Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 26 met in Moscow with UN Secretary General António Guterres. At the meeting, Putin told his interlocutor that Russia was allegedly forced to recognize the “DPR” and “LPR” in order to stop the ongoing genocide in Donbas. According to him, Moscow launched a special operation in accordance with the UN Charter. This is reported by the Russian media, in particular, RIA Novosti.
In fact, the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, launched by Russia on February 24, 2022, is a gross violation of international law, constituting an act of aggression. Article 51 of the UN Charter, referred to by Putin, guarantees the inalienable right to individual or collective self-defense if a UN member is subjected to an armed attack. As legal experts note, it’s only states which have such a right, not illegal formations that emerged in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. That is, Putin’s legal arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. This is how international law expert Elizabeth Wilmshurst comments on these statements in her piece published by Chatham House. She argues that it is only in relation to states that there is a right to collective self-defense, while humanitarian intervention on behalf of individuals within a state has not sealed its place in international law. In addition, it’s only Russia that has recognized independence of the said two regions.
In addition, from a legal perspective, as stated on behalf of the UN Secretary General on February 21, Russia’s decision to recognize the independence of the separatist regions is a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and is incompatible with the principles of the UN Charter. Article 51 allows self-defense in the event of an armed attack. Many states have interpreted this to include protection against the threat of an imminent attack—for example, there is no requirement to wait for a nuclear strike to be launched. But there have been no threats to use force against Russia coming from Ukraine or NATO Allies. That is, there is no legal justification for Russia’s military attack on Ukraine.
By openly invading Ukraine from land, sea, and air, the Russian Federation grossly violated the UN Charter, multiple norms of international law, and committed an act of aggression – the most serious and flagrant violation of international law and order. The aggression has been condemned by the UN General Assembly. Ukraine has filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice in The Hague vs the Russian Federation. On March 16, the International Court of Justice satisfied the claim and demanded that Russia immediately cease its military invasion of Ukraine.
In addition, Russia also violates the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war. The territory of Ukraine is subjected to missile attacks, shells hit schools, hospitals, and churches. Russia also employs internationally proscribed cluster munitions. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has documented and confirmed 5,264 civilian casualties – 2,345 killed and 2,919 injured (data from 24 February to 20 April 2022). Of course, the real numbers will be much higher once the horrors taking place in areas of fierce hostilities, such as Mariupol, are exposed, as per UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet. That is, there can be no question of any compliance with the UN norms of the military aggression waged by the Russian Federation against Ukraine. Russia has violated and continues to violate international law and universal norms of coexistence.