Putin's Unjust War on Ukraine

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi
27 February 2022 | 14:53 Code : 2010181 Latest Headlines General category
Putin's Unjust War on Ukraine

As the Russia-Ukraine war rages on, from the theoretical perspective it raises the question of whether or not this can be described as a just war?  This question owes itself to the fact that there are alternative narratives advanced by the protagonists of both sides in this war, resulting in contrasting interpretations.  Thus, Russia has justified its military invasion of Ukraine on several inter-related grounds, namely, defense of the native Russians in eastern Ukraine subjected to 8 years of Ukrainian assaults, NATO's crossing the 'red line' by expanding eastward and raising the prospect of Ukraine's NATO membership, and the Kiev's government's failure to implement the Minsk Agreements that called for special status for the breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, granted independent status by Moscow immediately prior to its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  In addition, President Putin has added the issues of "de-Nazification" of the Ukrainian government and the need to prosecute the Ukrainian war criminals who are considered guilty of causing the death of thousands of civilians in eastern Ukraine.

The big question is, of course, whether or not Russia's stated justification meet the standards of just war, which centers on the concept of just cause?  A close scrutiny of this question requires an objective analysis that is not reductionist and or one-sided, taking into consideration international law and UN Charter.  As a UN member state, Russia is obligated to the pacific resolution of conflicts and war-avoidance, as well as respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other member states including Ukraine.  China despite its reservations about NATO's expansion, has articulated a nuanced position that confirms its respect for Ukraine's sovereignty, which has been violently breached by Russia.  Other countries including Iran should echo China's principled stance, which is simultaneously critical of NATO's expansion and the western insensitivity toward Russia's national security concerns, reflected in Russia's security proposal to the NATO countries last December, unwisely rejected by US government, which fanned the flames instead of acting responsibly toward a peaceful resolution of the Russia-Ukraine tensions, e.g., by ignoring the Russian calls for the return to Minsk Agreements for several months until on the eve of Russia's invasion.

For sure, future historians will examine with better grasp of historical facts as to why NATO persists in creating a security ring around Russia and refused the idea of a neutral Ukraine acting as a suitable buffer between NATO and Russia?  Was this a historic mistake or an inevitable byproduct of a security 'desire machine' on the part of a military alliance that in a certain sense has lost its original raison d'etre since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.  Despite the explicit pledges of no expansion to eastern Europe given to Russian leaders in 1990-91, as the historical record clearly indicates, the on-going NATO expansion has finally tested Russia's patience, thus constituting a major cause of the present conflict, as aptly described by the US international affairs specialist, professor Mearsheimer.  

And yet, from the prism of just war theories, we must avoid reductionist explanations and take into consideration the other intervening variables/causes as well as precipitating factors that are relevant to the question of just or unjust war in Ukraine.  In this connection, we need to factor in the following:

(a) The imperative of avoiding war and, with it, the humanitarian catastrophe witnessed nowadays throughout Ukraine, was not sufficiently respected by Moscow.  After months of military mobilizations near Ukraine's borders, Russian diplomacy had gained traction, particularly in Europe, and the G7 statement in Munich in February, 2022 reiterated the need for the resurrection of Minsk Agreements, followed by US President Biden's stated willingness to hold a summit with President Putin.  The latter, however, chose to thread the path of war instead of exploring these venues for a peaceful resolution, as a result of which it cannot be said that Putin's war meets the standards of just war, which was preceded by granting independent status to two Russian-backed enclaves in eastern Ukraine, a mere two days after the Russian ambassador to US's open admission that those were parts of Ukraine.  

(b) Violation of international humanitarian laws:  Putin's unilateral invasion of Ukraine constitutes a grave abuse of human rights of over 40 million Ukrainian civilians, whose lives have been shattered and whose young and children seriously traumatized under the relentless Russian military assaults, not to mention the hundreds of thousands internally displaced and or forced to exit the country for their safety, as war refugees with uncertain future.   Russia's callous disregard for the welfare and safety of Ukrainian people resembles Saddam Hussain's invasion of Iran in 1980, under the lame excuse of liberating Iran's Arabs in Khuzestan, subsequently found by UN to be a flagrant violation of Iran's sovereignty.  The same fate now awaits Russia, which cannot possibly succeed in Ukraine, a vast country with a nationalistic population poised to bleed the invading Russians in a campaign of insurgency, rekindling the memories of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s.  

In a word, despite whatever the short-term gains, the Russian invasion of Ukraine represents an unjust war with grim long-term consequences for Russia, subjected to massive western sanctions, as well as for Ukraine, Europe and, indeed, world peace, notwithstanding the growing fears of a wider war.  As a result, Russia's best option is to agree to an immediate cease-fire, recall its forces from Ukraine, pledge respect for Ukraine's sovereignty and the terms of Minsk Agreements, in return for a neutral Ukraine.  

Sadly, there appears to be little momentum toward such a prudent alternative to war and, as a result, Putin's own future has now been cast under a cloud of uncertainty.  In terms of policy ramifications for other countries such as Iran, it is imperative to abide by international norms and to avoid cold war mentality that will only results in Iran's uncalled for fetters in the webs of a new cold war at a time when Iran needs to reintegrate itself in the international community as a responsible member.

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