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Putin’s False Claim of Self-Defense While Starting a War on Ukraine

A woman with her daughter waits for a train as they try to leave Kyiv, Thursday, February 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin

Russian president

“In accordance with Article 51 of Part 7 of the U.N. Charter … I have decided to conduct a special military operation. Its purpose is to protect people who have been subjected to scorn and genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years. And for this purpose, we will strive to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.”


In a video address on February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military attack on Ukraine after months of denials by Kremlin officials that such an invasion was planned.

“In this connection, in accordance with Article 51 of Part 7 of the U.N. Charter … I have decided to conduct a special military operation. Its purpose is to protect people who have been subjected to scorn and genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years. And for this purpose, we will strive to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.”

Article 51 Part 7 of the U.N. Charter states the right to self-defense when a U.N. member state is under armed attack.

Except that nobody attacked Russia, and Putin’s invocation of the charter is sheer disinformation to support a pretext for what has been widely condemned as violation of international law.

Article 51 Part 7 reads:

“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, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

News of Putin’s aggression in Ukraine broke while Russia’s representative to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, was presiding at an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council in New York.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N., Sergiy Kyslytsya, spoke to Nebenzya directly, demanding that he “call Putin” to stop the war against his country. “There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell, ambassador," Kyslytsya said.

In his announcement, Putin claimed the invasion was not meant to “cause harm to the interests of Ukraine and Ukrainian people” but instead to “protect the people.” He asked Ukrainians to “understand that and cooperate.

Addressing the Ukrainian military, using the communist greeting “Tovarischi,” or “comrades,” he warned them “not to obey the orders of the Nazis’ junta that usurped the power in Ukraine.”

Civilian casualties

Less than 24 hours into the war, Ukrainian officials and others reported at least 57 people killed and 169 more wounded, including civilians, from Russian strikes that simultaneously targeted more than dozen cities.

Hundreds of thousands Ukrainian civilians are fleeing to the neighboring countries in Europe, leaving behind all their possessions and even pets, signaling the beginning of what could become Europe’s biggest-ever refugee crisis, Reuters reported.

“To clarify, what is under way is a full-scale and comprehensive military assault throughout Ukraine,” Senator Marco Rubio, chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said on Twitter shortly after Putin’s announcement.

“Russia isn’t just focused on seizing eastern Ukraine. Russian military forces are working towards isolating Kyiv at this very moment,” with a goal to “decapitate Ukrainian government” and “establish superiority” over the Ukrainian territory, Rubio said.

Putin’s references to the “Nazi usurpation” and the need for Ukraine’s “denazification” are based on falsehoods, part of a Kremlin disinformation campaign that dates to the 2014 ouster, amid fierce protests and rioting, of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, an outcome Putin never accepted.

Putin responded by sending occupying forces into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and inciting a deadly separatist war in the eastern Ukraine provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. To justify this new invasion, Putin unilaterally declared the provinces independent and cited their appeal for protection from Ukraine.

But Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is not “usurping the power” of the Ukrainian people. Voters elected him with a 73% of the vote in 2019. Russia’s claims of election violations in Ukraine at the time have been thoroughly debunked, and independent international observers reported the elections as transparent, competitive and free.

Nazification ruse

Zelenskyy is Jewish. His great-grandfather and three great-uncles were killed in the Nazi Holocaust during WWII.

For their part, Ukrainian Jews are outraged by Putin’s use of “denazification” to try justifying sending troops into Ukraine, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper reported on the day of the invasion. Locals in Kyiv told the paper that “the Jews of Ukraine are an integral part of Ukrainian society, and we never faced Nazism here, or fascism, and we feel safe in Ukraine.”

The “Nazi” narrative has been a key part of the Russian disinformation campaign to justify the invasion. Putin, along with the top government official and state-controlled media, has been pushing the false narrative that Ukraine is “occupied by Nazis” ever since Russia took Crimea.

The Russian propaganda exaggerated and misrepresented the role neo-Nazi groups play in the Ukrainian military and government. In fact, it was mainly Russia’s 2014 invasion that gave rise to ultranationalist groups whose vigilante members vow to defend Ukraine against Russia, Reuters reported in 2018.

As for the need for “de-Nazification,” Ukraine has already been doing that job. Zelenskyy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko purged the police, the interior ministry, and the armed forces of far-right sympathizers, firing high-ranking officials.

The current government in Kyiv has firmly separated itself from affiliation with the neo-Nazis and condemned the glorification of Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazis in WWII.

Among those who spoke out forcefully was Zelenskyy. Following a Kyiv rally in May 2021, the Times of Israel reported, Zelenskyy issued a statement saying, “We categorically condemn any manifestation of propaganda of totalitarian regimes, in particular the National Socialist, and attempts to revise truth about World War II.”

Genocide falsehood

Putin’s reference to genocide in Ukraine has been dunked by journalists and fact-checkers. Among other things, Putin in the past has referred to the supposed discovery of mass graves in the separatist areas and alleged discrimination against Russian speakers and the Russian Orthodox Church.

“The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 14,000 lives since it broke out in 2014 but the casualties have been on both sides. Russian is still widely spoken in Ukraine and the government has not banned it, as Putin has claimed,” the independent Moscow Times said in a fact check that labeled Putin’s “genocide” claims as “unfounded accusations.”

After Putin made the genocide charge again this month, former Ukrainian ambassador to Austria, Olexander Scherba, wrote that pro-Russian occupiers in the separatist areas “have maintained a network of secretive detention centers and basement torture chambers that have drawn chilling comparisons with the worst excesses of the totalitarian 20th century.”

“Putin’s genocide allegations are not only groundless,” Scherba wrote for the Atlantic Council. “They represent a grotesque distortion of reality that seeks to blame the victims for a war of aggression orchestrated by Moscow that has killed thousands of Ukrainians and forced millions to flee their homes.”

The Russian independent rights watch website published a list of more than 1,700 people arrested on February 24 for protesting the war in Ukraine across Russian cities.

More than 150 Russian senior officials signed an open letter condemning Ukraine aggression as an “unprecedented atrocity” and blaming Putin personally for the “catastrophic consequences,” the Daily Mail reported. There “is not and cannot be justification” for Putin’s actions, the letter said.