By invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin violated his neighbor’s sovereignty and threw the notion of international law out the window, experts reckon.
Afraid of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), Putin ignored the principles of another organization, the United Nations, as well as an agreement known as the Budapest Memorandum, signed by Russia and specifically aimed at protecting Ukraine from invasion.
Did Putin violate international law?
Asked about the matter, Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University and co-editor-in-chief of Just Security, said that Russia blatantly violated the core provision of the UN Charter by invading another member state.
Putin’s actions are a classic example of the crime of aggression, which was considered the supreme international crime by the Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II.
And the UN?
Formed after World War II in 1945 to prevent future wars, the UN Security Council includes five permanent members who are major world powers: the US, China, France, the UK and Russia. The other members are elected by the General Meeting on a rotating basis for two-year terms. The main objective of the Security Council is to “maintain international peace and security”.
No country should invade another without Security Council approval. Clearly, that hasn’t happened, although Russia has tried to justify its action on Ukraine with a series of allegations, all of which the US predicted ahead of time and says are false.
Russia chairs the Security Council
It is a bizarre irony that at this time when Russia is going to war against a neighbor, Russia is serving as chairman of the UN Security Council.
It’s a coincidence, since the presidency rotates monthly.
But Russia’s status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power over all substantive measures means there will be no UN sanctions against Russia, although member states have imposed their own punishments.
Indeed, Russia vetoed a draft resolution condemning its invasion of Ukraine on Friday night. Eleven countries supported the resolution and three – China, India and the United Arab Emirates – abstained.
a low point
I asked Richard Roth of CNNwhich has covered the UN for decades, how this invasion of Russia as he is chairman of the Security Council will test the organization.
“One of the biggest constraints within the UN in the thirty years I’ve kept my eyes on the line,” is how he described things in an email.
There is a movement to change the rules.
Roth pointed out that France, another permanent member of the Security Council, unsuccessfully campaigned for fewer votes from the permanent members.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, in a tense emergency meeting on Wednesday, urged Russia to step down from his role as chairman of the Security Council.
“I really think it’s a coup at the UN,” Roth said. “The secretary-general said it is his worst moment on the job. They hold all these ‘preventive diplomacy’ sessions, retreats and consultations… and then the Russian tanks run over the precious UN letter”.
There have been previous examples of US and NATO forces entering other countries, Libya and Serbia.
But there is a fundamental difference, Roth said. “In these cases there were war crimes to justify the actions, which infuriated Russia. Here Ukraine was a peaceful country.”
What can be done at the UN without the Security Council?
Goodman said member countries can go to the UN General Assembly to condemn Russia.
He also argued that sanctions and isolation of individual countries can work.
“Russia’s cultural boycotts and diplomatic isolation can go a long way, as they did with apartheid in South Africa, in bringing about the necessary changes,” Goodman said.
Four years after the formation of the UN, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created.
NATO was specifically organized as a counterweight to the Soviet Union. But after the Soviet Union fell in 1991, several former Soviet republics joined NATO. It is because he feels that NATO is breathing down Russia’s neck that Putin made the move on Ukraine.
Article 5: protection. It is one thing for Putin to invade Ukraine, which is not part of NATO. It would be something else entirely for him to act against a minor member of NATO, such as the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
This would trigger Article 5 of the NATO charter, which stipulates that an attack on one member is an attack on all of them. The US, France, Germany and the UK, along with the rest of NATO’s 30-member alliance, would be required to respond.
Article 5 has only been invoked once, by the US, after it was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001. It was a NATO alliance that entered Afghanistan.
While President Joe Biden strongly supported the NATO letter, former President Donald Trump routinely questioned it, before finally asserting it — as CNN’s Jeremy Herb wrote in 2017.
He wrote that Article 5 goes beyond the concept of invasion and helped bolster Turkey’s defenses along its border with Syria, and added forces in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
NATO has also been involved in so-called peacekeeping missions, such as the one still underway in Kosovo, and training and support activities around the Mediterranean and in Africa.
Putin’s Most Obvious Violation
Putin appeared to threaten any country that meddles in his invasion, making indirect reference to Russia’s nuclear weapons.
“Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more, create threats for our country, for our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead to consequences that you have never experienced in its history,” Putin said ominously this week when announced the attacks on Ukraine.
It wasn’t long ago that Ukraine had nuclear weapons. In fact, as a former Soviet republic, it had the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1994, as part of non-proliferation efforts, it signed the Budapest Memorandum. Under the deal, Ukraine accepted that it would denuclearize in exchange for compensation from the US and Russia, and for security guarantees from the US, UK and Russia that its sovereignty would be protected.
The agreement pushed Ukraine into the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The rest of the world and the rules
Just because Putin chose to ignore international law and his own country’s agreements doesn’t mean international law is dead.
Yale University law professors Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro argue in a post for the Just Security and Lawfare forum that the international response to Russia is proof that the system is trying to work, as states have responded to aggression from Putin with condemnation and action.
What happens next, and in the years to come, will determine the future of international law, they write: “Plans must be made now to keep the alliance together for as long as necessary – for years and perhaps decades.”
That may be one reason why Biden kept some sanctions in reserve and was careful not to criticize Europe for not acting as quickly against Russia as many US lawmakers would like.
Among the plans Hathaway and Shapiro suggest are ways to erase Russia’s influence in Europe and protect smaller countries, such as those in the Baltics, that fear Russia could act against them next.
Source: CNN Brasil