With a wave of his hand on Wednesday morning, Russian United Nations Ambassador Vitaly Churkin sent the U.N. Security Council back in time.
He raised his hand to veto a resolution that uses the term “genocide” to describe the mass killing of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in the town of Srebrenica 20 years ago this month. Churkin argued this would promote division in the former Yugoslavia.
The veto was the latest example of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wide-scale efforts to contort history, play on Slavic nationalism, and defy the West. Serbian officials praised Moscow for preventing “an attempt of smearing the entire Serbian nation as genocidal.”
For U.N. officials, the veto had a more painful meaning. Twenty years after the United Nations peacekeeping missions in Rwanda and Bosnia failed to stop two genocides, the world body is still struggling with how to enforce its most basic mandate: protecting civilians.
With a record 60 million refugees worldwide and a bitter U.S.-Russian divide on the Security Council, protecting civilians is more daunting for the United Nations than it was in the 1990s.
And there are increasing concerns, even among senior U.N. officials, that the lessons of the past are being ignored by a divided Security Council. The United Nations has recently sent peacekeepers on dangerous missions in Mali and Congo—but without the vital resources and political support they need.
“We have very naively gone into northern Mali,” said one senior U.N. official who asked not to be named, “into a very non-permissive environment, without understanding the implications.” He warned the result would be “lots of U.N. peacekeepers killed … an ignominious withdrawal and total mission failure.”