Photo/Illutration Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s ambassador to the United Nations (Stephanie Fillion)

Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s ambassador to the United Nations, is not afraid to speak his mind at the U.N. Security Council, even if his words anger a permanent member and nuclear power.

Other U.N. member states have lauded Hoxha’s strong and colorful remarks that counter Moscow’s narrative on what is happening in Ukraine.

The representative of a small Balkan country of 2.8 million people, now a nonpermanent council member, has repeatedly called out Russia for lying.

He has said that Russia deserves a Guinness world record for hypocrisy for drafting a resolution on humanitarian aid in Ukraine. In his speeches at the United Nations, Hoxha has also reminded the Kremlin that “the Soviet Union is dead, and nothing--no fantasy, no nostalgia, no war--will ever bring it back.”

Albania started its term on the Security Council in January, just before the start of perhaps the biggest international security threat since World War II.

Hoxha, 55, has served in several key posts, including an earlier stint as ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2015.

In a March 18 interview with The Asahi Shimbun, he discussed the situation in Ukraine, as well as his hopes on what the United Nations can do to end the conflict.

But he also acknowledged the Security Council’s limits on taking action against one of the five permanent members.

He says he would like to see certain reforms in the rules and procedures, and that Japan could help make the United Nations more effective if it joins the Security Council next term.

Excerpts of the interview follow:


Question: The night of Feb. 24 was historic for the Security Council. How did you learn about (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s announcement of Russia’s “military operation” and how did you feel about it?

Hoxha: We knew that something was going to happen, but we did not know the time. We were among the first to learn. I had spoken (in the Security Council meeting) at the time because I was the first to speak.

Of course, you’re sad to see that a big country, a permanent member of the Security Council, a country that decides on peace and security for others, attacked its neighbor, a smaller country. Then, all of a sudden, that happens while the Security Council is meeting.

On the other hand, we were not surprised because we have been saying that this might happen. And it happened.

So this is a very mixed feeling, that we were right about something so wrong.

Q: Could the Security Council have done more to prevent the invasion?

A: I wish the council were able to do more, but unfortunately with the rules, with the history, and with the practice, with the way the council works, it’s difficult to aspire for more.

At least the council was pretty clear. The condemnation was outright and even given by some member states who have a more nuanced position.

I think no one questions that this is an aggression, whether you say it or not. But if you say that you support the territorial integrity, sovereignty and the borders of Ukraine, then what is happening is aggression, even if you don’t say it in a statement.

Some colleagues in the council have difficulty in saying that, but still, the meaning is there. Given how it functions, the council cannot do more. That’s how far the council can go. And that’s what happened also with this resolution that we presented. We had one note, and that note was from the country that is the aggressor.

Q: Why is it important for your country to make strong statements on the situation?

A: If you remember the fourth of January, I stood up (outside the Security Council) during the flag ceremony, and I said, “Albania will be a force for good, a powerful force.” In this respect, this is exactly what we have been doing.

We don’t have a big army. We don’t have one. We are not a wealthy country ... for now. We will be in the future.

So what we bring is our perspective and our way of thinking that has changed from the Soviet Union, which is dead.

And we’ve been closed in the past, but we departed (from that way of thinking) very quickly so at least we were smart on that. But we bring the voice of a country that is small but understands that the United Nations is the cornerstone of the rules-based world order. And we will not sit in the council just to listen or to take notes or to just look around without saying “no.”

We are there to say what we think. We are there to bring our perspective.

We think that we are absolutely on the right side of history at the moment to say those things, and also we have some kind of a moral obligation to speak on behalf of other members of the group.

Russia is there, but we are there, as well. So we have to really be as vocal as we can and as clear as we can and as bold as we can.

Q: Russia is now waging both a war on the field and an information war that is taking place here at the U.N. as well. What effect will it have on the U.N. Security Council and the legitimacy of the broader United Nations? What can be done to fight this disinformation?

A: This is a very good question. And this is one of the points that we also have highlighted and is valid again. We cannot use the time in the council for propaganda. We should not take the council hostage for something that is not substantiated, something that is not independently verified.

You know how we work at the U.N. When something happens, there are teams that verify (information), there are reports, and they have to be impartial. They have to be independent, that's how we work.

Of course, we have our positions, and every country has to defend its position. But when it comes to something on which we disagree, then we have a third party.

Russia has not been doing that so far. Russia has come with its claims, which again, are unsubstantiated, not verified or not corroborated. And if they want to do it (present claims), there is a process.

We are not going to trust Russia just because they write a letter. Everything Russia has been saying on Ukraine so far is false, untrue, doctored propaganda or distorted.

Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s ambassador to the United Nations, is interviewed by The Asahi Shimbun in New York on March 18. (Stephanie Fillion)

Q: Do you think your Chinese colleagues could provide a bridge between Ukraine and Russia?

A: You’ve seen the (Chinese) statements, and there has been some amplitude, sometimes a little bit more, sometimes less, and they’re picking and choosing their influence.

We’ve seen Russia asking China to help militarily or in assisting in other ways. The U.S. is very wary about that, and we have seen the discussions that have happened lately in Rome between (U.S. National Security Adviser) Jake Sullivan and the Chinese.

We very much hope that China will not help Russia with that.

China is a country that has had very principled sovereignty and territorial integrity and so on. So now it’s really time for China to show that it stands up for these principles.

Q: I want to ask you about Article 27(3) of the U.N. Charter. It states that a council member should refrain from voting on issues it is involved in. Are there any discussions about using this article for Russia?

A: The council works on those Provisional Rules of Procedure, and especially on precedents, and sometimes it’s good to work on precedents. It makes things easy.

But I find myself a little bit uneasy to always work on precedents because things change, situations change. Now, we are in a classical pure case of the active aggression of a country. So things have changed, and we cannot rely on past practice.

And, of course, you have the other side. I know that Russia was insisting not to (use the article), otherwise it would block working programs and so on.

These things make me a little bit uncomfortable because we need, of course, to preserve rules and build them on practices. But we should not be rigid. (If we are rigid), then we cannot really contribute as much as possible to everything that has been called for, like more transparency and more accountability.

I’m chairing the working group on working methods, and we’ll try to be as vocal as possible and push the council members to really come up with inventive ideas.

We know that sometimes this relationship between conservatism and innovation needs to get together because as I see them nowadays, they’re just different columns.

We need to, of course, build on past practice. Respect everything. That has been conducive to good working methods. But (we should be) open to change if we need to change. That’s my point.

Q: So you’re basically saying that people won’t use Article 27 because it’s never been used and they don’t want to set a precedent?

A: It’s a little bit more complex than that. You have two categories: We have the P5 (five permanent members) and the 10 (nonpermanent members). I think the P5 are very comfortable in having the council as it is.

And for us (nonpermanent members), we go to the council for two years, and then we go back to the General Assembly.

So that’s why we try to use those two years as much as possible in telling them, “Look, we come from there, we see nothing’s there, but we go back there again.”

So it’s not easy. And whenever something is not in agreement with a P5, it will be very difficult to really change.

Q: So the P5 is saying that you’re trying not to set a precedent in case something happens like in the case in the future?

A: That’s a matter of interpretation, but that’s the feeling you get when you talk to people that the P5 do not really have an appetite to really open those kinds of issues.

Q: So basically, the P5 don’t want to open that Pandora’s box?

A: That’s the feeling, yeah.

Q: Do you think the Security Council should be reformed?

A: We think that reform should be about reforming the veto. The veto is in the (U.N.) Charter, it cannot be changed. But the veto can be reformed. So, for instance, when a (permanent member) is implicated (in an issue), the country can’t use its veto power.

Q: Japan will highly likely join the Security Council next term. What do you expect Japan to do to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine?

A: Japan is a respected country. Japan is a democracy. Japan is a fantastic contributor. So Japan has everything to be an important player, a very responsible player, and unpredictable in the good sense.

When you see the decisions taken, Japan is doing it right. I mean, they joined the sanctions, and that’s right. So (are) stepping up for principles and also telling Russia that there are limits to where you can go.

And of course, when Japan will come, we’ll be very, very happy to have Japan in the council.

I’m sure Japan will be an addition to what I call “the part of the council” that is really trying to see how to move forward, how to do good, how to have good text, how to propose initiatives that really help make a difference on the ground.

We have seen how much the elected countries can do to help, how active they can be, not only in having statements and positions but also in producing presidential statements or drafts with all their capacity, possibility and might.

(This article was written by Stephanie Fillion and Gakushi Fujiwara.)