As the war enters its ninth month, hostilities remain concentrated in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on 30 September the annexation of the Russian-held regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops have continued to advance on the eastern and southern fronts. In the east, Ukrainian forces retook the strategic city of Lyman in the Donetsk region in early October and have continued pushing farther east, recapturing over 80 square miles of territory in the Luhansk region since 10 October.
Russian forces have reportedly been repelled from the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk Oblast of Ukraine, a region which they have been trying to capture for weeks.
In the south, the Ukrainian army broke through Russia’s line of defense on the west bank of the Dnieper River in the Kherson region, prompting the local occupation authorities on 22 October to order the evacuation of civilians from the city of Kherson.
Moscow blames Ukraine for an 8 October explosion on the Kerch Strait bridge, which connects Russia to the annexed Crimean Peninsula. In retaliation, Russia has been launching missile and air assaults against military and energy infrastructure across the country, including in the capital, Kyiv.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for the attack. The most intense barrage took place between 10 and 12 October and sporadic attacks have continued since. Russia has reportedly used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to target critical infrastructure. The P3 members (France, the UK and the US) have accused Iran of supplying Russia with the drones, claiming that this violates Security Council resolution 2231 of 20 July 2015, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran has denied these allegations.
In a 14 October letter to the Council, Ukraine alleged that Iran had transferred UAVs to Russia in late August and argued that this contravened resolution 2231.
The letter invited “UN experts” to visit Ukraine to “inspect recovered Iranian-origin UAVs in order to facilitate implementation of [resolution 2231]”.
France, Germany, the UK, and the US have also expressed support for a UN Secretariat investigation into these allegations.
At a 19 October press briefing, Russian Deputy Permanent Representative Dmitry Polyanskiy rejected allegations that the drones used by Russian forces were supplied by Iran. He also said that Russia would reassess its cooperation with the UN Secretariat and the Secretary-General should the UN accept Ukraine’s invitation to investigate the matter.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), between 10 and 18 October, Russian attacks resulted in at least 155 civilian casualties, including 38 deaths. The missile attacks have destroyed 30 percent of Ukraine’s energy facilities, according to Ukrainian authorities. The intensified campaign was a central focus of the Security Council’s 21 October briefing on Ukraine, which was requested by France and Mexico.
At that briefing, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo expressed concern about the destruction of critical energy infrastructure, stressing that the “deprivation caused by these attacks threatens to expose millions of civilians to extreme hardship and even life-endangering conditions this winter”.
Russia has continued to accuse the US of funding military biological programs in Ukraine in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). On 24 October, Russia sent a letter to the Council, lodging a formal complaint in accordance with article VI of the BWC, which stipulates that BWC states parties have the right to request the Security Council to investigate alleged breaches of the BWC.
The letter contained a draft resolution which proposes the creation of a commission to investigate Russia’s allegations and calls on it to submit a report to the Council by 30 November. It appears that Russia has convened one round of negotiations on the draft text on 26 October and that it may put it to a vote in November.
On 27 October, the Council convened for an open briefing on this issue, at Russia’s request. At the meeting, Adedeji Ebo, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that “the UN is not aware of any such biological weapons programmes”.
Following this briefing, the Council held a private meeting at Russia’s request, focused on general nuclear issues, including the safety and security of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) and Russia’s allegations against Ukraine for developing and planning to detonate a “dirty bomb” on its own territory, with the aim of accusing Russia of launching a tactical nuclear weapon.
A dirty bomb is a weapon comprised of radioactive materials mixed with conventional explosives.
Developments in the recent period have also cast uncertainty over the future of the 22 July Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is set to expire on 19 November. Russia signed the initiative as part of a package that included a memorandum of understanding on the UN’s scope of engagement to facilitate unimpeded exports of Russian food products and fertilizers to global markets. It has criticized the implementation of the package deal and has threatened not to renew the grain initiative when it expires.
UN Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths travelled to Moscow on 16 October to discuss the extension and expansion of the deal, including proposals to renew the initiative for one year and to export through Black Sea ports Russian ammonia that prior to the war was transferred through a pipeline running from Russia to Ukraine.
On 29 October, Russia announced that it will suspend its implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, citing an alleged Ukrainian drone attack against Russian ships in Crimea. In a 29 October statement, Secretary-General António Guterres emphasized that “it is vital that all parties refrain from any action that would imperil” the grain initiative. On 31 October, the Security Council held a meeting on the matter, at the request of Russia.