For many years I have studied and reflected a lot on the prohibition of aggressive war formulated in the UN Charter. No one can seriously doubt that the main purpose of this document – drafted and adopted after the atrocities of World War II – was and is to prevent war and “maintain international peace and security,” a phrase that is repeated throughout the document.
As the Nuremberg judges rightly concluded (1), “waging a war of aggression […] is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime which differs from other war crimes only in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole. In other words, war is the supreme crime because all the evils we so abhor – genocide, crimes against humanity, etc. – are the terrible fruits of the tree of war.”
In light of this, I have spent my entire adult life opposing war and foreign intervention. Of course, as an American, I have had many opportunities to do so, since the United States is, as Martin Luther King said, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” Similarly, Jimmy Carter recently said (2) that the United States is “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” This is obviously true, of course. In my lifetime alone, the United States has waged unprovoked wars of aggression against such countries as Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, Libya, and Somalia. And that’s not counting the numerous proxy wars the U.S. has waged (e.g., through the Contras in Nicaragua, through various jihadist groups in Syria, and through Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the current war against Yemen).
Indeed, through these wars, the United States has done more, intentionally, than any other nation in the world to undermine the legal pillars prohibiting war. In reaction to this, and in a voluntary desire to try to salvage what remains of the UN Charter’s legal prohibitions against aggressive war, several nations, including Russia and China, have founded the “Group of Friends in Defense of the UN Charter” (3).
In short, for the U.S. to complain about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a violation of international law is, at best, the pot calling the kettle black. However, the fact that the United States is so blatantly hypocritical in this regard does not necessarily mean that Washington is automatically wrong. Ultimately, we must analyze Russia’s conduct on its own merits.
We must begin this discussion by accepting the fact that there was already a war going on in Ukraine for eight years prior to the Russian military incursion in February 2022. And that war waged by the Kiev government against the Russian-speaking populations of the Donbas – a war that claimed the lives of some 14,000 people, many of them children, and displaced another 1.5 million even before the Russian military operation – was arguably genocide. In fact, the Kiev government, and in particular its neo-Nazi battalions, carried out attacks against these populations with the intention of destroying, at least in part, ethnic Russians precisely because of their ethnicity.
Although the U.S. government and media try to hide these facts, they are undeniable and were reported by the mainstream Western press before it was embarrassing to do so. For example, a commentary published by Reuters (4) in 2018 clearly exposes how neo-Nazi battalions have been integrated into the official Ukrainian military and police forces and are therefore state, or at least quasi-state, actors over which the Ukrainian government has legal responsibility. According to the article, some thirty extreme right-wing groups operate in Ukraine, which “have been officially integrated into the Ukrainian armed forces,” and “the most extreme of these groups promote an intolerant and illiberal ideology.”
In other words, they possess and promote hatred of ethnic Russians, Gypsies and members of the LGBT community, and express this hatred by attacking, killing and displacing these populations. The article cites the Western human rights group Freedom House, which states that “the rise of patriotic rhetoric in support of Ukraine in its conflict with Russia has coincided with an apparent increase in public hate speech, sometimes by public officials and amplified by the media, and violence against vulnerable groups such as the LGBT community.” And this has been accompanied by actual violence. For example, “Azov and other militias have attacked anti-fascist demonstrations, town hall meetings, media, art exhibitions, foreign students and gypsies.”
As Newsweek reports (5), Amnesty International had already reported on these same extremist hate groups and accompanying violent activities in 2014.
It is this same type of evidence-public hate speech combined with large-scale systemic attacks against the targets of the speech-that has been used to convict individuals of genocide, for example in the Rwandan genocide case against Jean Paul Akayesu.
In addition, more than 500,000 residents of the Ukrainian region of Donbass (6) are also Russian citizens. Although this estimate was made in April 2021, after Vladimir Putin’s 2019 decree simplified the process of obtaining Russian citizenship for residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, it means that Russian citizens were racially targeted by neo-Nazi groups embedded in the Ukrainian government, and right on Russia’s border.
And while Russia was unsure of the Ukrainian government’s intentions toward ethnic Russians in the Donbas, the Kiev government passed new language laws in 2019 that made it clear that Russian speakers were second-class citizens at best.
Indeed, the usually pro-Western Human Rights Watch (HRW) was alarmed by these laws. As HRW explained in a report (7) from early 2022, which received virtually no coverage in the Western media, the Kiev government passed a law that “obliges print media registered in Ukraine to publish in Ukrainian.” Publications in other languages must also be accompanied by a Ukrainian version, equivalent in content, volume and printing method. In addition, distribution outlets, such as newsstands, must have at least half of their content in Ukrainian.”
And, according to HRW, “Article 25, concerning printed media, provides for exceptions for certain minority languages,” English and the official languages of the European Union, but not for Russian, with the justification of “the century-long oppression of Ukrainian in favor of Russian.” As HRW explains, “there are concerns about whether the guarantees for minority languages are sufficient.” The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s main advisory body on constitutional issues, stated that several articles of the law, including Article 25, “fail to strike the right balance between promoting the Ukrainian language and safeguarding the linguistic rights of minorities.” This legislation only underscores the Ukrainian government’s desire to destroy the culture, if not the very existence, of ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
Moreover, as reported by the World Peace Organization in 2021 (8), “according to Decree 117/2021 of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Ukraine commits to put on the table all options to regain control of the Crimea region annexed by Russia.” Signed on March 24, 2021, President Zelensky pledged to carry out strategies that would prepare and implement measures to ensure the “de-occupation and reintegration of the peninsula.”
Given that Crimeans, most of whom are ethnic Russians, are quite happy with the current state of affairs under Russian rule-this, according to a Washington Post report (9) from 2020-Zelensky’s threat in this regard was not only a threat against Russia itself, but also a threat of potentially massive bloodshed against a people who do not want to return to Ukraine.
This provides a much more convincing argument to justify the Russian intervention under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, advocated by Western “humanists” such as Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice, and used to justify NATO interventions in countries such as the former Yugoslavia and Libya. Moreover, none of the states involved in these interventions could claim self-defense. This is particularly true in the case of the United States, which sent forces thousands of miles away to drop bombs on distant lands.
Indeed, I am reminded of the words of the great Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, who years ago said in his influential book “Culture and Imperialism” that it is simply unfair to try to compare Russian empire building with that of the West. As Said explains, “Russia […] acquired its imperial territories almost exclusively by contiguity. Unlike Britain and France, which crossed thousands of miles beyond their own borders to reach other continents, Russia set out to gobble up any land or people within its borders […] but in the case of Britain and France, the very distance of attractive territories necessitated the projection of distant interests.” This observation applies doubly to the United States.
However, there is more to consider regarding Russia’s claimed justifications for its intervention. For example, not only are there radical groups attacking ethnic Russians, including Russian citizens, on its border, but these groups were allegedly funded and trained by the United States with the intent to destabilize and undermine the territorial integrity of Russia itself.
As Yahoo News explains in an article (10) published in January 2022, “the CIA is overseeing a secret intensive training program in the United States for elite Ukrainian special operations forces and other intelligence personnel, according to five former intelligence and national security officials familiar with the initiative. The program, which began in 2015, is based at an undisclosed facility in the southern United States, according to some of these officials.”
The program included “very specific training on skills that would improve the Ukrainians’ ability to repel the Russians,” the former senior intelligence official said. The training, which “included tactical material, will start to look very offensive if the Russians invade Ukraine,” the former official said. A person familiar with the program put it more bluntly, “The U.S. is training an insurgency,” said a former CIA official, adding that the program taught Ukrainians how to kill Russians.”
To dispel any doubt that destabilization of Russia itself was the U.S. goal in these efforts, it is worth examining the very revealing 2019 report (11) by the Rand Corporation, a long-time defense contractor called upon to advise the U.S. on how to achieve its political objectives. In this report, entitled “Overextending and Unbalancing Russia, Assessing the Impact of Cost-Imposing Options,” one of the many tactics listed is to “provide lethal assistance to Ukraine” to “exploit Russia’s greatest point of external vulnerability.”
In short, there is no doubt that Russia has been threatened, and very profoundly so, by the concrete destabilization efforts of the United States, NATO and their extremist surrogates in Ukraine. Russia has been threatened in this way for eight full years. And Russia has witnessed what such destabilization efforts have meant for other countries, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Syria to Libya, i.e., the near-total annihilation of the country as a functioning nation state.
It is hard to conceive of a more urgent case for acting in defense of the nation. While the UN Charter prohibits unilateral acts of war, it also states, in Article 51, that “nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense.” And this right of self-defense has been interpreted (12) to allow countries to respond not only to actual armed attacks, but also to the threat of imminent attack.
In light of the above, I believe that this right was triggered in this case, and that Russia was entitled to act in its own defense by intervening in Ukraine, which had become a proxy for the United States and NATO to attack-not only ethnic Russians in Ukraine-but Russia itself. A contrary conclusion would simply ignore the terrible realities facing Russia.
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