HRC removal of Russia a workable “middle path” for Russia conflict

Anthony Lopez, Investigative News Editor

Nearly two months since its military invasion of Ukraine, and weeks after becoming the most sanctioned country in the world, Russia has been suspended from the Human Rights Council within the United Nations. This is a historic moment for the organization – a group that has rarely delivered suspensions – and the first time it has delivered such a punishment to a member of the Security Council. 

While the successful vote did indicate unity among the international community as it concerned the ongoing war in Ukraine, it is still little more than a symbolic effort against an already isolated territory. Russia voiced that they were choosing to end their membership before the end of its term, with their Deputy Permanent Representative Gennady Kuzmin arguing that “These States for many years have directly been involved in blatant and massive violations of human rights, or abetted those violations.”

There is perhaps time on another day to reckon with the validity of his remarks that illustrate the general hypocrisy of nations that time and again overlook debilitating conditions within their own lands or violations occurring elsewhere. However, Russia’s removal from the Human Rights Council still presents a difficult position for the international community. Each passing day has prompted fervent conversations, both in the United States and abroad, about what actions must be taken. 

Rather than sending troops to the war torn Donbas region, the international community has instead offered material support to Ukraine’s efforts in the form of munitions aid, though President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded more assistance from onlooking nations in anticipation of further battles in the country’s eastern region. He too has repeatedly called for a no-fly zone imposed by NATO over Ukraine—an option ultimately rejected by the organization. 

There is both precedent as well as a certain appeal for the no-fly zone. The suggested plan offers more military assistance without committing to ground warfare, but it is too involved and aggressive an action to take in the war between Ukraine and Russia. President Putin has warned against a strong international presence during the conflict, threatening nuclear attacks should the Kremlin perceive the nation as under attack by “existential threats.” A no-fly zone would serve as an undeniable escalation to an already calamitous war, an effort that the international community should resist — despite Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s pleas for one. 

In addition to diplomatic condemnation of the persistent violence, thousands of sanctions have been the primary tool employed against Russia by the international community. Admittedly, the ruble has bounced back tremendously to pre-war levels, but the restrictions mean a severe challenge for Russia to collaborate in the international sphere. Such difficulties have caused food prices—that had already been on a slow climb before the invasion of Ukraine—to soar to untenable levels partly as a result of mass shortages. 

Sanctions have been imposed upon Russia through a consistent onslaught of devastating economic consequences. But its role as an alternative to international military intervention is equally damaging to the Russian people. Though many sanctions target specific oligarchs within the country, such as the more recent asset freezes placed upon President Putin’s daughters, broader restrictions that cut off imported goods threaten the citizenry more so than those that literally enact war against Ukraine. 

The risk inherent to sanctions is not merely in its potential to fail if not consistently executed through the support of numerous, ideally powerful, nations. When successful, the victories found in imposing such sanctions lie often in harming the populace, and not in preventing further bloodshed. Sanctions must establish a pathway towards a ceasefire, a severe and tangible condemnation of violent affairs that can lead to an end to war through a discussion possibly moderated by other nations. As it stands, several negotiations between Ukraine and Russia have been arranged, all of which have thus far broken down. 

If the international community wishes to have a larger role in bringing the conflict in Ukraine to a close, it must strike a balance between assisting a war-torn nation and angering an unpredictable enemy. Military actions from onlooking countries may likely bring swift and cataclysmic consequences from the Kremlin. Sanctions can be an effective tool if contributing to a path towards de-escalation, yet may prove disastrous to the people of Russia if simply imposed for their own sake. 

The suspension and, in essence, removal of Russia from the Human Rights Council of the United Nations is a decent step that will hopefully indicate a greater diplomatic role for the international community in the future of this conflict. As Ukraine comes to recognize the implausibility of the country joining NATO, something that Zelenskyy himself acknowledged in March, compromise through diplomacy with Russia should be considered, lest we face a Putin increasingly desperate to compensate for his continued losses in Ukraine.

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