective in responding to the challenges of the Arab Spring altogether and showing its caring and competent side in Haiti, the Philippines and in many other places that have been hit by natural disasters.

The UN is not fit for its purpose any more. What’s more, its main headquarters are located in the wrong country altogether. The US is not the right place for it, for all sorts of reasons. It would look much better if it were housed, say, in Sudan, Somalia or Ethiopia, so as to be closer to the global problems that it purports to be solving. But New York is too close to Washington, if you know what I mean, and too far from the real action.

The whole idea of creating the UN and basing it in the US was a good idea in 1945, when Europe was still trying to get its act together after World War II and the others simply couldn’t afford to host such a vast institution. It made sense then, but not any more. The UN has to change and move out to new pastures. And it has to be accountable for its finances in a proper way and have a strict selection system, to avoid hiring so many people who have no ideas on how to solve problems, but claim a healthy family connection to some of the top names in international politics and business.

The new world order needs a new world organisation, with less bureaucracy, less corruption – yes, you read correctly – and fewer staff. And with an effective rapid response humanitarian structure that can help victims of both military conflicts and natural disasters quickly and professionally.

Addis Ababa will fit the UN HQ like a glove, if you think about it.

Alexander Nekrassov is a former Kremlin and government adviser.