What gives Russia the right to occupy Ukraine or any other country?
Written by – Elijah J. Magnier:
On 24 February 2022, the Russian president Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine, violating international laws that forbid, in principle, the encroachment on the borders of states or invasion or interference in their internal affairs. These are stipulated by international laws and United Nations resolutions, representing the primary international body that authorises or prevents external interference and conflicts between states. But why did the Russian President Vladimir Putin decide to invade Ukraine without considering international laws and the United Nations principles agreed upon by all states?
In international law, the principle of non-interference includes the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or independence or theft of any other country’s resources as stipulated in Article 4/2 of the Charter. This principle stipulates the non-interference in internal affairs in the form of a dictatorship or with the element of coercion, which is classified as “prohibited interference” as specified by the International Court of Justice (1986, p. 108, para. 205). However, external interference to use force or stop the conflict is not prohibited if it obtains the consent of the host countries.
Article 15 of the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of the States of the World in 1933 laid the foundations “for the prohibition of interference with freedom, sovereignty, internal affairs, or the operations of governments of states outside their borders.” A protocol was added to it in 1936 to expand the regulation that defends the independence of the State’s decision to protect borders and political domestic, and international choices.
In 1965, following the end of World War II, the United Nations Assembly, Resolution 2131, affirmed the inadmissibility of interference in the internal affairs of states. The principle of non-interference implies the right of every sovereign State to manage its affairs without external interference of any kind or apparent or hidden form. It also affirmed the respect for political integrity and the inadmissibility of diplomats interfering in the State that supports their accreditation, interfering with political parties and their activities, influencing elections or candidates, or seeking to overthrow the ruling regime.
So, there are indeed international laws that should supposedly govern and organise the world so that the law of the jungle does not prevail. Every country has laws that impose respect on all its residents to avoid chaos, murder and theft. Failure to protect the State or provide security to the citizens will be defined as a failed state. Failure to impose universal laws applicable to all states will result in unilateral hegemony, bullying of weaker states, thief of natural resources of sovereign countries, illegal aggressions and a failed international order.
Do equal laws for all states govern the world?
In 1948, Israel was responsible for the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, the destruction of their homes (this continues until the present day), the arrest and torture of children (160) and minors and the indiscriminate killing of civilians. Since 2000, Israel has arrested at least 19,000 Palestinian minors aged between 10 to 18 years old.
Israel carried out several wars on Gaza, with the full support of the US for its action, under the watchful eyes and impotent reaction from the world leaders and with no accountability. The United Nations issued (between 1946 and 2019) over 174 resolutions concerning Palestine, which were never respected.
In 1949, CIA official Stephen Meyadi, aided by Syrian Colonel Hussein al-Zaim, staged a military coup against the elected government headed by Shukri al-Quwatli, violating the UN charter agreed upon by all United Nations.
In 1953, Iran elected a prime minister, Muhammad Mossadegh, who nationalised the oil assets of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Britain and the US agreed to carry out a coup successfully organised by the CIA against the democratically elected prime minister at the request of US President Dwight Eisenhower. It was a clear violation of the UN Charter and the right of a democratic state to elect its leader without foreign intervention.
In 1954, according to the US Nation Security Archive documents, the US intelligence CIA illegally supported the coup against Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz because his land reforms threatened the interests of the American UNITED FRUIT Company. The CIA prepared and trained local paramilitary forces for the coup, and the US Navy surrounded the Guatemalan coast.
In 1955, the US sent its army into Vietnam without declaring war officially or discussing its plans and intentions at the United Nations. The US president used his powers more than 125 times without returning to Congress, and in addition, there was the Korean War, in which 142,000 American soldiers were killed and wounded (1950-1953).
In 1958, America agreed to an illegal coup against Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Syrian President Adel al-Shishakli. In 1960, America and Belgium expelled the first legally elected prime minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, from power. Lumumba was captured and killed with the help of the CIA. The US and its western allies were not ready to let Africans have effective control over strategic raw materials.
In 1961, the CIA supported the murder of the president of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina. In 1963, America supported the coup against South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem. In 1964, the CIA supported the replacement of Brazilian President Joao Goulart and replaced him with the Chief of Staff to prevent elections that ruled the country for 21 years. In 1973 the CIA supported the coup against elected Chilean President Salvador Allende and replaced him with General Augusto Pinochet. He led the country for seventeen years and arrested more than 130,000 opposition members. A large number of them disappeared.
Israel occupied parts of Lebanon from 1978 to 2000, when it was forced to withdraw following attacks by the local resistance. On 6 June 1982, with the approval of the US administration, the Israeli army invaded southern Lebanon with the initial aim to occupy part of Lebanon and establish a 40-kilometre security zone under the pretext to remove the Palestinian Liberation Organisation from its border. The Israeli Operation ‘Peace for Galilee’ turned into a full-scale offensive with nearly 100,000 soldiers occupying Beirut’s Lebanese capital. The United Nations never approved the Israeli invasion.
In April 1996, Israel shelled a United Nations compound in Qana, Lebanon, killing over 100 civilians (almost half of whom were children) and wounding hundreds more, including Fijian UN personnel. The UN investigated and denounced the Israeli army for its violation of the rules of humanitarian law, dismissed the Israeli version that the attack was the result of “gross technical or procedural error which Israel had claimed, but was not in a position to take further measures.
Israel invaded Lebanon, allowed a massacre by its allies and violated its sovereignty many times. During the last 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, 1109 people were killed, 4399 injured, and 1 million were displaced without triggering an international condemnation or reaction. Israel destroyed most Lebanese bridges and infrastructure between the capital Beirut and the south of Lebanon and intentionally bombed the oil reserves outside Beirut. No international condemnation or legal measures were taken against Israeli aggression.
UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan has accused Israel of “disproportionate use of force”, aiming at civilian infrastructure (bridges and power stations, cutting water and electricity to civilians). The Israeli actions are illegal and against the 1949 Geneva Conventions and not permissible under international humanitarian law. However, the US and other NATO states members always justified any Israeli attack by claiming that Israel has “the right to defend itself”, a theory adopted to justify anticipated attacks on civilians and other sovereign states.
From 1982 to 1984, US (and its allies, the UK, France and Italy) forces landed in Lebanon as part of the “Multinational Forces” without a UN mandate and took part in the civil war, bombing several objectives supporting one side against another. On Israeli insistence, the Multinational Forces held no UN mandate.
In 1999, the US Air Force, leading a NATO military campaign, began its bombing of Kosovo. According to an independent international Commission on Kosovo requested by the UN Secretary-general, the NATO intervention was illegal because it did not receive approval from the UN Security Council. The commission has criticised the way the intervention was conducted in several aspects. NATO falsely believed that a short bombing campaign would be enough to achieve an agreement. Therefore, it expanded the air campaign to strategic targets in Serbia proper, increasing the risk of civilian casualties. Although NATO said it had made substantial efforts to avoid civilian casualties, some serious mistakes (civilian casualties) were made said the commission.
On 7 October 2001, the US invaded Afghanistan without the consent of the United Nations and named its invasion ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’. The US Government claimed that the invasion was retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Pennsylvania. The main reason the invasion took place was that the US felt that it could eradicate Al-Qaeda and its support network within the Taliban through military action.
Although no terrorist group ever claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attack, many have sympathised with the act. Nevertheless, the chief spokesperson of the Taliban at the time of the attacks, Wakeel Ahmed Mutawakel and the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, both condemned the attacks and did not claim responsibility for them on the part of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Aijaz Ahmad also affirms this in his book Iraq, Afghanistan and the Imperialism of Our Time, where he writes, ‘it was even more difficult to link the Taliban themselves with the events of 11 September; they denounced the attack immediately and promised in no uncertain terms to help find the culprits’. For the United States administration, Afghanistan was an essential geopolitical country with significant natural resources that Iran, Russia and China should not have access to or trade with the Afghani government.
In 2003, the US (and its allies) occupied Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein from “Weapons of Mass Destruction” that never existed in the first place. A year after the invasion, the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, declared explicitly for the first time that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal. Mr Annan said that the UN security council did not sanction the invasion or follow the UN’s founding charter.
The Security Council has never approved the US invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. President George W. Bush declared that he “would not wait for the Security Council” and sent armies searching for “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. The US administration had already helped Saddam Hussein gain power through the coup he made in 1963 against General Abdel Karim Qassem.
On 17 March 2011, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1973, authorising the use of force in Libya to protect civilians and establish a no-fly zone. While Germany, Brazil, China, India, and Russia abstained, the resolution drafted by France and the United Kingdom and co-sponsored by the United States received ten favourable votes out of fifteen. Focusing on protecting the civilian population, Resolution 1973 called for an immediate cease-fire and the complete cessation of violence against civilians. It authorised Member States to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under Chapter VII of the UN Charter while excluding any form of occupation of Libyan territory. On 19 March 2011, a multi-state NATO-led coalition began an illegal military intervention in Libya that drove the country into chaos for over 11 years until the present day.
The war in Syria started in 2011 with the US and its Arab and NATO allies establishing two operating rooms in Jordan and Turkey to send weapons and train Syrian rebels, including jihadists from al-Qaeda, with the explicit knowledge of the US training forces. The US directly intervened illegally in the war, and President Donald Trump said clearly that the presence of the US military was “to keep the Syrian oil”, without permission from the sovereign country. President Joe Biden has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor.
In 2020, Israel announced that it had launched 4,200 missiles against Syria, a sovereign country, to destroy its military infrastructure with almost no retaliation from the government of Damascus. The US described the attacks as a “right of self-defence”. Like Russia’s claim against Ukraine, Israeli officials said these are preventive attacks to neutralise the Syrian capability and missiles so they can’t be used one day against Israel. It is Ben Gurion’s doctrine that Israel has used against Iraq (bombing its nuclear reactor while in construction), Syria (bombing a claimed nuclear reactor before construction), Iran (assassinating atomic scientists, sabotaging ships and Iranian infrastructure in Iran) and assassinating Palestinians abroad.
Professor Dov Levin, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, says that the historical “database” tracks the United States meddling in foreign elections over the years. The documents indicate that the US intervened 80 times between 1963 and 2000. A third of these interventions were public, and two-thirds remained unknown to voters before the elections. At the same time, the Soviet Union and Russia used about 36 documented interventions in the same period.
As for the Soviet Union – its forces sustained the first Indochina War in 1964 to support Vietnam against the occupying French forces first and then the American troops. It intervened in 1950 in the Korean War, in the Vietnam War in 1955, occupied Czechoslovakia in 1968 and helped the Arabs in their war against Israel and its ally America in 1969. In 1974, during the collision between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Soviet Union played a role, and, in 1979, it sent the army to occupy Afghanistan.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia participated in the civil war in Georgia in 1991, especially in Abkhazia and Ossetia, which were later occupied in 2008. In 1992, Russia intervened and occupied the northern part of Moldova known as Transnistria. Russia also declared war on Tajikistan (1992), Chechnya (1999), and Dagestan. The Russian army seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 to return in February 2022 to occupy Donbas. All these wars were never sanctioned by the United Nations.
These interventions confirm those superpower countries and their allies respect or adhere to no international law. Instead, unilateral decisions to wage war have been taken without consideration of the United Nations or international laws which do not apply to powerful countries. This means that the world will remain organised by an international institution acting as an impotent façade, such as the United Nations, which cannot enforce the law and compel governments to respect it.
Unless an international conference is convened to reorganise the world, the total lack of respect for the sovereignty of states will remain a threat to humankind if these countries decide to use nuclear weapons like in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed 214,000 people. Unless and until a significant war pushes all states to reorganise themselves and sit around the table to agree to abide by the rule of law, the jungle’s law will remain dominant.
For the Israeli campaign see Samy Cohen, Israels’s Asymmetric Wars (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 43–56; Richard A. Gabriel, Operation Peace for Galilee. The Israeli-PLO War in Lebanon (New York: Hill and Wang, 1984); Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, Israel’s Lebanon War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984); Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation. Lebanon at War (London: Deutsch, 1990).
Bastian Matteo Scianna (2019) A Blueprint for Successful Peacekeeping? The Italians in Beirut (Lebanon), 1982–1984, The International History Review, 41:3, 650-672, DOI: 10.1080/07075332.2018.1431804