In recent weeks you would be forgiven for looking for a nuclear bunker to purchase, for the crisis in Ukraine has been speculated to be the start of a third, and probably final considering what might happen, world war. Russian President Vladamir Putin has decided, although he denies this, to effectively invade Crimea in Ukraine.
But has Putin really breached International Law in intervening militarily in Ukraine? In short- it is hard to see how he hasn’t.
Firstly, Article 39 of Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter states that ‘The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security’. Note the name ‘The Security Council’-this is collective. It means that the UK, the US, France, China and Russia should all agree when to use force and not act unilaterally, unless in self defence and even then the Security Council is supposed to be informed of action and procedures followed. There was not, to my knowlege, any type of information sent to the UNSC by Russia before the operation in Crimea. Breach.
Furthermore, Under Article 2(4) of the Charter states are prohibited from ‘the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations’. Ukraine is an independent state that, to all intents and purposes, is now under attack by Russia. It is effectively being torn apart by Moscow and certain areas, Crimea most notably, annexed by the Russian Federation. This in itself breaches these articles and in the usual circumstances would most likely be responded to by the use of force by the allies of the attacked. This is unlikely because of the cataclysmic events that could occur. Breach. (https://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter7.shtml)
Russia has, in short, decided it hates the new EU leaning government and has taken unilateral action, which is generally prohibited because the correct route is to go through the UN Security Council to recieve approval to use force against a soveriegn nation. Prima Facie, therefore, Russia is clearly in breach of the United Nations Charter but what of its excuses that it is protecting Russians in Crimea?
This is the likely argument by Putin-that it is defending its own interests in Ukraine. This is allowed by article 51 which states ‘Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security’.
The problem here is that Russia has not been attacked in any way shape or form. It’s territory is not under siege. Ukrainains do not pose a direct threat to Moscow. Nor is there any imminent threat to the Russian Federation. In any event, it is Ukraine that is in that position. There is a floodgates argument here, too. For example, if the United Nations allowed this argument then it would send a message to world leaders that they can take unauthorised, pre-emptive and aggressive actions against states which house their interests. And with China and Japan squabbling over a few rocks (Senkaku) it isn’t hard to imagine how this could blow up in the UN’s face. Defence Failed.
Pratically though, the consequences and options left to world leaders now are few. Sanctions are inevitable. But Russia has already warned it will retaliate so any substantial economic sanctions are unlikely because it will hurt Europe, and Germany in particular, a lot more than it would hurt Moscow. We can hardly afford a sudden and longlasting spike in oil prices. Article 6 of the UN Charter states that ‘A Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be’ expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council’.The main issue here is that Russia is a permanent member of the UNSC and it is impossible to fathom the idea that Russia would agree to its own expulsion. Russia also faces expulsion from the G8, which would return back to the G7.
In short summary, President Putin has made a hypocritical and illegal move that goes against his own policy of non-interference in internal affairs. There is no evidence to suggest that the interim Ukrainain government poses a threat to Moscow nor Russian speaking residents of Ukraine. I personally do not believe the standard ‘they are extremist’ arguments because I have not witnessed any actions that suggest extremists are present in the government. It seems to me that this crisis has been sparked because Russia does not want another EU state on its doorstep, reducing Moscow’s influence on its neighbours. This is an unwarranted and illegal attack on the Ukrainain people. Unfortunately, I foresee no legal consequences will be felt by Moscow for this.