Russia In a Just War

The special military operation that Russia is conducting in Ukraine has drawn a lot of criticism in Western countries. As a rule, it is reduced to a few particular narratives: Russia has violated the norms of international law and the sovereignty of Ukraine, and war (use of force) is not acceptable to resolve any disagreements. At the same time, the West deliberately glosses over all precedents of aggression against other countries in which they participated, violated sovereignty and conducted occupation. Even relatively recent, such wars constitute a long list—Yugoslavia, the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army received support from NATO countries, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria. In other words, the implication is that wars fought by the West are just and those fought by the rest of us (regardless of their form or causes) are not.

Let us consider whether Russia has acted justly towards Ukraine. First of all, we should keep in mind that in the current postmodern paradigm, there is no single system of accountability and no universal measure for various spheres of activity, including political and military.

Many terms and vague concepts have emerged. Following the combatants are “neo-combatants,” “quasi-combatants,” “post-combatants,” and “other actors” involved in conflicts. Definitions such as “gray zone,” “hybrid warfare,” and “special operations” do not bring clarity to current forms of conflict. Even the classic of military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, said that “war is the realm of the untrustworthy; three-quarters of what the action of war is based on lies in the fog of the unknown. War is the domain of chance…. It increases the uncertainty of the situation and disrupts the course of events.”

Which is Why…

In our case it is necessary, first of all, to determine when and how a just war begins. The classics of jurisprudence have said the following about it.

The Roman philosopher and politician Marcus Tullius Cicero noted: “We have established by law that when a war is started, when it is waged and when it is stopped, the right and fidelity to one’s word should be of the greatest importance, and that there should be interpreters of this right and fidelity appointed by the state.”

Note that the word “law” in Latin (lex) contains the meaning and significance of choosing (legere) a just and true beginning.

Cicero also said that “unjust are those wars which have been started without cause. For if there is no cause in the form of revenge or by virtue of the necessity of repelling the attack of enemies, it is impossible to wage a just war…. No war is considered just unless it is proclaimed, declared, or started because of an unfulfilled demand for reparation.”

Undoubtedly, the special military operation had serious reasons. Russia has repeatedly demanded of both the collective West and the Kiev regime to stop shelling peaceful towns in the Donbas and to honor the Minsk agreements. They have not done so. And the Russian leadership has repeatedly warned of serious consequences.

And, as we see, it has kept its word.

Augustine, another major authority in the West, states that “the best state does not itself start a war, except when it does so by virtue of its word or in defense of its welfare.” Again, we see mention made of the need to keep one’s word. But to it is added the questionof preserving the welfare.

Thus, according to Augustine, Russia is the best state that 1) keeps its promise, and 2) protects its welfare. And it is impossible to argue against this.

If we talk about modern theorists of just war, we can also find theses justifying the measures that Russia has taken in relation to Ukraine.

Michael Walzer said that “states may resort to military means in the event of a threat of war whenever inaction would lead to a serious risk of violating territorial integrity or political independence.”

Brian Orend generally believed that “a government can launch a preemptive attack if it is in defense of human rights. Military action against an enemy that disregards morality and rights in its policies is not recognized as aggression.” It is assumed that he thus justified the actions of Western countries in relation, for example, to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where there were problems with respect for human rights; in particular, the repression of the Kurds. However, it is clear that Orend’s formulation also fits the Ukrainian regime, which facilitated the formation of neo-Nazi battalions and ethnocide.

Orend also formulated the idea of a minimally just political community, which has three main criteria:

  1. It is recognized by its own citizens and the world community;
  2. It does not violate the rights of neighboring states;
  3. It ensures respect for the rights of its own citizens.

At least the first and second criteria were absent in Ukraine after the coup in February 2014, because some citizens did not recognize the new neo-Nazi regime, and their rights were not ensured by the central government and were diminished in every possible way.

And according to Orenda, “an attack on a government that does not meet the criteria of minimum justice and is unable to protect the rights of its own citizens or intentionally violates them does not constitute aggression and a violation of the principle of non-intervention.”

Consequently, Russia has not carried out any aggression. Although many politicians in the West would like to think otherwise.

Hence the interpretation of humanitarian intervention. And this is also a Western concept, which under the name of “Responsibility to Protect” was extended even to the UN. And if Western countries have repeatedly carried out such humanitarian interventions under a variety of pretexts, why can Russia not do so, especially since there was a need to protect civilians.

The same Walzer says that “when people are killed, we should not wait to see if they pass the self-help test before providing support.” Apparently, the DNR and LNR passed the self-help test and eight years later they were supported.

Nicholas Fouchin, a professor at Emory University (Atlanta, USA), defends the right to strike non-state groups (especially against terrorists). There were and still are plenty of such groups in Ukraine, from the odious Azov battalion to other paramilitary formations with foreign mercenaries.

Since we are talking about humanitarian intervention, it is necessary to turn to the issue of international humanitarian law (IHL). And here we will immediately discover an interesting nuance. It turns out that international humanitarian law as we know it and as it is spread all over the world is nothing but Western humanitarian law. And, to some extent, even Anglo-Saxon.

Tania Ixchel Atilano, from Mexico, a specialist in international law, notes that in the standard account of IHL history, similarities with classical studies of revolution can be discerned. Traditional accounts of revolutions deal mainly with the revolutions of the United States and Europe. In her study of revolutions, Hannah Arendt deals exclusively with the revolutions of the United States, France, and Russia, completely ignoring Latin America. Even when she explains that all revolutions follow the model of the French Revolution as if it were a decisive process; she fails to note that the Mexican Revolution (1910), which actually occurred before the Russian Revolution (1917), does not follow the “organic process” of the French Revolution at all (the exception, of course, being the establishment of “one-party rule”). It seems that revolutions had to have certain characteristics that could only be fulfilled in certain “civilized” regions.

Even though these “other” revolutions early on provided rights that had not yet been granted to Europeans, such as the abolition of slavery (Haiti, 1793), equality before the law, universal male suffrage and freedom of expression. Above all, it gave hope of emancipation to people who were still colonized or suffering from some kind of oppression.

Exactly the same has happened with the study of IHL history. Perhaps because the “founding fathers” of humanity at war did not consider from the outset the events that took place in Latin America, historians have also reproduced this distortion. By doing so, scholars inadvertently reproduce the misconception that waging war according to the laws of war would only occur in “civilized” states. At the time, the history of IHL was a reflection of the “victor’s story,” or the history of powerful states and their interaction with the laws of war. In other words, without allowing for the existence of any other histories, we are dealing here with a pure “global epistemology.” Global means Western.

Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and now Ukraine are contemporary examples of the continuation of global epistemology.

Another example is the Caroline Affair, which served as the basis for the emergence of the Self-Defense Act during the 1837 war between Canada and Britain. The rebels in Canada were being aided by the US with the ship Caroline, so British troops entered the US territory to carry out a punitive action which resulted in the ship being burned.

This was followed by a discussion between the US Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, and the British government, where the issue of proportionality was discussed. The principle of proportionality was then introduced into the 1949 Geneva Convention and speaks of the need to balance military necessity with humanity.

This was originally just an Anglo-Saxon interlocution that had nothing to do with international affairs, but became part of IHL.

And there are many such examples when European-American codes in the field of criminal, humanitarian and international law were imposed on the overwhelming majority of the world’s states. And the imposition of the Western position continued to be actively imposed over the last 30 years, especially in the countries that the U.S. disparagingly called “developing countries” and implemented their own laws there with the help of USAID, the Carnegie Foundation and other structures.

In this respect, the Special Military Operation in Ukraine is also an incentive to revise a number of international instruments and to carry out necessary reforms. If this cannot yet be done at a truly international level, the vestiges of the influence of Western theories should be removed at least at the national level and within the framework of partnership agreements with friendly countries.

Leonid Savin is Editor-in-Chief of the Analytical Center, General Director of the Cultural and Territorial Spaces Monitoring and Forecasting Foundation and Head of the International Eurasia Movement Administration. This article appears through the kind courtesy RUSSTRAT Institute.