Is Putin’s War Legal?

A thorough examination of legal precedent is necessary before coming to snap conclusions about Russia’s invasion, including what St. Thomas Aquinas has to do with Vladimir Putin, writes Joe Lauria.

The First International Peace Conference, the Hague, May – June 1899 Delegates to the Conference which was called by the Tsar of Russia to discuss world disarmament. (Imperial War Museum/Wikimedia Commons)

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

As Michael Brenner humorously pointed out in these pages last week, it has apparently become obligatory for any commentator on the Ukraine war to state upfront that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is “illegal” before proceeding to list reasons why the U.S. and NATO bear responsibility for what Russia has done. 

This declaration of “illegality,” however, is almost never accompanied by a detailed analysis of why it is illegal. The statement stands on its own, intended, it seems, to protect the author from the out-of-control barrage of criticism and censorship being widely leveled at anyone not strictly toeing the line against Russia.  

Given the complexities of international law and the Ukraine situation, an explanation is indeed needed before passing legal judgement on Russia’s military action. That is precisely what military analyst Scott Ritter has given Consortium News readers in his article published Tuesday, “Russia, Ukraine, & the Law of War: Crime of Aggression.”

Why History Matters  

Ritter goes back to Hugo Grotius, a 17th century Dutch legal scholar, to begin his modern history of the laws of war. Laws of war go back to the Code of Hammurabi in 2000 B.C. Babylonia; the Mahabharata in India (“One should not attack chariots with cavalry; chariot warriors should attack chariots”); the Hebrew Bible (“When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it”); and the Quran (“Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors”).

The western tradition of laws of war was established in ancient Greece, where it was decreed that:

  • “War should be openly declared and have a legitimate cause if the gods’ favor was to be expected.
  • A pledged word must be kept. Oaths, sworn to the gods and accompanied by a sacrifice or libations, guaranteed treaties, truces and other agreements.”

Aristotle wrote: “The proper object of practising military training is not in order that men may enslave those who do not deserve slavery, but in order that first they may themselves avoid becoming enslaved to others” (Politics, Book 7).

Rome developed a concept of “just cause” for war, such as repelling an invasion or retaliating for pillage, codified by Cicero in De Officiis (On Duties or On Obligations) in 44 B.C. At some points during the Roman era priests were required to ritually declare a just war, but this appears to have fallen out of favor once the Republic became an Empire. Julius Caesar for one is known to have ignored the requirements of just war. 

The Miracle of St. Thomas Aquinas, Carafa Chapel, 1491 by Filippino Lippi. (Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

In the Christian era, the theory of just war was developed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century from earlier writings of St. Augustine, who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries. In  Summa Theologica, Aquinas wrote that a war is just when it is commanded by a sovereign, when it avenges wrong to punish evildoers and with the aim of achieving peace: 

“In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior.

A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.

True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good. … The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.”

The Roman Catholic Church still adheres to Augustine’s just war theory, though it has been under pressure to move away from it. 

The Modern Era

Until the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, the Lieber Code signed in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln set out the rules of conduct during war for Western nations, for instance regarding the treatment of spies, deserters and prisoners. It contained probably the first prohibition against rape during war.  The Hague Conventions further elaborated the laws of war and included procedures for states to declare war on one another. 

It was not until the U.N. Charter of 1945 that this power to declare war was restricted to two specific instances, as Ritter lays out. The first is invocation of Article 51 of the Charter, the right to self-defense, and the second is through authorization of a U.N. Security Council resolution. Thus the rights of a sovereign to declare war, from ancient, through medieval and modern times, was abrogated.

Iraq Wars

A tile painting of Saddam Hussein, on display at the Imperial War Museum. (Matt Buck/Flickr)

Some writers on the Ukraine war who condemn Russia for an illegal act compare it to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq as an equal act of aggression. 

The phrase “false equivalency” was the mantra of U.S. cold warriors whenever someone pointed out that when the U.S.  accused the Soviet Union, it was also guilty of wrongdoing.  Since we are in a new cold war, the slogan is making a comeback. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. uttered it recently in response to the Russian ambassador telling the Security Council that when it comes to invasions, Russia could not compete with the U.S. 

Comparing the U.S. invasion of Iraq to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a false equivalency on several grounds. The U.S. cried self defense, but Iraq was never remotely a threat to the territory of the United States, especially when the basis for this supposed threat, the existence of weapons of mass destruction, turned out to be cruelest lie of the century so far. There also weren’t thousands of Americans killed in a civil war inside Iraq, which is nearly 10,000 kilometers away from Washington. Ukraine borders Russia, where NATO has been nearing.

Ritter goes into great detail about how the U.S. finessed the law, or outright tried to create new legal arguments to get around the U.N. Charter in order to invade Iraq in 2003, as it had earlier bombed Serbia over Kosovo in 1999. 

The 2003 invasion was denounced as “illegal” by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and nearly everyone in Washington now says it was maybe the biggest foreign policy blunder in U.S. history. As WikiLeaks has revealed, not only was the crime of aggression committed, but also war crimes against civilians during the course of the war. And yet no one in government, the military or the media has paid a price. 

It’s not just in Iraq and Serbia that the U.S. has made a mockery of the laws of war. There are abundant small examples from more obscure wars, like the 1989 invasion of Panama in which an entire poor neighborhood was pulverized, thousands of civilians were killed and there was no Security Council authorization. The U.S. said saving American lives allowed them to invade.

Then there was the time the U.S. massaged the law in the 1983 invasion of Grenada, which The New York Times — by today’s standards — took a very skeptical view of. In an article titled, “Legal Basis for Invasion,” the Times concludes that there wasn’t much of one.

“The rationale suggested by the State Department today might be a significant departure insofar as it purports to provide a basis for ignoring the international law rules against invasions and interventions in the affairs of sovereign states whenever a few countries get together to form a collective security treaty,” the Times wrote on Oct. 27, 1983.

Putin’s Reasons to Invade

Putin announcing military operation against Ukraine on Feb. 24. (AP screenshot)

In an impassioned televised address on Feb. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin laid out why he was sending Russian troops into Ukraine.

He made a point of how the U.S. had treated international law and the laws of war:

“First a bloody military operation was waged against Belgrade, without the UN Security Council’s sanction but with combat aircraft and missiles used in the heart of Europe. The bombing of peaceful cities and vital infrastructure went on for several weeks. I have to recall these facts, because some Western colleagues prefer to forget them, and when we mentioned the event, they prefer to avoid speaking about international law. 

Then came the turn of Iraq, Libya and Syria. The illegal use of military power against Libya and the distortion of all the UN Security Council decisions on Libya ruined the state, created a huge seat of international terrorism, and pushed the country towards a humanitarian catastrophe, into the vortex of a civil war, which has continued there for years. The tragedy, which was created for hundreds of thousands and even millions of people not only in Libya but in the whole region, has led to a large-scale exodus from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe.

A similar fate was also prepared for Syria. The combat operations conducted by the Western coalition in that country without the Syrian government’s approval or UN Security Council’s sanction can only be defined as aggression and intervention.

But the example that stands apart from the above events is, of course, the invasion of Iraq without any legal grounds. They used the pretext of allegedly reliable information available in the United States about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. To prove that allegation, the US Secretary of State held up a vial with white power, publicly, for the whole world to see, assuring the international community that it was a chemical warfare agent created in Iraq.

It later turned out that all of that was a fake and a sham, and that Iraq did not have any chemical weapons. Incredible and shocking but true. We witnessed lies made at the highest state level and voiced from the high UN rostrum. As a result we see a tremendous loss in human life, damage, destruction, and a colossal upsurge of terrorism.

Overall, it appears that nearly everywhere, in many regions of the world where the United States brought its law and order, this created bloody, non-healing wounds and the curse of international terrorism and extremism.”

Putin said the military operation he was launching was a “question of life or death” for Russia, referring to NATO’s expansion east since the late 1990s. He said:

“For the United States and its allies, it is a policy of containing Russia, with obvious geopolitical dividends. For our country, it is a matter of life and death, a matter of our historical future as a nation. This is not an exaggeration; this is a fact. It is not only a very real threat to our interests but to the very existence of our state and to its sovereignty. It is the red line which we have spoken about on numerous occasions. They have crossed it.”

Putin said he was also acting to save Russian speakers (many who have Russian passports) from a renewed offensive against them after eight years of attacks because they had rejected the 2014 U.S.-backed coup and declared independence from Ukraine. He said NATO and Ukraine:

“… did not leave us [Russia] any other option for defending Russia and our people, other than the one we are forced to use today. In these circumstances, we have to take bold and immediate action. The people’s republics of Donbass have asked Russia for help. In this context, in accordance with Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, with permission of Russia’s Federation Council, and in execution of the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, ratified by the Federal Assembly on February 22, I made a decision to carry out a special military operation.”

How is that any different from the U.S. invading Panama in 1989 to “save American lives?”

Any nation state can legally ask another state to send them combat troops, such as Russia has done at the request of the Syrian government. At that point Russia was the only country in the world that recognized the Donbass republics. The Montevideo Convention of 1933 says that to be an independent state, it must possess a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to conduct international relations.  It says nothing about how many other states must recognize it.

Putin may have considered invoking the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect to intervene to stop a massacre in Donbass, but Russia has not fully embraced the doctrine as it can be seen to hide ulterior motives, and it also requires authorization by a U.N. Security Council resolution, which the U.S., Britain and France would surely have vetoed.

In assessing Putin’s motives one sees that he is the sovereign who took the decision to avenge wrongdoing against ethnic Russians in Ukraine with his stated aim to restore peace and end the 8-year civil war rather than aggrandize power. Putin’s stated motives and reasoning exactly fit the three points of Aquinas’ just war theory, which the Catholic Church still actively supports. Aquinas, however, has no sway over the secular U.N. Security Council. 

[The Russian Orthodox Church considers Western theology’s just war theory applicable, and “does not prohibit her members from participating in hostilities if there is the security of their neighbors and the restoration of trampled justice at stake.”]

The Law of the Jungle

Pundit Caitlin Johnstone on March 17 pointed out the view of David McBride, an Oxford-educated Australian military lawyer who went to the media to blow the whistle on evident Australian war crimes in Afghanistan. He faces imprisonment. McBride tweeted:

McBride went on to tweet:

We will pay a heavy price for our hubris of 2003 in the future. We didn’t just fail to punish Bush and Blair: we rewarded them. We re-elected them. We knighted them. If you want to see Putin in his true light imagine him landing a jet and then saying ‘Mission Accomplished.’ The justifications for the invasions of both Iraq and Ukraine are very similar: ‘They were hurting their own ppl. They have bad stuff that could harm us. We warned them to stop, or else. We had no choice but to step in to defend ourselves.’ The Russians didn’t blackmail the UN.”

Neither an Article 51 self-defense measure, nor a collective security resolution was ever passed by the Security Council. Therefore, according to the strict letter of today’s law, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal. But after what the U.S. has done tragically to the laws of war and the jungle it has created, it hardly seems to matter anymore. 

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe  

48 comments for “Is Putin’s War Legal?

  1. robert e williamson jr
    March 31, 2022 at 18:36

    David McBride’s cop out equals the three statements in his answer. Not surprising all three comments can be very accurately applied to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

    My answer to the same question is, “Sure it is the same as in the case of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.”

    What is a more interesting question is did the Saudis push the U.S. into filling a foregone desire when no actual immediate threat to the USA was present. Interesting because the U.S. essentially pushed Putin into this, which cold have been avoided.

    That is of course unless one believes totally in the unitary executive theory. See GW Bush, the village idiot from Crawford Texas and his gang of thugs.

    So the answer, the correct answer is ‘Yes!” It is illegal same as the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The facts are there never was a credible threat from Iraq toward the U.S. while the same is simply not true in the case of Russia and Ukraine. Consider the NEOCONS ,who are so fond of saying the metrics that apply to each case are vastly different.. If not for U.S. bullheadedness Ukraine could have been avoided. The truth hurts it hurts worse if you’re stupid. And the state department played a stupid role in this, because they had an alternative motive, they want to break the back of Russia as if it hasn’t been broken already. Friggin’ pitiful !

    • robert e williamson jr
      April 1, 2022 at 15:37

      The fish are not biting. I can’t seem to get a strike here. Maybe my bait stinks or I have an ugly boat!

      Okay the fun is over!

      I agree that international law is meaningless. The attempt has failed and needs to be re-worked, which in today’s world of instantaneous communications and satellite imagery should be a functional manageable method to police world order. Say some software similar to the PROMIS break through of so many years ago. See the current mess in the Ukraine and how easy it is for the biased media to produce bogus information, information that can be refuted rather quickly all things considered.

      In my statement above I tried to get the message across that if the rabid dog is truly dangerous and that fact is widely known wouldn’t the prudent action to be to not provoke the animal, especially when the provocation would result in injury and death to innocents.

      I do not see in any case where Putin can be forgiven for his actions.

      What is it that is always said when someone shoots up his workplace or some other perceived “target” in the persons addled brain? The person was disgruntled for some unknown reason, they had been involved in a love affair, they had been screwed over by those they worked for or with or simply bullied. SNAP!

      So far at least from what I see in so many of these case the subject receives some very harsh treatment and rightfully so. Those others who bear some responsibility are left to deal with their own conscious and never really pursued in any meaningful way to address the situation or set of issues.

      But what about those provocations, are they meaningless and if so why? As Jeff Harrison clearly points out some very serious changes need to take place if there are to be any expectations of improving living conditions on a dying planet.

      Now for Jeff’s last sentence!

      The U.S. needn’t be defanged for this latest “tailor made “crisis, depending on how the defanging occurs and to whom. So I agree to a certain extent but it remains that now and again we will have to deal with those who fall to acting and reacting with violence. Something the US excels at.

      Had a functioning world court existed, one with history of practicing fair and equal justice to all I’m doubting the US would have responded to 911 in the manner they did. No court existed the NEOCONs followed their plan and broke about every law in the book invading Iraq.

      These NEOCONS have been spoiled by the system they love to tout, that ” Unitary Executive Theory” which allows who ever controls the halls of justice and the SCOTUS to do as they wish. Currently in this country no apparent voice of opposition to this theory exists because neither ruling party seems to see any problems with things as they are now.

      I see this as a terrifying state of affairs, given some of the activities this country engages in claiming to act in the interest of democracy which has clearly not been the case. Or in the interest of national security which they can construe to mean anything and then having the power to classify any and all information because of their “sources and methods” caveat. A practice seems to have created an alternate universe for these crazies.

      What we witness in Ukraine is the same old story of U.S. interventions throughout the history of our intelligence communities. Except for one really major difference, Putin and Russia have nuclear weapons.

      So Americans might want to ask themselves just how comfortable they are having men never justifying their actions pushing relations with a nuclear power to the breaking point, and lying about their actions the entire time.

      This my friends is some insane bullshit and everyone should see this for exactly what it is. Time is up these people have lost it.

      Our first step to recovering our country from the NEOCONs and the Deep State is to defang those who work to pervert our system of justice through covert means. Then we can move on to repairing what might be left of the UN and the International Criminal Court remembering of course that those who oppose those efforts are THE BAD GUYS!

      This cannot be explained away or ignored any longer we are at the tipping point because I believe much of the remaining world powers see that the US President has no clothes.

      With the current vilification of anyone who seems to speak out against US actions in Ukraine or in support of Putin and Russia we see the obvious danger of the country being taken over by individuals who refuse to do their dirty work in the light of day.

      I’m thinking it is time for everyone to realize that the presidents of both parties seem al to eager to embrace the “unitary executive theory”, only by waking the hell up do “we the people” have any chance of altering the course of the ship of state into less turbulent waters.

      Doesn’t anyone see this “Slow Con’ for what it is?

      Now I need to go out doors and scout for drones.

      Thanks CN

    • Hank
      April 2, 2022 at 09:26

      If Ukranian forces were ready to pounce upon the Donbass region in an all-out massacre of Russian “separatists”, then how can Putin’s operation be considered illegal, especially since all diplomatic efforts were a waste of time on Russia’s part? The “invasion” was what the West wanted, using Ukrainians as sacrificial lambs. If someone saw his daughter being attacked/raped would he just sit there and do nothing? If he did he would be considered a coward!

  2. Jeff Harrison
    March 31, 2022 at 11:08

    The reality is that international law is meaningless. The same problem came up with the League of Nations. The “Great Powers” ignore it and do whatever the hell it is they want. If you’re the US, who possesses the world’s finest propaganda operation and the world’s currency, you can do exactly what the Russians are doing (and worse) and nobody bans your cats or freezes your overseas assets. Until all nations are held to the same standard of behavior, nothing will improve although most of the world is not participating in the US’s new Russia sanctions frenzy and we are in the process of dethroning our own currency from its privileged position. Unfortunately, defanging the US won’t solve that problem and ultimately as one sees in the capture that the US has on the UN, we will still have the problem of quis custodiet ipsos custodes.

  3. Peter Loeb
    March 31, 2022 at 09:41

    When analysts carefully go over points of the UN Charter it is an admirable but rather meaningless
    exercise. I recall Vijay Prashad’s comment that major powers never seem to follow the UN Charter.

    What about Israel? Israel claims self-defense when they took over the Golan Heights which was once part of
    Syria. As I have pointed out previously, in his presentation of The Truman Doctrine (1947) Truman cut out all
    references to the UN Charter in White House drafts . (See Joyce and Gabriel Kolko, “The Limits of
    Power”, Chapter 12). It would also be great if everyone followed the Ten Commandments. But as we all know,
    they don’t.

  4. Cynic
    March 31, 2022 at 09:19

    (It seems the UN debate about the Russian military action in Ukraine may not have been entirely insignificant – it initiated an investigation aimed at legal prosecution, via Resolution 49/1 of 4 March 2022
    As has been remarked before, amazing how the US never suffers such prosecution.)

    UN Establishes War Crimes Tribunal To Probe Russian Actions In Ukraine

    On Wednesday the United Nations formally established a war crimes investigative tribunal, naming three human rights experts to initiate a probe into Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, amid allegations of “indiscriminate” bombardment of civilians and other acts of aggression toward non-combatants.

    What’s been dubbed an “independent” panel is to be led by Erik Mose of Norway, and tasked with looking into human rights abuses “in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation,” according to a statement.

    It’s expected to issue a report of initial findings in September. Reuters profiles lead investigator Mose as “a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights and former president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda who also served as a judge on Norway’s Supreme Court.”


    President of Human Rights Council appoints members of investigative body in Ukraine

    … resolution 49/1 of 4 March 2022, adopted at an “urgent debate”, the Human Rights Council decided to establish an independent international commission of inquiry, comprising three experts appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council. The Commission of Inquiry was mandated to “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law and related crimes in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation.”

    The three-person Commission was further requested “to collect, consolidate and analyse evidence of such violations and abuses, including their gender dimension, and to systematically record and preserve all information, documentation and evidence, including interviews, witness testimony and forensic material, consistent with international law standards, in view of any future legal proceedings”

  5. Ian Stevenson
    March 31, 2022 at 07:34

    I thought this might be a useful contribution to the debate

    • March 31, 2022 at 19:18

      I didn’t see its value. It doesn’t deal with the issue at hand: Why Russia but not the U.S. or the U.K. or Poland? Why Putin, but not Bush (both of them)? Why Putin but not Bill Clinton, Obama, or Tony Blair, or Hillary Clinton? I see no moral value in Philippe Sands rush to judgement when he did squat about the U.S. role in genocides around the world.

  6. March 31, 2022 at 00:35

    Those who truly “Stand with Ukraine” would welcome the removal of its US puppet ruler Volodymr Zelensky, the eradication of his 30 US-operated bio-laboratories and the eradication of his neo-nazi Azov Battalian footsoldiers.

    The fact that 70% of Ukrainians voted for Volodymyr Zelensky when he stood as a peace candidate in 2019 shows what most Ukrainians think of 2014 Maidan coup, its US facilitators and their neo-nazi Azov battalion allies. Of course Zelensky has since shown himself to be no less crooked than his predecessor Poroshenko and has allowed the war to continue.

    Like Paul Craig Roberts I fear that Russia may end its Special Military Operation with Zelensky and his minders still in power. Were that to occur I truly fear for those courageous Ukrainians who showed their support for the Russian Army against the neo-nazis. Many of those would face the same fate as the mayor of Struk who spoke up against the Kiev regime. He was subsequently murdered and his body left on the streets (see hxxps://

    • Theo
      March 31, 2022 at 11:38

      I agree 100%. There’s nothing more to say. ?

  7. William H Warrick III MD
    March 31, 2022 at 00:09

    Yes, it is an actual, real case R2P. Novorussiya has been an integral part of Russia for hundreds of years. Crimea is where Prince Vladimir was Baptized into the Orthodox Christian Faith and the majority of the people there are Russian. This is a No Brainer.

      March 31, 2022 at 01:40

      But invoking the R2P doctrine requires approval by the UN Security Council, which the US would have vetoed. It was not an option.

  8. Rob Roy
    March 30, 2022 at 22:51

    Good to see two great reporters together. I thought the UN Charter allowed a pre-emptive strike against a country who is threatening another with imminent attack which is part of what Putin claimed in his speech before invading. He felt he had no other choice. He’s tried for years to befriend America to no avail. All US coups and wars since WWII are illegal. No country was ever threatening us with imminent attack, no matter what the false flags claimed. With the coup by the US in 2014 and the ensuing 8-year war on Russian-speakers, he knew Clinton meant it when she said when she was president, she would attack Iran and then create a regime-change in Russia. If that doesn’t make the invasion legal, I wonder what would. The fact she wasn’t elected made no difference to the US. Biden is president just as he was vice-president when he helped kick Yanukovich out of office. No president since has been/is legal in Ukraine. Zelenskiy doesn’t want to be killed by Nazis, so he goes along with the Nazi military (Azov Battalion, Right Sector, Svoboda, Stefan Bandera followers). He also has no common sense when calling for more and more arms and especially a No-Fly zone. When people talk about the reasons Putin went into Ukraine and I say, “what else was he supposed to do?” they attack me viciously. No one ever listened to the man and now he’s at war. We can blame the US and its minions for this disaster. If people deny the intent of the US and the legitimate fear of Putin/Russia, I suggest they read the released National Archives regarding the broken promises of the US. The censorship nowadays is appalling.

      March 31, 2022 at 01:44

      The UN Charter does not allow a pre-emptive strike. It permits action only in response to an armed attack.

      Article 51:
      “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence 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-defence 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.”

      • Joseph
        March 31, 2022 at 05:25

        The U.S has been on a Russian Jihad obsessively for years doing its best to goad and taunt until now, it strategy has tragically culminated in the Ukrainian destruction. We must have an enemy that threatens us to justify the $900 billion defense spending. The Biden Administration led by its senile sometimes aggressive leader has turned the focus of its agenda to satisfy the neo-cons who believe that the U. S role in the world should be that of the conquering hero. The efforts to destroy Russia illustrate our mean spirited foreign policy regarding Russia which no regard to the individual Russian citizen who must bear the burden of a damaged economy and a country that is being shunned by the world community.

  9. peon d. rich
    March 30, 2022 at 20:36

    I believe in “Toward Perpetual Peace,” Kant asserted that another nation can come to the aid of one side during civil war. At the very least, the Donbas was in a state of civil war with the government in Kiev (which had come to power by covert actions of a foreign country – the U.S. – to subert and overthrow a sovereign government, which is something Kant explicitly condemned).

  10. JTMcPhee
    March 30, 2022 at 20:15

    Wasn’t the “just war” condition that the war must be declared by “the Sovereign’” rooted in the good old Divine Right of Kings, whereby the Sovereign was ipso facto the emissary on earth of God Almighty and hence must be acting in accord with the Divine Will?

    The clowns and idiots and thieves running the Western Empire sure seem to be at least sub silentio invoking this notion. Maybe the Russians have a better take on the situation. It’s not like there have not been massive turnovers of notions of the “law of nations” (sic) and how authority and dominion are distributed and administered in our human experience.

  11. Caliman
    March 30, 2022 at 19:18

    “Neither an Article 51 self-defense measure, nor a collective security resolution was ever passed by the Security Council. Therefore, according to the strict letter of today’s law, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal. But after what the U.S. has done tragically to the laws of war and the jungle it has created, it hardly seems to matter anymore.”

    Hmmm, but “hardly seems to matter anymore” answers a different question than whether the action was legal. As a UN member, and indeed a UNSC member, Russia has an obligation to act in a legal manner. It has not done so in this case. Just because the US and its lackeys have also been acting illegally in many many more cases over the past 70 plus years does not make Russia’s actions here legal.

    It is a different question whether Russia’s action here is just and moral. To answer that, we can look at just war doctrines quoted in the article and summarized nicely by JDD below. When we consider what was going on in the Donbas areas, what the threat of NATO membership and missile locations would have meant to world peace prospects (once Russia had truly impossible nuclear response timelines), etc. then it becomes clear that Russia HAD to act. Now, whether the actions taken beyond protecting Donbas Russians goes beyond Just War, we won’t know until the deeds are done. I trust nothing I hear from the war zone currently. But the limited number of civilian casualties after a month of war seems promising.

  12. Anon
    March 30, 2022 at 19:10

    Tnx Joe.
    Not my quote… but pertinent: “If it’s not practical, it’s not spiritual.”

  13. robert e williamson jr
    March 30, 2022 at 18:48

    Joe i just left a rather comment at Caitlins Re-Visiting Russia gate in light of Ukraine. Maybe I should have put it here, but I hadn’t read you stuff here yet.

    I do understand my blustery manner is a bad fit at times. I’m a layman in most respects to what goes in here, but like I’ve said free speech is free speech. That is until is causes someone harm. My intentions are that my words harm only those that the truth pains deeply because of their associated guilt to a specific issue or series of issues and events.

    History only matters if it is vetted, something the current use of the unitary executive theory prohibits by the enforcement of American law in a manner that hides the “sausage making process” from view.

    Now to read Scott’s latest!

    Respectfully BGrumpa!

  14. Cara
    March 30, 2022 at 17:57

    Excellent! Lauria’s and Ritter’s analyses on the legality of Russia’s military operation are invaluable. Consortium News continues to distinguish itself. Thank you!!

  15. Lois Gagnon
    March 30, 2022 at 15:42

    I find it astonishing that anyone in the Global West believes anything official sources tell them about Russia and Ukraine. It’s a testament to the sophistication of the propaganda system that Caitlin Johnstone writes about.

    It will be interesting to see if that dynamic changes as the US/NATO empire loses power. The fear factor should fade and with any luck, international law may have a chance to be resurrected. Should we survive this crisis that is.

  16. rosemerry
    March 30, 2022 at 15:11

    Thank you for a very interesting and important article. I would be interested also in the legal aspects of the draconian sanctions insisted upon by the USA and the EU, and followed to extreme lengths by so many other nations and individuals and businesses, with the aim to destroy the Russian state economically, culturally, in sports, literature, music, social dealings with their “people” with anyone from Russia. Even paralympics and other international sports, to animals and the USA forcing others to join its campaign. This would be serious enough to destroy Russia if Russia were not an outstanding example of resilience and determination, as well as brains and experience. To lose, or even to denigrate, any state is evil, but Russia surely has done no crime to deserve such “punishment”.

    • renate
      April 2, 2022 at 02:09

      Sanctions were on my mind too. Brutal sanctions are economic warfare to do harm to the most vulnerable, the young children. It is not only Russia, decades of sanctions against Cuba and sanctions against Venezuela, and now Afghanistan.

  17. jdd
    March 30, 2022 at 14:53

    Thank you Mr. Laura for coming forward with a discussion which is long overdue regarding the requiremenst for what can be considered a “just war,” To the criteria cited by St. Thomas Aquinas, that it be waged by a legitimate aithority, that it be waged for a just cause, such as to prevent the oppresion of or infliction of harm upon a population, and it be undertaken with the objective of securing a lasting peace. To those I would add the following two criteria used by St. Augustine. Specifically, that it be undertaken as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted, and that it be undertaken with the probabitiy of success. It would seem difficult to argue that Russia did not show great patience in waiting seven years of aggressio during which the Minsk Accords, signed by Ukraine and enshrined into interntional law by the UN Security were ignored by Ukraine with the complicity of the United States and its Western sponsors. As for the probabilty if success, certainly all but the most jaded of observors would admit that the overhwelming superiority of Russia’s forces have made the outcome a foregone conclusion, and one which has been carried out with exceptional effort made to avoid civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure. Basedon these five criteria of a “just war,” one then can be fairly confident that Russia’s Special Military Operation” falls within the parameters set by St. Augustine, which was the basis for the 1646 Peace of Westphalia, and has been accepted as doctrine, not only by most Protestant Churches, but by the Russian Orthodox Church as well.

  18. August Blom
    March 30, 2022 at 14:34

    I often wonder what the Founding Fathers would think about America becoming involved in all these world entanglements and behaving like the Empire they fought against to gain freedom and independence from.

    This country has lost so much of itself as it becomes consumed with being the world’s power.

    • March 30, 2022 at 22:41

      I never wonder about the “Founding Fathers.” They were just a bunch of wealthy slave owners and landowners. land stolen from the native people when their boat hit Plymouth rock. I do so disagree with Joe Lauria when, at the end of his essay he says: “Neither an article 51 self-defense measure, nor a collective security resolution was ever passed by the Security Council. Therefore, according to the strict letter of today’s law, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal.”

      When, after so many U.S. / NATO violations of “International Law” as you so eloquently pointed out, and as stated by the United Nation’s rules of war, without a peep from the U.N. , I would say the U.S. has overrode the U.N.’s rules for war and replaced it with the U.S. “Rules Based” law of wars (i.e. whatever the U.S. wants to do). You can’t declare one nation is in violation of the U.N. Charter while another (or others) are allowed to ignore the U.N. Charter on any occasion that suits it. That is not international law, because laws must be applied equally.

        March 31, 2022 at 01:48

        The article says according to the UN’s strict letter of the law the invasion is illegal but it also makes the same point you are making as well as that Russia’s actions appear to follow the just war theory.

      • March 31, 2022 at 11:30

        That’s unfortunate that you think that way about those men who really had wisdom collected from the ages of fallen Empires and governments. There were land purchases from the local indigenous populations which are lost to revisionist historians and the institution of slavery established by the British Empire was one of the evils they inherited and which they realized would have to dealt with. But not while creating a 8new fragile form of government. We all know how the issue of slavery was later resolved…

  19. Guy St Hilaire
    March 30, 2022 at 12:34

    It is extremely obvious ,the US would have never allowed the massacres perpetrated by the neo-nazis in the Donbass area, lets say Mexico or Canada ,had communists killing people because they did not want to kiss their feet and become communists .
    If one walks in another person’s shoes , a complete new reality emerges. The rhetoric of the aftermath of what Russia has done to protect the Russian people of the Donbass area ,has morphed into racism of extraordinary proportions .I am astonished of the North American response , just following the CNN etc. news without ever questioning the nature and history of the facts . Meanwhile it is the Ukrainian people that are suffering .All this could have been avoided .
    Thank you for this very apt article.

  20. March 30, 2022 at 11:58

    What, after all you wrote, you end with a view that the Russian operation in Ukraine is ILLEGAL??? But surely you know the UN I Security Council would only condemn Russia for this act of defense. Russia was in the right and for the reasons that Putin clearly stated. I have been a peacenik but if someone is raping me I will try to scratch their eyes out. I do not GET you.

      March 30, 2022 at 12:06

      It seems you did not get the article. It might require a second read.

  21. pennine(bethany-megan)
    March 30, 2022 at 11:48

    Great article, I’ve yet to read it all in it’s entirety. But am fed up (in the United Kingdom)of our biased media, ensuring that Russia takes the wrap, ‘those nasty Russians..” etc.. etc…
    What is omitted of course is the eight year suffering inflicted on the people of Eastern Ukraine. & How there are Nazis amidst their oppressive attackers. This would never be permitted in our land, nor the way Russians have been treated. How hypocritical are those complaining now, but who haven’t said a dicky bird over these past eight years!!!
    I sincerely pray & hope for peace for all people in Ukraine, and cessation of the injustice done to Eastern Ukraine.
    Yours Sincerely
    pennine(United Kingdom)

      March 30, 2022 at 12:07

      We do recommend you read it to the somewhat surprise ending.

  22. Eric Foor
    March 30, 2022 at 11:34

    The legality of any war is determined by who is writes the history at some point in the future. Since a nuclear war could eliminate a future (for any of the combatants) the concept of “legality” seems inconsequential. To survive a nuclear exchange the best possible tactic is to punch first with maximum force….damn any legality! Why anyone would want to live on such a devastated planet is why we all need to examine our own morality and extend an open hand of respect….even to our “so called enemies”…while we still have a choice.

  23. Vera Gottlieb
    March 30, 2022 at 10:05

    Why the need for headlines that only add fuel to this fire??? Was the war in Vietnam legal? Or the one in Iraq? Or so many other wars the US started all over the globe?

      March 30, 2022 at 11:17

      It seems you did not read the article. Please do so. Comments in reaction to headlines are not very insightful.

  24. Sam
    March 30, 2022 at 07:32

    Why do you say self-defence is not applicable? Aren’t the Russian speakers, being tormented for eight years by the Ukrainians, entitled to be defended by a neighbouring country, of which many are citizens? Wasn’t the war started when all other means failed, when the Ukrainian army was intensifying its bombardment towards an invasion of the Donbass? Isn’t Russia’s preemptive strike justified in law, if the danger of higher casualties is clear? These laws were designed – it seems – as general guidelines, with limitations that don’t fit many combinations of events. Two things are clear: it is not a war of aggression (no conquering of territory of other people) and it is not a war against peace (it is a war to establish long-lasting peace).

      March 30, 2022 at 11:54

      It seems you have not fully understood this article.

      • RS
        March 30, 2022 at 12:58

        It seems that many of the respondents lost the point of the final point of the article. I read that yes, the invasion of Ukraine was illegal from the strand-point of the UN, but the actions of the US in past wars tragically has made the point of legality non-existent.

          March 30, 2022 at 13:41

          And also that there is a connection between St. Thomas Aquinas, who well predated the fundamentally undemocratic UN Security Council, and Vladimir Putin.

          • renate
            April 2, 2022 at 02:38

            The big elephant in the room is the usurpation of the UN by the USA. No justice for the Palestinian people ever is possible as long as the USA has and uses the veto power.

    • March 30, 2022 at 22:55

      If Russia is in violation of a UN Law for defending, its own nation from the encroachment of NATO on it borders via Ukraine, and defending the Russian Speaking people of the Donbass, who have been attacked by Kiev Nazis, while the U.N. looks own without lifting a finger, then all I can say is that the U.N. laws are an ass. Biden has made it quite clear that NATO is about regime change in the Russian Federations. I take Biden at his word.

  25. James Simpson
    March 30, 2022 at 04:41

    It is close to impossible even to be given space to make this argument in Western media. Any comment I make which even hints at the West’s double standards on sites such as Mother Jones or The Conversation is not published. This piece gives us more information on the legality or otherwise of military acts by Russia, the UK and the USA. Thank you.

  26. Realist
    March 30, 2022 at 03:46

    As many noted at the time, Dubya Shrub just basically “wiped his ass” with the US constitution and also apparently with the relevant UN articles regulating the conduct of warfare. When it comes to Mr. Putin in the case of Ukraine, he seems to have given all due diligence to his paperwork, crossing every “T” and dotting every “I” in an extremely punctilious narrative. It seems that it was the UN Security Council, except for China, India and the UAE, that did all the ass wiping, with an urgent repeat performance later by most of the General Assembly.

  27. mgr
    March 30, 2022 at 03:34

    Excellent analysis as always by both Scott Ritter and Joe Lauria. When the passions calm, America will emerge from this latest adventure even more sordid than before. This is precisely and predictably what neocons do, without fail, every time. The fact that Nuland, Blinken & Co. are “Democrats” does not mean that they are rational. They are exactly dyed-in-the-wool neocons and the “DP” is now the party of neocons with all the attendant ideological stupidity and banality that it brings. So with the Biden admin, we have entered an era where there is no substantial difference between the “DP” and the GOP when it comes to the truly existential issues of wealth concentration, climate and war. Best to put that front and center in everyone’s understanding because I doubt it will change.

    In a nutshell, what is on display in Ukraine and has been in the world for quite a while now is America’s “international rules based order.” What a bunch of diddlysquat that is. What it means is simply “Our (America’s) rules, our orders.” Notably, there is no law here, only efforts to present a facade while actually undermining international law based on America’s embrace of “me first” and “might makes right.” The other nations of the world especially in the “West” that docilely accept this farce are despicable in their law breaking collusion and actions to enable this behavior. Behind every addict (and America is certainly addicted body and soul to the business of war and destruction) is an enabler, and their actions are key. They are as responsible for these outcomes as is US aggression.

  28. March 30, 2022 at 00:29

    John Heywood’s 1546 proverb “There are none so blind as those who will not see” suggests that understanding cannot be forced on someone who chooses to be ignorant. It can of course be forced unto those who have no choice.

    • Em
      March 30, 2022 at 12:10

      Ah! A good dose of wisdom is at least equivalent to the tool of sanity, for recalibrating the scales more accurately.

      Hypocrisy is the weight in the calculation that has to be dispensed with immediately!

      From ‘no choice’ in a unipolar configuration to a multipolar world where choice and concession are more optimal ways


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