Skip to content

Russia’s war on Ukraine


Russia’s war on Ukraine

Socialist Lawyer No. 89, May 2022

Bill Bowring, International Secretary, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers; Professor of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London

At the time of writing, it is Day 45 of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

In what follows I am careful not to refer to “Russia”, especially since so many Russians are opposed to the war, but to the Kremlin, the Russian regime, and in this case to Putin. The Russian invasion of Ukraine since 24 February is Putin’s disastrous adventure.

The legal characterisation of the war is straightforward. Putin’s invasion of 24 February is a flagrant violation of the UN Charter, of the sovereignty of Ukraine and of the Charter’s Article 2(4) prohibition on the use of force “against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

Russia cannot claim that it is acting in self-defence, or that it has the authorisation of the UN Security Council. Even the apparent claim of humanitarian intervention, to prevent genocide in the separatist regions of DNR and LNR, has seemingly been abandoned in its recent submission to the ICJ in the genocide case, Ukraine v Russia.

In his speech of 21 February 2022 to his Security Council, forcing them each to share responsibility for the invasion, Putin hardly mentioned NATO.

He said (in the official Kremlin translation) “ …modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia. This process started practically right after the 1917 revolution, and Lenin and his associates did it in a way that was extremely harsh on Russia – by separating, severing what is historically Russian land. Nobody asked the millions of people living there what they thought… Lenin’s ideas of what amounted in essence to a confederative state arrangement and a slogan about the right of nations to self-determination, up to secession, were laid in the foundation of Soviet statehood. Initially they were confirmed in the Declaration on the Formation of the USSR in 1922, and later on, after Lenin’s death, were enshrined in the 1924 Soviet Constitution.”

So in Putin’s view Ukraine has no right to exist. He denounces Lenin’s “Right of Nations To Self-Determination”. On this issue Haldane stands with Lenin. See the Special Issue of Socialist Lawyer No.53, October 2009, “The Right to Self-Determination”. You can find this easily on the Haldane web-site.

Putin is also horrified by the fact that Soviet Ukraine, as a Union Republic of the USSR,  became a founding member of the UN in 1945 (as did Belarus) and had its own seat in the General Assembly. In 1991 it became an independent sovereign state, with the collapse of the USSR. In 1996 in its first independent Constitution it created the Autonomous Republic of Crimea with its own Supreme Soviet and privileges for the Russian speaking inhabitants. From that date there was no movement to rejoin Russia. I first visited Donetsk and Crimea in 1992, and many times thereafter.

By the 1997 Partition Treaty between Russia and  Ukraine, Ukraine agreed to lease Sevastopol to Russia for 20 years until 2017. The treaty also allowed Russia to maintain up to 25,000 troops, 24 artillery systems, 132 armoured vehicles, and 22 military planes on the Crimean Peninsula. Russia never disputed that Crimea was an integral part of Ukraine, until the Russian Annexation in 2014, when Russia abrogated the Treaty. Those forces carried out the illegal annexation on 2014. In international law Crimea remains part of Ukraine.

President Yanukovich intended to enter into the Association Agreement with the EU, was prevented by Russian pressure, and then fled the country during the Maidan revolution, having stolen enormous sums from Ukraine. So Russia invaded Ukraine from 2014, and starting arming the “separatists” in Donetsk and Luhansk. From 2014 until very recently, Russia insisted that Donetsk and Luhansk remained part of Ukraine, and wanted special status for them. For myself, I can’t see why they should not have the status which Crimea had before 2014, within Ukraine.

In 2014 Ukraine had no serious army. Now it has a professional army with experience fighting Russia proxies, armed by Russia, since 2014. It has every legal right to seek support, weapons etc, in its self-defence.

The so-called “anti-imperialist” left, in reality apologists for Putin, insist that the present war is all the fault of NATO. However,  NATO became irrelevant in 1991, when the Warsaw Pact, its opposite number, was dissolved. In 1999 NATO acted illegally and violated its own Charter (which specified that it was a purely defensive organisation) when it bombed Serbia. Trump wanted to scrap it. Now, like a zombie, it has returned – thanks to Putin..    

There is no prospect of NATO accepting Ukraine as a member in the near future, and President Zelensky says it does not want to join, although as a sovereign state Ukraine is entitled to invite the forces of any state of organisation. That is the basis on which the presence of Russian forces in Syria is lawful in international law.                            

Ukraine is a highly corrupt state, dominated by warring oligarchs – Poroshenko, Kolomoisky, Firtash. Zelensky, a former TV comedian, was said to be the cat’s paw of Kolomoisky. But it does have democratic elections and a free media. Having failed to keep his promise to deal with corruption, Zelensky was increasingly unpopular before 24 February. Putin saved him.

Russia is a kleptocracy, a regime of thieving under secret service rule. There are no free elections, and the last independent media have been closed. The Kremlin regime is increasingly repressive, and Russia suffers from a rapidly diminishing population, an HIV/AIDS epidemic, rabid Covid, and high inflation.

The working class of both countries is getting it in the neck from both regimes, Ukrainian and Russian, and will be the losers in both countries if the war since 2014 is intensified. We in Haldane and ELDH stand with the workers and with the free trade unions of both countries. ELDH has member associations in both Ukraine and Russia.

And Putin already has three major achievements.

First, he has brought NATO back to life. With Finland and Sweden considering membership, Russia will soon have an even longer border with NATO.

Second, despite his having secured Brexit, with the help of his friend and admirer Nigel Farage, and large sums of Russian money, he has succeeded in uniting the EU, even his friend Victor Orban in Hungary.

Third, as a result of Putin’s action, Germany has changed its firmly held policies of so many years.

From → My posts

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Кампанія Солідарності з Україною

The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign seeks to organise solidarity and provide information in support of the Ukrainian labour movement

Splits and Fusions

An archive of Trotskyist, Left-Communist, Communist and related publications

Rights in Russia

Providing information about human rights in Russia since 2010

Joan Twelves

Joan's occasional rants and musings

Michael Roberts Blog

blogging from a marxist economist

Adrian Berry

Barrister, Migration and Citizenship Consultant


Migration, Citizenship, and Free Movement

Lamp and Owl

The digital home of the Birkbeck Student Magazine

Your Death, Your Choice

We believe that your life is your own. With this comes the right to choose when, and how, to die. Join us in changing the law.

Legal Form

A Forum for Marxist Analysis and Critique


Information on The Bolivarian Alliance


International Law and International Legal Thought

Henry Brooke

Musings, Memories and Miscellanea

%d bloggers like this: