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How did the Russian Federation manage to violate almost all norms of international law in one night?

KYIV – 24 February 2022. Hundreds of international laws have been violated by the Russian Federation in its actions against Ukraine over the last eight years. However, on the night of February 21-22, 2022, Russia was able to do even more: it violated all ten basic principles of international law in a single night.

These materials were prepared on February 22, 2022, and the UBA Committee on International Law is currently preparing materials on new violations of international law by the Russian Federation.

Council of the UBA Committee on International Law

Oksana Senatorova

Ms. Oksana Senatorova helped us to clarify the situation. Ms. Senatorova is an Associate Professor of International Law and Head of the Center for Transitional Justice Studies at Yaroslav the Wise National Law University, expert in international humanitarian law, coordinator of the Working Group on Protection of Victims of the IHL ICI in Ukraine, member of the Legal Reform Commission under the President of Ukraine, expert of the Council of Europe on the protection of the victims of the military conflicts.

What exactly is a violation of the ten fundamental principles of international law and a number of other norms? These are at least the following actions:

  1. Issuance of Decrees of the President of the Russian Federation on recognition of the independence of the illegal Russia-backed proxies, Donetsk People’s Republic (“DPR”) and Luhansk People’s Republic (“LPR”);
  2. Speech of the President of the Russian Federation on the theory of origin of Ukraine, which de facto denies Ukrainian sovereignty;
  3. Signing and ratification of the Agreement on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between the Russian Federation and the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Agreement on Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between the Russian Federation and the Luhansk People’s Republic, incl. Art. 10 of these agreements on “diplomatic protection of citizens of the DPR and LPR by the Russian Federation” and Art. 8 “on dual citizenship”;
  4. Convening the Federation Council of the Russian Federation on February 22, 2022 and approving the use of the Russian army abroad;
  5. Deploying the armed forces of the Russian Federation in DPR and LPR.

This list is not exhaustive. Moreover, it is likely to expand in the near future.

By these actions, the following principles of international law have already been violated:

  1. The principle of non-use of force or threat of force;
  2. The principle of sovereign equality of states;
  3. The principle of equality of rights and right of nations to self-determination;
  4. The principle of peaceful settlement of international disputes;
  5. The principle of non-interference in domestic affairs of other states;
  6. The principle of peaceful collaboration;
  7. The principle of conscientious fulfilment of international obligations;
  8. The principle of inviolability of borders;
  9. The principle of territorial integrity of states;
  10. The principle of universal respect for and protection of human rights.

Besides, what else do such actions mean?

  1. Russia has in fact recognized effective control over the occupied territories. We have been discussing general control of these territories for a long time. The presence of Russian troops in Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions demonstrates the Russian Federation’s effective control (occupation on the so-called concept of boots on the ground). This is a sign of Russia’s participation in the international armed conflict, as well as the attribution of international legal responsibility for human rights violations in these territories, as well as responsibility for violations of international humanitarian law committed by both Russian armed forces and Russian-controlled armed groups and individuals.
  2. Russia has violated the Minsk agreements, but this does not mean that it can use force and heavy weapons in the densely populated areas of the occupied territories. Although the Minsk agreements are not international treaties, they can be regarded as a cease-fire agreement under international humanitarian law (Article 15 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949). This was the primary goal of their conclusion. Russia’s obligation to follow through on this commitment has not been waived. Furthermore, the Donbass territory is densely populated; it is an agglomeration. Due to the impossibility of hitting exclusively military targets in such areas, the use of heavy weapons (particularly “Grad” missiles) is prohibited; with such a density of settlements, there will inevitably be accidental civilian casualties and severe damage to civilian infrastructure. The occupation forces in the Luhansk region actively used “Grad” missiles on February 23, 2022.
  3. Russia violated Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity once more.
  4. The termination of Ukraine’s diplomatic relations with Russia is currently being considered. Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already begun this process. This is unquestionably a feasible and logical step on Ukraine’s part. Despite its logic and, perhaps, obviousness, it adds no new legal evidence.
  5. Russia introduces diplomatic protection of “citizens” so-called LPR and DPR under Art. 10, as well as the possibility of “dual citizenship” under Art. 8 of the abovementioned “treaties” of friendship between “LPR”, “DPR” and Russia. Such norms indicate that the process of “creeping” annexation of these territories is continuing. Furthermore, compulsory provision of citizenship is a method of committing a war crime – coercion to serve in the opposing state’s armed forces. This is exactly what is happening in the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions at the moment: armed groups are forcing civilian men to join organized armed groups (military wing) of the so-called DPR and LPR, which are under Russian control. It is also an occasion for another communication with the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor’s Office in order to speed up the investigation of the armed conflict in Ukraine. Moreover, compulsory provision of citizenship would allow Russia to claim that it was protecting its citizens before the international courts and arbitral tribunals.
  6. Possible worsening of the situation in Azov Sea region. Russia illegally blocks the Azov Sea and restricts vessel movement, violating a number of customary international law norms, including the right of any vessel in the territorial sea of coastal states to a peaceful passage. Given the fact that the so-called DPR has access to the sea, the situation could deteriorate.
  7. Implications for the Budapest Memorandum. Russia has flagrantly violated the Budapest Memorandum, an international treaty that has been in force since all parties signed it. The form of the Budapest Memorandum, as well as the procedure for entry into force by signing and registering with the UN under Art. 102 of the Statute, demonstrate that it is an international treaty. Thus, the Budapest Memorandum imposes legal obligations on all parties. However, given that the Budapest Memorandum lacks a collective security mechanism for responding to violations of its provisions (as does the North Atlantic Treaty), it makes sense for Ukraine to insist on compliance with this agreement and call on the Parties to develop and implement a collective security mechanism within the Budapest Memorandum. For example, in the additional protocol to the Budapest Memorandum, the states-guarantor of security – the United Kingdom and the United States – together with Ukraine may include such a mechanism and measures to implement it. Another option would be to start the process of forming new security alliances with effective mechanisms of the security guarantees.

What to do?

Today Ukraine can already do the following:

  1. Insist on EU and NATO membership;
  2. Insist on the introduction of consolidated international sanctions;
  3. Apply countermeasures against the Russian Federation, including under the Law of Ukraine “On Sanctions”;
  4. Break off diplomatic relations;
  5. Keep calm and stay strong!

What are the possible consequences and why is it important?

The UBA Committee on International Law emphasizes the importance of recording all Russian Federation violations without exception, even if it appears at some point that it no longer makes sense given the number of such violations. International law remains one of the most effective civilized ways to counter Russian aggression and bring perpetrators to justice in the future.

Eventually, this evidence and steps will be used to justify countermeasures and bring the perpetrators to justice. For example, sanctions against Russian oligarchs and banks, the halting of Nord Stream-2 construction, and so on.

Of course, all these issues will be discussed more than once in international courts and arbitrations, but we need to start this discussion and steps now.

Therefore, we encourage all foreign and Ukrainian experts to join our work.

The best is yet to come 🙂 P.S. We also thank the Dead Lawyers Society for organizing the event with Ms. Oksana Senatorova, effective moderation and discussion of important issues

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