The Legal Implications of the Russian-Ukraine War

“War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means” - Carl von Clausewitz 

    Ukraine, a democracy of 44 million people suffered a devastating attack on its territory as Russia launched its arms and troops in a bid to conquer the country. The attack which was stated to have firstly occurred on the 24th day of February, 2022 has given rise to questions with the most asked one being “What does Russia want?” 

Now, the attack otherwise known as a “special military operation” in the words of the Russian President, is also the biggest military mobilization in Europe since World War 2. It is reported to have stemmed from Russia’s aged desire under its current President Vladimir Putin to achieve the reintegration of the Soviet Union which had suffered a rapid collapse that resulted in its end in December 1991 as a then sovereign state. 

It is said that “it is only the dead that have seen the end of war”Plato. The year 2022 is not only riddled with the viral COVID-19 and it’s variants but also accounts for post-Soviet Ukraine suffering cases of 227 civilians killed of which 14 of them were children with 525 wounded. There’s also the account of over 2,000 civilian casualties since the start of the invasion on February 24. President Putin has practically and overtly taken military decisions to draw Ukraine into Russia’s control and influence and halt NATO’s further defensive alliance expansion into the East. This has not only caused death and injury to humans but also institutional systems alike so it is clear that the cause and effect dynamic of war cannot be overemphasized.  

The repercussions of the war has led to the shake of the global economy as well as further scrambling of fragile yet major supply chains across the globe. Russia is a major producer of wheat, oil, natural gas and palladium for cellphones and dental fillings in the world. The state of Ukraine is also an important producer of wheat. The war over its seemingly short timeframe of some days has put Europe’s security structure at stake as well as its economy. Europe relies on Russia for nearly 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil and as such has led to spike in the prices of oil, natural gas. The uncertainty of food security is also present as the price of wheat has undergone a surge due to the threat to farms in eastern Ukraine.  

Banking restrictions and the unavoidable inflation would ultimately lead to the collapse of the labour market in Russia thereby having a ripple effect on Europe due to its important trade ties with Russia. The world has begun to feel the effects of the invasion as foreigners from other continents and countries including Asia and Africa with the popular example of African (including Nigerian and Ghanaian) students in pre-invaded Ukraine who have been displaced and stranded with accounts of majority having to trek miles to get to safety like borders of neighbouring countries such as Romania, Poland and Hungary to subsequently ensure they are transported to their respective countries.  

As far as the mandate to uphold international peace and security is concerned, the UN Security Council is to act. It is an unfortunate event that Russia vetoed the UN Security Council resolution that would have stopped the attack on Ukraine and led to the subsequent withdrawal of Russsian troops. Russia has also suffered sanctions being imposed on it as there are over 41 territories including the UK and Canada which have closed their plane airspaces against Russia. However, there are other territories albeit few, that have expressed no intention of imposing sanctions on Russia. These states include China, Serbia and Turkey. Countries like North Korea, Eritrea, Belarus, Syria also support Russia’s actions. Even with these non- expressions, Russia’s isolation as well as its pariah status as imposed upon by countries seems to grow fast. The question remains, are these sanctions or the words of the United Nations Secretary- General Antonio Guterres for the UN to “never give up” or that “we must give peace another chance” are they proportionally equivalent to the invasion and constant bombing of the Ukrainian democratic state?  
Ukraine became an independent nation with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was earlier part of the Russian empire and later became the Soviet Republic and did away with its Russian imperial legacy, thereby forming close ties with the West. 
Since its independence, the country has been battling corruption and internal divisions. The country's western side wants integration with the West while the eastern region with Russia. The conflict started when Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych rejected an association agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Moscow. The protestors ousted him in what is known as the Revolution of Dignity. In return, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and backed east Ukraine's separatist rebellion. Soon after this, it attacked Donbas, the country's industrial heartland. Over 14,000 people lost their lives in the armed conflict between the Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists. 

Ukraine and the West accused Russia of deploying troops and sending weapons to the rebellions, an allegation that Russia denied. However, Russia strongly criticised the US and NATO for aiding Ukraine with weapons and joint military drills. President Putin too expressed concerns over plans by some NATO members to establish military training centres in Ukraine as it will facilitate military foothold in the region even without Ukraine joining NATO. 
Russia in its security demands said that it doesn't want Ukraine to be a member state of NATO and further want to cease all NATO drills near its borders and withdrawal of NATO troops from central and eastern Europe. It is to be noted that Ukraine’s admission to NATO would require the unanimous approval of the 30 member states. Also, Russia views Ukraine as part of its “sphere of influence”, a territory, rather than an independent state. However, the US and NATO have turned down Russia's demands.

According to the Ukrainian news site RBC-Ukraine, as of September 2021, 81 percent of Ukrainians stated that they have a negative attitude about Putin while only 15 percent reported a positive attitude towards Putin. Putin, on the other hand, views Ukraine as part of Russia’s “sphere of influence”, territory rather than an independent state. It is this sense of ownership that has driven Moscow to try to block Kyiv from joining the EU and the NATO. He is also using Ukraine as leverage for Western powers to lift their sanctions against Russia. Putin’s decision to engage in a military buildup along Ukraine is also connected to a sense of impunity as he has experience dealing with western politicians who champion Russian interests and become engaged with Russian companies once they leave office. But what makes the US so interested in this conflict? With its annexation of Crimea and support for the Donbas conflict, Russia has violated the Budapest Memorandum Security Assurances for Ukraine. The Budapest Memorandum Security Assurances for Ukraine is a 1994 multilateral agreement between the US, the UK and Russia that aims to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for its commitment to give up its nuclear arsenal. The West is backing Ukraine and promised to hit Russia financially.
Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine is a clear disregard and mockery of the fundamental principles and rules of international law. Article 2(4) of the United Nation’s Charter prohibits the use of military force against another state which Russia has obviously violated. 
Putin claims that the justification for engaging Ukraine in “a special military operation” is for self defence as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has broken its promise to not expand eastwards made in 1991 to Mikhail Gorbachev at the dissolution of the Soviet Union in exchange for allowing Germany to join NATO and also that Russians were facing genocide in eastern Ukraine. However, there was never a binding promise made between Russia and NATO to this effect and Russia’s invocation of self defence pursuant to Article 51 of the UN Charter is not recognized under international law.  
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin also called Ukraine “a nation that doesn’t exist and a people with a fake identity” when Russia itself signed a legally binding Budapest Memorandum of 1994 undertaking “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine”. 
In Russia’s attempt to stop Ukraine from joining a Western military alliance, Putin led an assault on Ukraine and committed crimes against humanity by bombing cities including the capital Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson and killing civilians. Although Ukraine is not under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, 39 nations including United Kingdom, France, Germany have requested for an investigation into possible war crimes to be launched and ICC’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan has approved it. The ICC does not have its own police force and only relies on state co-operation to arrest and punish suspects. 
The negotiations between the two countries have so far ended on “no deal” and this war could go on for months if a resolution is not reached soonest. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has been doing well to hold off Russia’s attack, protect his country and citizens without bending the knees so far. The sanctions placed on Russia by major countries like US, Canada, Switzerland and the UK does not seem to be effective on Putin and his band of Oligarchs as it is the average Russians far below the food chain that are feeling the pressure. 
International law establishes rules that individual states have the rights to impose economic and military sanctions against states that have violated fundamental rules of international law. Ukraine can also file proceedings against Russia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) but this can only affect Russia if they she accepts the ICJ’s general jurisdiction which she has not. Russia may also be brought before the European Court of Human Rights for human rights violations. Russia’s tactics have drawn international condemnation and following the overwhelming votes demanding Russia to immediately end the invasion of Ukraine on March 2, 2022 Russia has become more isolated diplomatically. 
All these measures can be taken against Russia but it is of great doubt that Russia will submit to any of them as Russia knew the ramifications of starting a war before still deciding to engage in it. We can only pray and that an agreement should be reached for peace to reign so that this ongoing war does not escalate into World War III.


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