Russia-Ukraine Conflict:  The Power Of International Law

Russia’s military assault on Ukrainian territory has been in the world’s spotlight in recent days. The attack that began on February 24, 2022 has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of lives of innocent Ukrainian civilians. Hundreds and thousands of them have been forced to leave their homeland and flee to neighboring countries such as Poland and Hungary. The military assault has also caused extensive damage and destruction to buildings and public facilities including houses, schools, apartments, hospitals, and other critical infrastructure.

               The tension between these two countries is not new. Russia’s ongoing military assault in Ukraine appears to be a continuation (rather than a separate) of what it did in Crimea in 2014. And it was never permitted under international law.       

               A large-scale military assault on Ukraine began three days after President Putin signed two decrees recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk as separate nations in eastern Ukraine.

               The conflict between the two republics (Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic), which control the two regions, and the Ukrainian government is considered by Russia as the basis for initiating its military attack.

                From Russia’s perspective, the Ukrainian government has never intended to implement the Minks agreement which it signed in 2014 with a number of representatives from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as representatives from the Russian government and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

               One of the key points of the agreement is that the two regions of eastern Ukraine will be returned to the Ukrainian government control if they are granted special autonomy rights. However, Russia considers that the Ukrainian government failed to do so, instead resorting to acts of discrimination and violence in the two regions.

               Russia’s military assault looks to have been aided by another factor. The political ambition of the Ukrainian government to join NATO is considered by Russia as a very dangerous plan. Ukraine’s joining with NATO will later pose a serious threat to Russia’s military dominance as well as its regional and political hegemony.

               NATO’s Article 5 adds to Russia’s concerns. As it states that an attack on one member of NATO means an attack on all members. If Russia later becomes involved in a conflict with Ukraine, Russia will face a collective attack from all NATO members.

               For Russia, its current military assault on Ukrainian territory is based on Article 51 of the UN Charter, which guarantees the right to individual and collective self-defense. Russia believes Ukraine has committed serious crimes and other sorts of human rights violations against minorities and ethnic groups of Russian descent in Donetsk and Luhansk, justifying the use of Russian armed forces to put an end to it.

               From the Ukrainian point of view, however, this is an allegation that is not supported by solid facts and evidence. As a result, Russia lacks the legal authority to conduct a third-party military strike on Ukraine. Furthermore, Donetsk and Luhansk are not independent countries, but remain legally part of Ukraine. Ukraine is instead given the right to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

               Russia’s military assault is the greatest threat to European peace and security at the moment and it must be halted right away. Because it has the potential to not only cause destruction, damage, and enormous suffering to Ukraine’s innocent civilian population, but also to bring instability and economic – geopolitical disaster to the entire region.

               Apart from that, what Russia is currently demonstrating is the latest example of the limitations of international law and how international law has once again failed to prevent a country with super-sovereign power from using armed force against another country. The fact that Article 2 (3) of the UN Charter clearly stipulates that “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.

               Despite the fact that the Russian strike has been fiercely denounced by countries all over the world. This was insufficient to make Russia immediately cease its military assault. Because of the fact that Russia is still engaged in it at the time of writing with virtually no consequences.

               Under international law, such military assault is a flagrant violation of a state’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Article 2 paragraph (4) of the UN Charter is more than unequivocal that UN member states must refrain from using force against any country’s territorial integrity or political independence. This Russian military assault, according to the article, could be considered illegal. This military assault also violates several other rules of modern international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

               Furthermore, Russia’s action can also be classified as acts of aggression under the 1974 Definition of Aggression, which defines aggression as “the invasion or attack by the armed forces of one State on the territory of another State, or the military occupation or annexation by force against the territory of another State or parts thereof.”

               This military assault which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Ukrainian people (including children), is, on a theoretical level, also a clear breach of Geneva Convention IV on the protection of civilian persons, as well as Additional Protocol I Article 51(5) (b).

               However, in this situation, Russia, because of its status as a Great Power, has clearly violated fundamental international law norms but may remain insulated from the reach of international law.

               To bring the crisis to an end, the role of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to be able to take all necessary actions to safeguard international peace and security, as mandated by Chapter VII of the UN Charter is crucial. However, given that Russia is one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, this is improbable. Because of its institutional design in the Security Council, Russia which happen to have veto power can use it at any time to thwart any draft resolution condemning its attack on Ukraine. Thus, the power of the UNSC to contribute to the actual resolution of this conflict remains limited.

               For now, the Security Council will be powerless. To refer it to the UN General Assembly (UNGA)  through ”uniting for peace” procedure may become another option. Although this UN General Assembly resolution is merely a recommendation with no legal force, it can serve as a “warning” to Russia that what it is doing to Ukraine is an act that is not justified by any country and international law

               Apart from that, At the same time, the international community’s role in continuing to use its influence or closeness to bring the two countries to the negotiating table and remind Russia, particularly as an attacking country, to prioritize regional peace and stability is crucial. It may be argued that there must be a country willing to step up and take the initiative to serve as a mediator or facilitator of negotiations, putting humanitarian interests above all else.

               A combination of sanctions as well as an active diplomatic effort must always be implemented by all countries in the globe. It is hoped that the international community’s combined efforts and collective voice will persuade Russia to stop attacking Ukraine. World does not have much of a choice, but it made sense to do so in order to restore peace to the world. Nothing is insurmountable and The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no exception.

Ogiandhafiz Juanda
Ogiandhafiz Juanda
Ogiandhafiz Juanda is an Indonesian lawyer and lecturer at Universitas Nasional in Jakarta. He is the Director of Treas Constituendum Institute for International Law, Human Rights Law and Political Studies. He is Also Certified Professional Arbiter at Indonesian Dispute Board. He obtained his LL.M in International Law and Global Justice at Sheffield University, UK.