Ukrainian diplomats push U.N. to

United Nations — Ukraine wants the United Nations to stop paying Russia for goods and services. Kyiv’s representatives at U.N. headquarters, both past and present, have told the world body’s leaders that buying from Russia helps fuel Vladimir Putin’s war.

“If you buy goods and services from Russian companies you support their war effort, no matter what the amount is,” Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told CBS News on Monday.

The U.N. has spent at least $2.5 billion on Russian goods and services since 2014, when Putin launched his first invasion of Ukraine. During 2020 alone, the last year for which figures are available, U.N. purchases from Russia totalled $272 million. The money buys a wide range of things, from food supplies for humanitarian relief efforts, to aircraft and the personnel to fly them for peace missions.  

Ukraine’s delegation first asked the U.N. leadership to “immediately suspend all non-essential procurement cooperation of the U.N. with the Russian Federation” in a letter sent last month.

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Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the U.N. responded to that formal letter from the Ukrainian Mission by explaining that U.N. purchasing was determined “on the basis of best value for money, fairness, integrity and transparency, and effective international competition,” and that other factors were not taken into consideration.

Dujarric said those standards for the spending of U.N. funds were set by the 193-nation General Assembly, and that changing them would require a new General Assembly resolution.  

“It’s no secret that a lot of our aviation procurement for peacekeeping and logistics comes from the Russian Federation, with also quite a bit from Ukraine,” Dujarric told CBS News. 

Kyslytsya told CBS News the U.N.’s response was “not satisfactory politically, and morally questionable.”

In addition to the request by the current Ukrainian delegation, on Sunday, six former Ukrainian diplomats, including the U.N.’s former procurement director and former ambassadors, sent a letter calling for the U.N. to end all procurement from Russia.

“Stop financing Russian aggression through the U.N. business opportunities,” the signatories said in the letter, which was obtained exclusively by CBS News.

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The letter pointed to the General Assembly’s vote last week to kick Russia off the U.N. Human Rights Council, saying it “shows that when there is the political will, there is a way to do the right thing.”

Noting the substantial sum the U.N. had paid Russia for goods and services since Putin’s 2014 invasion, the former diplomats’ letter said: “Against the background of global economic sanctions, such a ‘generosity’ is baffling.”

The letter pointed out that while the European Union is sanctioning Russian aviation over the Ukraine war, “the U.N. Secretariat continues to process new awards to Russian contractors.”

While Ukraine’s current U.N. Mission did not sign the letter sent over the weekend, it told CBS News that the proposals in it run parallel with the Ukrainian government’s own efforts to reduce U.N. reliance on Russian contractors.

“This is a smart move,” Richard Gowan, U.N. Director for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank told CBS News. “Russian firms have made a good deal of money out of supplying the U.N. with equipment like helicopters.”

Another U.N. expert, Stephen Schlesinger of the Century Foundation, said if Ukraine’s diplomats — both current and former — can convince the global body to stop buying Russian goods and services, it would “fit into the series of symbolic rebukes that the U.N. has already rendered to Russia, like its condemnatory vote against its invasion of Ukraine in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council’s action in suspending Russia.”

“I don’t expect that the procurement contracts with Russia are terribly extensive anyway, but cutting them off nonetheless is yet another blow to Russian pride and its presumed super-power status,” Schlesinger told CBS News. 

Gowan said the impact could be more than just symbolic: “If the U.N. stops offering Russian companies those contracts, I think it will actually cause Moscow more concrete discomfort than largely symbolic diplomatic moves like suspending it from the Human Rights Council. And it is high time that the U.N. reviewed and cleaned up some of its procurement practices as a matter of principle.”  

Dujarric told CBS News that the U.N. leadership had not yet seen the second letter, sent Sunday from the former diplomats, which also called for U.N. Secretary-General Guterres to visit Kyiv personally.

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