Russia invades Ukraine, UNSC debates, and Biden’s tough response
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(22 February 2022) — Russian president Vladimir Putin followed through on what we anticipated he would do, sending Russian troops into Ukrainian territory, a clear violation of international law. Putin’s false pretext of protecting Russians, in areas he earlier unilaterally declared independent entities, while violating Ukraine’s sovereignty has received broad international condemnation. We are long familiar with Putin’s arrogance and his egregious behavior against domestic political opponents. He has now internationalized his egregiousness. The international community will hold him accountable.
Putin eschewed diplomacy for aggression
The call for a diplomatic solution to Putin’s concerns were totally dismissed by Russia, and, instead of diplomacy, Putin opted for military aggression against Ukraine. As I have said in an earlier article in The Ward Post, “Putin’s Bluff is Putin’s Shame, and Sanctions Pain,” and other fora, an invasion of Ukraine would be a clear violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a gross violation of international law and of the United Nations Charter. I discussed fully the possible combination of sanctions that would follow a Russian invasion.
Global opprobria were quick and in sync. Governments joined the UN Secretary-General in condemnation of Russia’s aggression and rejection of Putin’s false characterization of the invasion as a so-called “peacekeeping operation.” No matter Putin’s characterization of this egregious violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, an invasion is an imposition of foreign troops by one state into the sovereign territory of another state without being invited to do so by the state, for political purposes with the objective of annexation or otherwise. Putin does not have the authority under international law to unilaterally declare the territory of any other state a separate independent entity. No state has such power. It is even more flagrantly aggressive and disdainful of international law and norms when military force is used to enforce this illegal declaration.
Imposition of military force into another country’s territory, this military aggression, an illegal action which results in the death of civilians of the country invaded, the commanding political and military leaders of the invading country may be held accountable under international humanitarian law and international criminal law. International humanitarian law, the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, regulate the conduct of armed conflict to protect people not taking part in hostilities as part of the uniformed forces of the belligerents. Advancing further into Ukraine territory will undoubtedly result in considerable death and destruction rising to the level of crimes against humanity and within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
UNSC debates Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
The UN Security Council met in emergency session at the request of the Ukraine government to discuss Russia’s invasion. There is some irony in that the Security Council convened under the Council’s rotating presidency of the Russian Federation and chaired by the Russian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN.
I deliberately omit from this discussion elements of the statements of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine. I consider these governments’ statements to be shaded by self-serving and subjective factors.
In briefing the UN Security Council, Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo reiterated the Secretary-General’s characterization of Russian aggression as violation of international law and the UN Charter and violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a UN member state. The ambassador of Ireland firmly described the invasion of Ukraine by Russia as “a flagrant violation of international law” and that his country still had “faith in the value of diplomacy” to reduce tension between Russia and Ukraine, and by extension the international community. Germany with much to lose by sanctioning Russia gave a firm rebuke of Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Given current leadership, little was expected of Brazil, and it was true to form. Brazil’s aspiration to become a permanent member of the UNSC has been on a downward slope since Bolsonaro’s autocratic leadership of that country. Unable to take a firm stand against Russia did not help its cause. The most disappointing was India’s response. India’s consistency in straddling the fence and inability to offer a firm defense of the UN Charter and international law in the face of an egregious breach, belies its aspiration to become a permanent member of the Security Council.
China, not withstanding its own aspiration regarding the future of Taiwan, reiterated its long-standing position repeated ad nauseum in the Council in firm defense of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. And, not surprisingly, was able to do this without direct condemnation of Russia. China called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis on the basis of mutual respect.
Kenya’s response to imperialism
Clearly the two most creditable and impactful statements on Russia’s gross violation of international law came from Kenya and Ghana. I will cite Kenya’s to illustrate some very important issues. It is a statement which should resonate with small countries, especially those whose futures were shaped by empire. Countries which, no matter how small and powerless, must now stand up and be counted in unqualified condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ambassador Martin Kimani, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, provided the most compelling narrative in condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was a lesson for the entire international community. He condemned the unjustified threat or use of force by one country against another and rejected Russia’s claim of kinship with Russians on the Ukraine side of the border as a pretext for the invasion. Citing Africa’s history and the division of the continent during the age of empire, Ambassador Kimani told the Security Council that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an echo of African history. He said,
“Kenya and almost every African country were birthed by the ending of empire. Our borders were not of our own drawing. They were drawn in the distance metropoles of London, Paris, and Lisbon, with no regard for the ancient nations which they cleaved apart.”
Ambassador Kimani pointed to one of the legacies of empire when he told the Security Council, “Today across the border of every single African country live our countrymen with whom we share deep historical, cultural, and linguistic bonds.” He chastised Russia for making this claim, this pretext, to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. He reminded the Council, “At independence had we chosen to pursue states on the basis of ethnic, racial, or religious homogeneity, we would still be waging bloody wars many decades later.”
In his most eloquent narrative, Ambassador Kimani, continued.
“Instead, we agreed that we would settle for the borders that we inherited, but we would still pursue continental political, economic, and legal integration. Rather than form nations that looked ever backwards into history with a dangerous nostalgia, we chose to look forward to a greatness none of our many nations and people have ever known. We chose to follow the rules of the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations Charter. Not because our borders satisfied us, but because we wanted something greater forged in peace.”
He concluded with these words.
“We believe that all states formed from empires that have collapsed or retreated, have many people within them yearning for integration with peoples of neighboring states. This is normal and understandable. After all, who does not want to be joined to their brethren and to make common purpose with them?”
“However, Kenya rejects such a yearning from being pursued by force. We must complete our recovery from the embers of dead empire in a way that do not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression. We rejected irridentism and expansionism on any basis, including racial, ethnic, religious, or cultural factors. We reject it again today.”
Kenya gave a lesson to the international community on Africa’s response to imperialism.
Not unexpectedly, Russia suggested that the statements in the Security Council were emotional and based on a misunderstanding of the issues. Russia is wrong. As I have said before, do not listen to what Putin says, listen to what is.
Biden’s sanctions response
Having exhausted every diplomatic option available, President Joe Biden though succeeding in bringing the international community in a unified response to Russia’s aggression, was unable to persuade Putin to abandon his military threat against Ukraine. It didn’t take long for Biden to act after Russian troops began the invasion of Russia. Biden imposed stiff financial and other sanctions against Russian entities and individuals close to Putin. This according to Biden is only the first tranche of sanctions Russia should expect unless Putin makes a U-turn. There is no reason to believe Putin will stop his aggression much more reverse them. The European Union followed with similar sanctions, and Germany struct a vital blow against Putin.
In my next article in The Ward Post I will explore in further details the sanctions measures imposed by Biden and the EU, and the intended consequences for Putin and Russia.
© Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post