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Illegality of Putin's War on Ukraine

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Author: Alessia Fucile

Date of Publication: 18/02/2023

As everyone knows, during the night between the 23 rd and 24 th February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin started a war against Ukraine. Crossing Belarus, troops entered Ukrainian territory with the aim of destroying the country&military infrastructure.

Russian attack on Ukraine

Furthemore, in the south-eastern part of Ukraine there is a region known as Donbass. In this part, since 2014, self-proclaimed separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk have put in place armed struggles to gain independence from the Ukrainian government. In particular, in that territory, a large number of inhabitants hold Russian passports and Russian culture is dominant. In addition to that, a lot of citizens usually escape from there, headed to nearby Russia. Therefore, in order to defend the Donbass area Putin kicked off its military operations in Ukraine. The latter is one of the reasons why the President has justified his attack.

What other reasons did Putin use to justify his attack?

On 21 st February of 2022 President Putin talked about a Ukrainian “genocide” against Russian minorities of Donbass. Under a false pretext, he started a war for the purpose of “ensuring the security of Russia itself”. During his speech, the President said that “Ukraine was founded by Russia and it’s an integral part of it, for its history and its culture”. Moreover, he argued that “Ukraine only exists within Russia”.

Actually, Putin’s arguments were a tapestry of untruths and juridically baseless. Firstly, the “genocide” is the express intention of wiping out a population and its culture, desire which Ukraine has never expressed. In the second place, historians point out that some Ukrainian cities are even older than Moscow. They also argue that Russian culture was born in Kiev in the Middle Ages and, only later, it spread in the rest of Eastern Europe.

United Nations, Russain and Ukranian war

Lastly, President Putin added that his military intervention was intended to anticipate a future attack by the Ukrainian government, which recently joined NATO. This is another baseless statement. In fact, international law only allows the use of force in selfdefense against an ongoing or imminent armed aggression, but not in case of a potential one.

Putin's war on Ukraine and International Law

Putin’s war on Ukraine is a breach of Article 2 (4) of United Nations Charter.

Inside international relations, it's forbidden for each Member State of the Charter to use armed force against any other State. Especially, with the intent of affecting its territorial and political sovereignty.

This article also provides a peaceful resolution of intern ational disputes in order not to "undermine peace, justice and international security". The only exceptions are self-defense and use of force under the authorization of the UN Security Council. Yet this is certainly not the case of Russia. Therefore, with his attack on Ukraine, Putin violated international law, committing a real “crime of aggression”.

The Limits of International Law

In this precise situation, it's legitimate to ask whether international law has failed in its mission to ensure international security and peace. This is why it is necessary to clarify some points aiming to prevent them from losing credibility. So, international law can only enforce treaties and rules through enforcement provisions. This means that it has limited jurisdiction. In other words, international courts aren’t equipped to intervene directly in an active conflict. What they can surely do is to assess faults and damages, after the war, and to inflict the right penalties and punishment on responsible States. Therefore, as demonstrated by this conflict, safeguarding peace requires efforts by international law and its institutions.


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