Addressing the 10th Moscow Conference on International Security on August 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that his war on Ukraine does not violate the U.N. Charter and was launched to protect the residents of Ukraine’s Donbas region from “genocide.”
“We have taken the decision to conduct a special military operation in Ukraine, a decision which is in full conformity with the Charter of the United Nations. It has been clearly spelled out that the aims of this operation are to ensure the security of Russia and its citizens and protect the residents of Donbas from genocide," he said.
That statement is false.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine violated not only the U.N. Charter, but also international law and even Russian law. Moreover, under international criminal law, the invasion is viewed as a crime of aggression.
The United Nations Charter
Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter prohibits the use of force against the territorial integrity of another state: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
On February 24, the day Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Russia had violated the U.N. Charter.
“The use of force by one country against another is the repudiation of the principles that every country committed to uphold. This applies to the present military offensive. It is wrong. It is against the (United Nations) Charter. It is unacceptable,” Guterres told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York City.
Russia has previously stated, falsely, that its military aggression against Ukraine is in line with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. But Article 51 provides that “nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations,” and Ukraine never attacked Russia.
Yet, Putin, after claiming Russia's invasion of Ukraine was launched in compliance with the U.N. Charter, asserted that there was a threat to Russia's security in the Donbas region of Ukraine and that genocide was taking place there.
Let's see if there is any truth to these claims.
An armed attack against Russia
Moscow has repeatedly claimed that Ukraine was planning an attack on Russia and the Russian-occupied territories of the Donbas. There is no evidence for that claim. Ukraine did not attack or threaten to carry out an armed attack on Russia.
Since its emergence as an independent country in 1991, Ukraine has not initiated a single war. The Russian Federation, on the other hand, has launched four wars since 1991: the First Chechen War (1994-1996), Second Chechen War (1999-2009), Russo-Georgian War (2008) and Russo-Ukrainian War (2014-present).
A comparison of the Russian and Ukrainian armies makes it highly unlikely that Ukraine planned to initiate a war with Russia. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia's military spending in 2021 was $65.9 billion, 11 times more than Ukraine's $5.9 billion in military spending that same year.
According to Statista.com, at the beginning of 2022, Russia had 4.5 times more active soldiers than Ukraine, 13.1 times more warplanes and 13.8 times more helicopters.
According to GlobalFirepower.com, before the war, Russia had 4.8 times more tanks than Ukraine, 2.4 times more armored vehicles and 4.6 times more self-propelled and towed artillery.
Genocide in the Donbas
The international community recognized genocide as a crime in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, ratified by 149 countries. The Convention defined genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
A majority of the population of the Donbas, according to the latest Ukrainian census in 2001, are ethnic Ukrainians, while ethnic Russians are the largest minority. Orthodox Christians are the largest religious group in the Donbas. That is basically the same as the ethnic and religious breakdowns in Ukraine’s other regions.
Russia orchestrated and fueled the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine after annexing Crimea in 2014, and therefore is responsible for the bloodshed and suffering that followed.
According to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), civilian deaths due to the hostilities in the Donbas have been steadily decreasing over the past five years. In 2017, 87 civilians were killed in clashes between the Ukrainian army and the forces of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Luhansk People’s Republic,” the Russia-backed entities in the Donbas; 43 civilians died there in 2018; 19 in 2019; and 12 in 2020.
Authorities in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” say only seven civilians were killed in fighting there in 2021.
According to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), between February 24, the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and July 24, 2022, there were 12,272 civilian casualties in Ukraine - 5,237 killed and 7,035 injured. Most of those killed were ethnic Ukrainians.
As of August 18, the national parliaments of Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Canada, Lithuania, Poland, Czechia and Ireland had recognized Russia's invasion of Ukraine as an act of genocide. Ireland's parliament said that Russia "has perpetrated barbaric acts of murder, rape, desecration of corpses and the wide-scale use of heavy military equipment against civilians.”
On April 12, U.S. President Joseph Biden said the atrocities committed by Russia in Ukraine amounted to "genocide."