Daniel Kovalik: Why Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is legal under international law

Daniel Kovalik: Why Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is legal under international law

23 Apr, 2022   May 17, 2022

The argument can be made that Russia exercised its right for self-defense

Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and is author of the recently-released No More War: How the West Violates International Law by Using “Humanitarian” Intervention to Advance Economic and Strategic Interests.

“….One must begin this discussion by accepting the fact that there was already a war happening in Ukraine for the eight years preceding the Russian military incursion in February 2022. And, this war by the government in Kiev against the Russian-speaking peoples of the Donbass – a war which claimed the lives of around 14,000 people, many of them children, and displaced around 1.5 million more even before Russia’s military operation – has been arguably genocidal. That is, the government in Kiev, and especially its neo-Nazi battalions, carried out attacks against these peoples with the intention of destroying, at least in part, the ethnic Russians precisely because of their ethnicity.

While the US government and media are trying hard to obscure these facts, they are undeniable, and were indeed reported by the mainstream Western press before it became inconvenient to do so. Thus, a commentary run by Reuters in 2018 clearly sets out how the neo-Nazis battalions have been integrated into the official Ukrainian military and police forces, and are thus state, or at least quasi-state, actors for which the Ukrainian government bears legal responsibility. As the piece relates, there are 30-some right-wing extremist groups operating in Ukraine, that “have been formally integrated into Ukraine’s armed forces,” and that “the more extreme among these groups promote an intolerant and illiberal ideology… ”  

That is, they possess and promote hatred towards ethnic Russians, the Roma peoples, and members of the LGBT community as well, and they act out this hatred by attacking, killing, and displacing these peoples. The piece cites the Western human rights group Freedom House for the proposition that “an increase in patriotic discourse supporting Ukraine in its conflict with Russia has coincided with an apparent increase in both public hate speech, sometimes by public officials and magnified by the media, as well as violence towards 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, city council meetings, media outlets, art exhibitions, foreign students and Roma.”  

As reported in Newsweek, Amnesty International had been reporting on these very same extremist hate groups and their accompanying violent activities as far back as 2014.

It is this very type of evidence – public hate speech combined with large-scale, systemic attacks on 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.

To add to this, there are well over 500,000 residents of the Donbass region of Ukraine who are also Russian citizens. While that 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, this means that Russian citizens were being subjected to racialized attack by neo-Nazi groups integrated into the government of Ukraine, and right on the border of Russia.

And lest Russia was uncertain about the Ukrainian government’s intentions regarding the Russian ethnics in the Donbass, the government in Kiev passed new language laws in 2019 which made it clear that Russian speakers were at best second-class citizens. Indeed, the usually pro-West Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed alarm about these laws. As the HRW explained in an early-2022 report which received nearly no coverage in the Western media, the government in Kiev passed legislation which “requires print media outlets registered in Ukraine to publish in Ukrainian. Publications in other languages must also be accompanied by a Ukrainian version, equivalent in content, volume, and method of printing. Additionally, places of distribution such as newsstands must have at least half their content in Ukrainian.”  …….”

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