Russia has much to lose if the United States relies on alternatives to the United Nations — including the prerogative to check Western interventions.
The Security Council was established at a time when the Soviet Union’s reach exceeded Russia’s today. In this sense, the body — and Russia’s veto — is a vestige that enables Russia’s continued great-power status. In the short term, Russia might find it advantageous to use force unilaterally, as it has in Crimea. But in the long run, Russia will likely see that allowing major powers to take military action without going to the United Nations ultimately benefits America, which can project global power far more easily than Russia.
The priority Moscow places on upholding the United Nations’ legitimacy was evident in the aftermath of the 2008 war in Georgia. In private discussions, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei V. Lavrov, admitted to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Russia had intended to expand its military operations beyond the areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and oust Georgia’s democratically elected leader, Mikheil Saakashvili.