How the Russian Constitution Justifies War in Ukraine

They’re protecting (perhaps recently minted) Russian citizens.

An unidentified man wearing military fatigues gestures in front of armed individuals blocking the center of Balaklava, near Sevastopol, on March 1, 2014. 
National Journal
Brian Resnick
March 3, 2014, 6:37 a.m.

While Rus­sia is be­ing heav­ily cri­ti­cized by the West for its in­cur­sion in­to Ukraine, the Rus­si­an con­sti­tu­tion does, in part, al­low for this kind of ac­tion in a sov­er­eign coun­try.

Art­icle 61, sec­tion 2 of the con­sti­tu­tion al­lows de­fi­ance of in­ter­na­tion­al laws in this situ­ation. It reads, in Eng­lish:

“The Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion shall guar­an­tee its cit­izens de­fense and pat­ron­age bey­ond its bound­ar­ies.”

This is the lan­guage the Rus­si­ans evoked dur­ing the 2008 war with Geor­gia. And it’s lan­guage that Rus­si­an For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lav­rov ref­er­enced Monday, say­ing, “We are talk­ing here about pro­tec­tion of our cit­izens and com­pat­ri­ots, about pro­tec­tion of the most fun­da­ment­al of the hu­man rights — the right to live, and noth­ing more.”

Rus­si­an au­thor­it­ies take the lan­guage of Art­icle 61 very ser­i­ously and un­com­prom­isingly. In 2008, Valery Zor­kin, the chief justice of Rus­sia’s con­sti­tu­tion­al court, penned an op-ed on how Art­icle 61 jus­ti­fied the Geor­gia in­va­sion. He wrote (trans­lated, via Google Trans­late, em­phas­is mine), “The gov­ern­ment and the pres­id­ent of Rus­sia had no oth­er way than in the strongest terms to en­sure com­pli­ance with Art­icle 61 of the Con­sti­tu­tion, which in black and white that the Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion shall guar­an­tee its cit­izens pro­tec­tion and pat­ron­age abroad.”

But, as the Law Lib­rary of Con­gress ex­plains in a leg­al ana­lys­is of the war, that ar­gu­ment is quickly un­der­mined by this fact, a bit of geo­pol­it­ic­al trapeze: “The large pop­u­la­tion of Rus­si­an na­tion­als was cre­ated ar­ti­fi­cially by hand­ing Rus­si­an cit­izen­ship to res­id­ents of Geor­gi­an sep­ar­at­ist re­gions,” the re­ports states.

Something sim­il­ar may now be hap­pen­ing in Ukraine. It has been re­por­ted that in the past two weeks, Rus­sia is­sued 143,000 pass­ports for Ukrain­i­ans — al­though, it’s not that these Ukrain­i­ans are be­ing forced in­to be­ing geo­pol­it­ic­al pawns. Fifty-eight per­cent of people in the Crimean Pen­in­sula (a sov­er­eign unit un­der Ukrain­i­an con­trol and land­ing zone for the Rus­si­an mil­it­ary) identi­fy as eth­nic Rus­si­ans. As this map from the BBC shows, 70 per­cent of those in Crimea sup­por­ted Ukraine’s now-ous­ted and Rus­si­an-backed Prime Min­is­ter Vikt­or Ya­nukovych. 

(Via BBC)

The Rus­si­an leg­al ar­gu­ment for war didn’t stand up to scru­tiny in 2008, and it’s un­likely to now, see­ing how the G-7 coun­tries, iden­ti­fied as the sev­en wealth­i­est in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions in the world, have ban­ded to­geth­er in op­pos­i­tion. And as the United Na­tions states in its charter very clearly, “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.”

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