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There have been several claims since the Russian Federation attacked Ukraine the 24th of Feb that it violated international laws, and such claims have been made several times since the Crimea got annexed.

Did the Russian Federation violate any international law since 2014 in Ukraine? And if so, how?


EDIT: Here are some claims :

"Putin violates all international law principles" -- E. Macron, president of French Republic

"Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to recognize the independence of self-proclaimed entities "LPR/DPR" is in breach of international law and a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine" -- B. Johnson, prime minister of UK

"This is a grave breach of international law & a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security," -- NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

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    Can you cite some specific claims to we know what kind of international laws you're talking about. Are you asking if the invasion itself is against international law? Or are you asking about some other action, either if it occurred or, given that it occurred, would it be against international law?
    – divibisan
    Feb 25, 2022 at 22:44
  • @divibisan I'm mostly talking about claims that came as reactions to the Russian invasion (and a lot of those claims came from western leaders). I edited my post to add examples.
    – vmonteco
    Feb 25, 2022 at 23:13
  • Surely this belongs to law.stackexchange.com
    – Greendrake
    Feb 25, 2022 at 23:34
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    @Greendrake Not according to Von Clausewitz.
    – Graham
    Feb 26, 2022 at 13:10

2 Answers 2

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The EU Council has accused Russia of multiple breaches of international laws and agreements, and has helpfully enumerated them in its condemnation of its actions:

On 22 February 2022, the High Representative issued a declaration on behalf of the Union condemning the decision of the President of the Russian Federation to recognise the non-government controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine as independent entities and the ensuing decision to send Russian troops into those areas. That illegal act further undermines Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence and is a severe breach of international law and international agreements, including the UN Charter, Helsinki Final Act, Paris Charter and Budapest Memorandum, as well as of the Minsk Agreements and UN Security Council Resolution 2202 (2015).

Taking these in turn:-

The UN Charter

Paragraph 4 of Article 2 of the UN Charter states the following:

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.

The Helsinki Final Act 1975

You can more or less take your pick here - from Article I: Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty, Article II: Refraining from the threat or use of force, Article III: Inviolability of frontiers, Article IV: Territorial integrity of States, Article V: Peaceful settlement of disputes, and Article VI: Non-intervention in internal affairs, there seem to be good arguments that Russia has not abided by its commitments under this Act.

The Paris Charter 1990

The Paris Charter contains, amongst other relevant statements, the following declaration:

In accordance with our obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and commitments under the Helsinki Final Act, we renew our pledge to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or from acting in any other manner inconsistent with the principles or purposes of those documents. We recall that non-compliance with obligations under the Charter of the United Nations constitutes a violation of international law.

We reaffirm our commitment to settle disputes by peaceful means. We decide to develop mechanisms for the prevention and resolution of conflicts among the participating States.

Budapest Memorandum 1994

The first two articles of this agreement, signed in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons, state:

  1. The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the CSCE Final Act, to respect the Independence and Sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.
  2. The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Minsk Agreements/Security Council Resolution 2202

As I discussed further in my answer here, recognition of the two separatist republics, DPR & LPR constituted a breach of point 9 of Minsk II. In the Security Council Resolution, President Putin reaffirmed his “full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

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    Excellent. A better answer than mine in terms of citations to authority.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 26, 2022 at 0:27
  • If one works from the assumption that Donetsk and Luhansk are not Ukraine, then none of the accusations stand. And we know that the Russians are working from that assumption. The only one that is debatable seems to be the Budapest Memorandum, regarding the then-current Ukrainian borders.
    – dotancohen
    Apr 24, 2022 at 9:50
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International law, subject to exceptions not applicable here, forbids invading and conquering other sovereign nations. Therefore, Russia clearly violated international law by doing so. In particular, the charter of the United Nations, to which Russia is a signatory, provides that:

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.

In the cases of Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine in 2014, it could claim that it was vindicating the self-determination rights of ethnic Russian in those parts of the Ukraine. But no such justification can excuse its February 24, 2022 invasion of the Ukraine in a massive, unprovoked attack across the range of its territory in places to which there is no self-determination claim.

Of course, just because acts violate international law, doesn't mean there is a tribunal to adjudicate the claimed violations.

Essentially all international law is merely a diplomatic justification for taking actions to punish a country that violates international law and to assist victims of violations of international law. It justifies self-help by the Ukraine in the form of military action by its forces, and it justifies others in aiding the Ukraine, while implicating countries that assist Russia in its wrongdoing (e.g. Belarus).

It is conceivable that the details of the way that the Russian invasion of the Ukraine may violate other international law provisions such as the Geneva Conventions (which relate to the manner in which war is conducted, rather than the justifications for going to war at all that are valid), but the fog of war is such that it is difficult to sort out those details at this early stage of the conflict.

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