In his announcement (at 20:02) of the special military operations, Vladimir Putin invoked article 51 of the UN charter, justifying these operations as self-defence. However, since Russia was never attacked by Ukrainian shelling, which was being carried out in Donbas and the proclamation of independence of Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republic didn't make them part of Russia, how did Russia invoke article 51? Can other states invoke article 51 for states they are allied with?


4 Answers 4


Russia's justification of its invocation of article 51 is based on its recognition of the DPR & LPR as independent states, combined with articles 3 and 4 of the treaties "of friendship and cooperation and mutual assistance" (Luhansk, Donetsk) ratified by the State Duma on February 22nd, which enshrines a commitment to mutual defence. The UN Charter explicitly recognises the right of collective self-defence in 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.

Article 3 and 4 of the above-mentioned treaties set out the basis for the mutual defence agreement, and article 4 even references the right to collective self-defence recognised by the UN Charter.

Article 3
The Contracting Parties will closely cooperate with each other in the defense of sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of the Russian Federation and the [Donetsk/Luhansk] People's Republic. They will consult without delay each time when, in the opinion of one of the Contracting Parties, there is a threat of attack against it, in order to ensure joint defence, maintenance of peace and mutual security. During these consultations, the need, types and amounts of assistance that one Contracting Party will provide to the other Contracting Party in order to help eliminate the threat that has arisen will be determined.

Article 4
The Contracting Parties shall jointly accept all measures available to them to eliminate a threat to the peace, a breach of the peace, as well as to counteract acts of aggression against them by any state or group of states and to provide each other with the necessary assistance, including military, in the exercise of the right to individual or collective self-defence in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter.

Of course, neither the DPR or LPR are members of the United Nations, so by my reading of the charter, article 51 would not apply in this case.

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    "by my reading of the charter, article 51 would not apply in this case": perhaps not in the strictest sense, but its inapplicability to this circumstance does not imply that something in the UN charter (or anywhere else) does impair the right of individual or collective self defense. In other words, a nation's right to such self defense does not flow from UN membership, and Luhansk and Donetsk must have that right in the eyes of any country that recognizes them as independent states. The only thing that impairs their right to self defense is a recognition that they are part of Ukraine.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 12:52
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    @phoog Yes, self-defense is known in international law, but not in article 51 of the UN convention without UN membership. The Russian law could have just said "self-defense" but it didn't. But even if, claiming self-defense without any UN basis in order to attack two days later really does pervert the concept of self-defense in that case. If you go down this way, you can do whatever you want and call it whatever you want. Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 13:29
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    @Trilarion I agree. I also wonder whether Russia reported its invasion in accordance with the terms of Article 51. Do you know?
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 13:44
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    @phoog it did - the Permanent Representative just attached a transcript of President Putin's address, see here
    – CDJB
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 13:51
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    You should note that the agreements only came to power on 25th, so even by Russian law standards there is no legal basis for the invasion on 24th. See the agreements published here and here (the original website for some reason doesn't load for me, thus the Wayback machine). Commented Mar 12, 2022 at 9:23

To rephrase this for us not-so-bright guys, Russia is using the old, old trick "we're not invading -- we were invited to defend the true government from these usurpers".

The US tried this back in the Bay of Pigs. The invasion force wasn't expected to beat Cuba's army. They were supposed to do just well enough to seem like a rebel movement, then call in help from the US. The US invasion of Iraq was the same. It was partly covered by the Iraqi National Congress. These were Iraqis in exile, and they were a "Congress", so it was like "see, the real government is asking us".

That stuff is all pretty weak, but it's important to have something to tell your own citizens. It helps other countries who want an excuse to stay out of it. It's good for the history books if you win, to say you were a liberator.

On to Russia. You may recall that years ago, Putin made a big deal about how the more Russian-speaking part of Ukraine is being oppressed. He sent in disguised Russian troops which took over a small area and eventually called it a new country. 150 years ago the US recognized part of Mexico as a new country named "Texas" and got away with it; so the trick works.

This new claim makes no sense — Russia is defending a small part of Ukraine that they partly conquered from possibly being taken back? But it makes as much sense as those things always do. It's also the totally obvious thing to say. The only strange part is how they didn't seem to be able to find some Ukrainian mayor or something to say it for them: "as a loyal representative of New Eastern Ukraine, we welcome Russia's aid".

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    The US invasion of Iraq was the same. It was partly covered by the Iraqi National Congress. No, it was not. The reasons listed don't come close to even pretending to claim Saddam Hussein's government was not the legitimate sovereign of Iraq.
    – Just Me
    Commented Mar 12, 2022 at 17:09
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    The assertions about the Bay of Pigs are also wrong. The direct goal of the Bay of Pigs was to have Cuban dissidents overthrow the Castro government, but it was poorly planned and executed (Castro knew all about it). If what you say is correct, the US should have launched a full scale invasion. Instead, the CIA launched Operation Mongoose, which again tried clandestine tactics that also failed.
    – Machavity
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 16:06
  • @Machavity The stealth operation was because the US, politically, couldn't just invade. You may recall that Cuban exiles were long angry at Kennedy since the plan was to later provide US support to finish the take-over. He declined after deciding it looked less like helping freedom fighters and more like a US invasion. I'm sorry I can't recall names of any good books. Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 18:13
  • @JustMe Well sure, "replacing a dictator" isn't a UN-approved reason to invade. But the INC was latched onto early, was used pre-pre-war to drum up US support, and Chalabi was later installed as president. Later it was part of the "we're replacing a dictator" settled on after nukes and WMD petered out. The INC as the True Government was never very believable and, clearly, wasn't all that memorable -- much like Putin's latest excuse in this Q! Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 18:26
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    @OwenReynolds Sure, that's why that's not mentioned at all in the actual Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq. You know more about what the people who wrote and voted on that than the people who wrote and voted on it themselves. Sure you do.
    – Just Me
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 19:09

how did Russia invoke article 51

Simply by saying it in the Russian Federal laws signed on 22th February.

However the validity of this approach has also been rejected by for example the secretary general of the UN expressed that "such a unilateral measure conflicts directly with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations – and is inconsistent with the so-called Friendly Relations Declaration of the General Assembly which the International Court of Justice has repeatedly cited as representing international law."

Also the armed attack in article 51 "...inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations" has been highly contested. In the end, it was the other way around. Russia started an armed attack on Ukraine instead.

So additionally to DPR and LPR not being members of the UN as pointed out by CDJB's answer the required armed attack on DPR and LPR is problematic.

Finally article 51 speaks of keeping the peace "...measures necessary to maintain international peace and security....". Russia failed spectacularly at that. Two days after that laws were adopted they invaded the remaining parts of Ukraine which is the opposite of maintaining international peace and security.

All in all it looks like a distortion of the language of international law, where self-defense is taken as justification for a subsequent invasion of a foreign country. The meaning of peace keeping is more or less completely lost in that context.

  • This does not seem to address the question or to add anything useful to CDJB's answer beside opinions.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Mar 11, 2022 at 19:11
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    @Relaxed: The first line of the answer does add the detail of the specific laws signed on the 22nd of February that are what's invoking the article 51 measures. Commented Mar 12, 2022 at 3:40
  • @Relaxed It adds the links to the original laws and highlights more specific content in article 51 like the requirement for an armed attack or the purpose of keeping the peace. It also points out that the latter has not been achieved, quite the opposite, and that is much more important than LPR and DPR not being UN members I would say. The opinion of the UN secretary general is important in this context. I plan to ask a meta question. about how much or how little context is appropriate for such questions. See also the other answer by Owen Reynolds. Commented Mar 12, 2022 at 11:08
  • This seems like a typical, fine, dry answer to a neutral Q about how a political process works. The Q asked about article 51, and here are the details. I felt my answer was a diversion from the normal rules here -- a mix of slapping down propaganda Q's, and analysis. The problem with analysis is you can't provide useful citations. It ventures into "rant" territory. Dealing with hot-topic propaganda -- there's a Q about that on meta now (I think). Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 18:42

Without any grounds

The chapter 51 allows self defense in case of the armed invasion against a member of UN. There was no armed invasion as done by Ukraine into the territory of Russian Federation. V.Putin talks about the DPR and LPR. These are not members of UN.

There is no ground to apply this chapter.

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    I don't think this is a useful answer. The question doesn't ask if the grounds are reasonable, rational. If Putin had said "I invoke article 51 because the pink elephants of the Dombas are threatened by Nigerian tennis players" those would be the grounds. As the answers above demonstrate, he did give grounds - and the fact that these are spurious doesn't change that fact. hence my -1
    – James K
    Commented Oct 22, 2022 at 21:52
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    @JamesK I think the current wording of the question allows this answer. The question is "on what grounds," not "on what stated grounds." Since Donbas is not a UN member, there were no actual grounds. And that is what this answer states. "None" has to be an answer available for any "which" question and should be regarded as the correct answer if the "none" answer can be supported with evidence.
    – wrod
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 0:01
  • There are no rational and reasonable grounds and there are no irrational and unreasonable grounds either. There are no any grounds, and the answer says that.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 16:46

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