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3 April, 2014  ▪  Volodymyr Vasylenko

Russian Aggression: Genesis, goals, counteraction and legal consequences

Ukraine itself must spearhead efforts to counteract Russian aggression. Only then can other countries be expected to help. Disregard for the motivation behind Russia’s policy and a failure to understand Russia’s geopolitical goals are the fundamental reasons why the Ukrainian government is so irresponsible in security issues and the West so helpless in counteracting Russia’s expansion.

Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine beganon 27 February 2014 with the forceful takeover of the Crimean Supreme Council building followed by the occupation of the peninsula by Russianregular army units and irregular formations. On 16 March 2014, under conditions of military occupation, an illegitimate pseudo-referendum on joining the Russian Federationwas held inCrimea. On 17 March, Crimea’s Supreme Council, previously disbanded by a resolution of Ukraine’s VerkhovnaRada, proclaimed Crimea’s independence. On 18 March, its self-appointed leaders signed a treaty with Russian President Vladimir Putin making Crimea part of the Russian Federation. In other words, an illegal and hasty transaction took place in order to lend an air of legitimacy to Russia’sforceful annexation of a part of Ukraine.


The immediate factors that caused Russia’s military aggression and Crimea’s annexation were the weakness of Ukraine’s national security sector and the West’s excessively tolerant attitude toward Russia’s revanchist, neo-imperialist policy in the post-Soviet territory.

The criminal and prolonged underfinancing of Ukraine’s Armed Forces under presidents Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko led to the ruination of the entire national security sector under Viktor Yanukovych. The actions of his team, which not only robbed the country but also deprived it of its defence capacity, should be viewed as high treason. The army and navy, external intelligence and counterintelligence, Security Service, National Security and Defence Council allunderwent degradation not without the help of Russia’s special services and agents of influence who widely infiltrated government structures at all levels and acted with impunity and without hindrance.

As it committed premeditated aggression against Ukraine, Russia’s leadership was perfectly aware of the pitiful condition of Ukraine’s armed forces and other components of national security. However, aggression against Ukraine was also a consequence of the total helplessness of Western democracies in counteracting Russia’s expansionist policy, which was most vividly revealed during its attack on Georgia. Russia’s impunity for its criminal actions in August 2008 led to another crime – aggression against Ukraine in March 2014. The Russian invasionsofGeorgia and Ukraine would not have happened if both countries had been NATO members or at least had NATO membership action plans. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Mitterand and Prime Minister of Ireland Geir Haarde stood in the way. To block Ukraine’s and Georgia’s NATO membership aspirations, Russia mobilized the entire arsenal of its diplomatic corps and special services and prevailed. As he spoke at an extended meeting of the Federal Security Service on 29 January 2009 in Moscow, the then President Dmitry Medvedev stated: “An unstable social and political situation persists in a number of neighbouring countries; attempts at NATO expansion have continued, including in the form of the so-called accelerated accession for Georgia and Ukraine. Naturally, all of this required the precise and synchronized operation of all special power structures and law enforcement agencies, as well as a very high level of coordination of their activities. I have to say that the Federal Security Service has, in general, successfully fulfilled its tasks.”

Disregard for the motivation behind Russia’s policy on Ukraine and, thus, a failure to adequately assess Russia’s geopolitical goals and the resulting strategy regarding Ukraine are fundamental reasons for the Ukrainian government’sfailuretoguarantee national security and the West’sinability to counteract Russia’s expansion.

Ukraine played a special role in the history of Russia, so its independent existence is a challenge to the Russian imperial consciousness and a psychologicaltrauma to modern-dayRussian imperial chauvinists. For a while in the past, Ukraine was a powerful spiritual, cultural and materialdonor and, at the same time, an engine forthe transformation of the Muscovite tsardom into an empire. After annexing Ukrainian lands, Muscovy extended its borders to the frontiers of Eastern Europe and later proclaimed itself an empire and adopted the name of an ancient Ukrainian state, Rus’, claiming the entire history of Ukraine-Rus’ prior to the Mongol and Tatar invasion as its own.

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The revival of an independent Ukraine has inevitably led to the restoration of its national memory and its own national history, thus excising a huge chunk ofRussia’s history, ruining the myth of its 1,000 years of statehood and debunking Russia’s claim that it has been a part of European civilization since time immemorial. Russian imperial chauvinists understand that without Ukraine (its territory, resources and human potential), any of Russia’sattempts at restoring its imperial status are pointless. As a result, the Russian political elite and the majority of citizens believe that:

– Ukraine is a part of Russia and should not exist separately from Russia;

– Ukraine is to blame for the disintegration of the Soviet empire and the ensuing hardships in Russia;

– Russians and Ukrainians are one people and their unification within one state should end in the formation of one powerful super-ethnos and the creation of the “Russian World” with one church, one language and one culture;

– Ukraine’s independent statehood is a geopolitical anomaly and is a strategic threat to Russia;

– Without Ukraine, Russia is not geopolitically complete and cannot reclaim itsstatus asa global superpower.

The anti-Ukrainian ideologiesdeeply ingrained in the Russian mentality and Russia’s revanchist aspirations define its policy on Ukraine with the ultimate strategic goal being the total destruction of Ukraine as a geopolitical and national entity and a subject of international law. Behind the façade of civilized relations, Russia is carrying out a special operation against Ukraine with three key tasks:

1. Counteract Ukraine’s integration with the West, because its membership in NATO and the EU will render the very idea of reviving Russian (apparently Eurasian) empireimpracticable.

2. Eradicate all things Ukrainian inside and outside of Russia, because such an empire will be impossible to create and operate as long as Ukrainians maintaintheir national identity.

3. Perpetuate guided chaos and provoke separatist movements to weaken Ukraine’s government institutions, splitting the country and undermining its statehood.

The implementation of these tasks is carried out by Russian diplomats and special services using Soviet-era methods. These include subversive activities by undercover agents and agents of influence, misinformation and blackmail, threats and pressure, bribery and the involvement of criminal elements in special operations.

An important factor that affects the content, methods and implementation of Russia’s policy on Ukraine is the personality of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer who wants to be a lifelong “national leader” and exhibits a paranoid hatred for and contempt of Ukrainians and Ukraine.

With his election as Russian president in 2000, Russia’s policy on Ukraine became crueller and more insidious, larger in scale and more systematic. In addition to preventing Ukraine’s European and NATO integration, Russia has kept expanding humanitarian aggression through its agents and the fifth column in the informational, linguistic, cultural, historical and religious spheres. In this way, Russia is trying to destroy the identity of Ukrainians, which is a formative element of the Ukrainian nation state, and secure the “final solution to the Ukrainian question” in the context of its traditional imperial ambitions.

Controlled by the Kremlin, the Yanukovych Administration extended the stay of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, abandoned the course forEuropean and NATO integration and acted as an accomplice to Russia’s humanitarian aggression against Ukraine aimed at shattering Ukraine’s statehood by demolishing its national identity.


The fiasco of Yanukovych’s regime and his removal from power suggested that the new Ukrainian government would busy itself with renewing the course towardEuropean and NATO integration, counteracting Russian humanitarian expansion, restoring law and order, strengthening democratic government institutions and preserving the unity of the country.

Sensing that he was losing his grip over Ukraine, Putin resorted to military aggression and split Crimea off from Ukraine. This was revenge against the Ukrainians for the Maidan and, at the same time, a large-scale special operation designed to subdue Ukraine once and for all.

Russia’s aggression in Crimea critically precipitatedaconflict in Ukrainian-Russian relations and has a farther-reaching goal than simplystripping Ukraine of one of its territories. This is confirmed by the plan offered by Russian diplomats as a way of settling the conflict. The plan is disastrous for Ukraine’s statehood and unity, but the Russians also want to involve Western countries to legitimize it. On 5 March 2014, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov set forth the plan’smain elements in a conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry: Ukraine forfeits the Association Agreement with the EU and abandons its NATO aspirations; the presidential election is moved from 25 May 2014 to a later date; a new Constitution is drafted; Ukraine becomes a federation and grants Russian the status of asecond state language.

An extended and somewhat modified version of the Lavrov plan was presented in a statement by Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry about the Ukraine Support Group published on 17 December 2013. Instead of offering to settle the conflict, it essentially exacerbates it by denying Ukraine a place in the Euro-Atlantic security system, leaving it all alone against Russia and setting the stage for interference with Ukraine’s internal affairs.

The Lavrov plan is a programme aimed atUkraine’s international isolation, fragmentation and division. It will Russify the nation, destroy Ukrainian identity and annihilate its statehood. The fact that the Kremlin wants to have the Ukrainian presidential election postponed probably means that it has yet to find a puppet who will replace Yanukovych and execute its malicious plans. Hopefully, it will be rejected by both the Ukrainian government and Western democracies.

It should be understood that the forceful separation of Crimea from Ukraine will not satisfy Russia’s appetite and will only incite the Kremlin’s dictator to go ahead with further expansionist actions to destabilize and fragment Ukraine and to threaten other countries. This is evidenced by the high concentration of Russian troops along Ukraine’s eastern border, as well as by the separatist rallies that the Russian special services are trying to organize in the eastern oblasts with the help of political provocateurs brought across the border from Russia.

In his speech in the Kremlin on 18 March 2014, Putin said that there are “large territories of southern Russia” in the composition of Ukraine. Russia may soon try to annex these as well.

It cannot be ruled out that Russia may at one point give the go-ahead to its agents in other European countries where there are Russians or Russian-speaking “compatriots” in order to create chaos and make unjustifiable demands under the guise of protecting their rights.

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In this situation, the Ukrainian government must act resolutely to neutralize and punish those guilty of threatening Ukraine’s territorial integrity and fomenting separatism. Acting President of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov should publicly announce an order allowing Ukraine’s Armed Forces to use forceif Russia tries to expand its aggression beyond the Crimean peninsula.

As a country that has suffered a military attack, Ukraine has the right to individual and collective self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Thismeans that individual and collective sanctions of military, political, diplomatic and economic nature can and must be used against Russia as the aggressor country.

Ukraine itself must spearhead the efforts to counteract Russia’s aggression. Only then can other countries and other international organizations be expected to help. Unfortunately, the new Ukrainian government has been hesitant and lacked political will, while Russia has acted insidiously. As a result, Ukraine has not been able to quickly neutralize puppet leaders of the Crimean separatists and nip Russian aggression in the bud. Turchynov’s public statement on Russia’s aggression and his announcement of mobilization came nearly three days after 27 February 2014, when Russian military without insignia seized the Crimean parliament building which illegitimately voted to separatethe peninsula from Ukraine. The Shevchenkivsky District Court of Kyiv granted the appeal of the Chief Investigation Directorate of Ukraine’s Security Service to detain illegitimate Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksionov and Speaker of Crimea’s Supreme Council Volodymyr Konstantynov. The decision was passed on 5 March 2014, when these individuals were already protected by Russian occupation forces. If the separatist leaders had been detained in a timely manner, the Security Service had been more active and the Armed Forces had been rapidly deployed to Crimea early on, Putin would not have dared to continue the aggression.

From the time Ukraine restored its independence, it has striven to develop good neighbourly relations with Russia and has viewed it as a strategic partner rather than a potential enemy. Russia’s military aggression, which is just an element of a much largerspecial operation against Ukraine, is the moment of truth. Faced with military aggression, Ukraine must fundamentally revise the postulates and priorities of its National Security Strategy and Military Doctrine. These documents must clearly state that Russia is a real, rather than potential, enemy of Ukraine which, under the cover of slogans about developing friendship with a “brotherly people”, is preparedto declare war on the Ukrainian nation. Consequently, the Ukrainian government must act decisively to systematically restore the entire national security sector and secure its appropriate and constant financing.

In order to strengthen and reform some elements of the national security sector to meet presentdemands, Ukraine must arrange for consultative, technical and financial aid to be provided by the states which are the guarantors of its security under the Budapest memorandum, as well as by NATO and the EU.

Western states must, if they care about their own security, stand beside Ukraine and counteract the invader. Russia’s aggression violates the global legal order, compromises global security and undermines existing nuclear non-proliferation agreements, thus threatening every member of the international community, particularly Western democracies.

The security of the West cannot be achieved by appeasing the aggressor and satisfying its illegitimate whims at the cost of Ukraine’s legitimate interests. To guarantee its own security and protect its own vital interests, the West should prevent a new Russian empire from springing up in the post-Soviet space. Because it would, by definition, be an aggressive totalitarian entity hostile to European civilizational values, principles of democracy and respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms.

A powerful containment factor here should be more comprehensive and severe political, diplomatic and economic sanctions against Russia, something the US and its allies have already started imposing.

Ukraine’s full-fledged membership in the European Union and NATO would be a radical means of stifling Russia’s expansionist policy and guaranteeing security for both the West and Ukraine. Signing the Association Agreement with the EU and its diligent fulfilment by Ukraine will put the necessary preconditions in place for the country’smembership in the EU and its access tothe NATO membership Action Plan in the foreseeable future.

Legal consequences

The annexation of Crimea does not take away Ukraine’s legal title to the Crimean peninsula, which is, legally, part of its territory. Moreover, both Ukraine and the international community have stated thatthe Crimean referendum was illegitimate and refused to recognize its results. The results of an illegitimate referendum and the annexation acts are legally null and void. In practice, this means that the Ukrainian state has every right to demand restoration of its territorial sovereignty over Crimea and to take measures in the future to realize this demand.

Under United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXXIX) “Definition of Aggression” of 14 December 1974 and Article 5 of the International Criminal Court, the act of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine is a grave international crime. This crime does not have a statute of limitations and entails international responsibility of all persons in the top political and military echelons involved in preparing, planning, initiating and continuing aggression against Ukraine.

As a state that has suffered from aggression, Ukraine has the right to demand that Russia stop its aggression, withdrawitsoccupying forces from Ukrainian territory and reimburse damages. It can also demand that Russian President Putin, Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov and others are brought to justice as war criminals. The Kremlin-controlled Crimean leaders who organized the illegitimate referendum to legalize the annexation should be viewed as accomplices to Russia’s crime.

Today, this framing of the question appears unrealistic. However, it should be borne in mind that Hitler’s henchmen who once committed acts of aggression against European states with impunity eventually found themselves in the dock. Hitler avoided this fate by committing suicide. Putin, then, has a choice.

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