The Strategy And Legality Of Warfare: Russia Against Ukraine 2022
Authored By-Shaurya Mahajan
“These are some of the darkest hours for Europe since World War Two” – Joseph Borell (EU Foreign Policy Chief)
The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia is advancing rapidly. The seeds of this conflict can be traced as far back as the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and even further back to the times of the Russian Empire. US observations have called the current situation the largest conventional state-on-state conflict since WW2. Ukraine is the only country on the face of the planet that willingly gave up nuclear weapons, with security assurances from the major powers of the world, the sad truth is however that, none other than one of the countries which gave the said assurance is the one Ukraine is currently locked in conflict with. There can be various parallels drawn between the events and circumstances leading to the second world war and the current situation, especially with the annexation of Sudetenland by Nazi Germany. The different part however can be construed as the global reaction to the ongoing conflict, with various countries around the world coming in support of Ukraine in various ways from economic sanctions to weapons export. The Russian Federation has various questions to answer about its strategy for continuing its effort. How do they plan to control a country of 43 million people? How do they wish to annex the entire country and at what speed? Do they wish to lay siege to major cities or go in guns blazing?
Strategy In Theory And Practice
Russia's strategy being followed the present is very similar to the strategy followed during the second world war. Of course, technological innovation in the military and other factors have caused changes. Russia has taken a multi-pronged approach in entering Ukraine and plans on encircling the Ukraine forces using superior numbers. The critical prerequisite that Russia needs before doing this is Air Supremacy, this is something that existed during the days of the second world war, and the scale has completely changed in the last 8 decades. Air supremacy is something that is essential in today’s time for Russia to have a strong presence in Ukraine and they have been working towards this from the start. Russia has superior numbers in terms of both manpower and material resources, making their resources more expendable compared to Ukraine. Historically given the geographic position and the characteristic features that Russia has enjoyed, it has had access to vast amounts of resources, climate benefits such as the winters of Russia and ambient features for them to use strategies such as ‘scorched earth. Another aspect that was non-existent during the second world war in cyberspace and the concept of cyber warfare. Ukraine has alleged cyber warfare on the part of Russia in disabling its major government and banking websites. Russia also has the advantage of surrounding the country from various fronts as well as the Belarussian front, allowing it to take full advantage of its superior numbers. The Russian strategy in gist is to overwhelm Ukraine. To this effect, they have taken steps to dismantle their air defence mechanisms and support ground troops with missiles and plane strikes.
The Russian military uses missile strikes to claim air superiority and encircle Ukraine from the north and south. The ground troops have been pushing on several fronts, including moving toward the capital Kyiv. Russia wants to see a rapid conclusion to this conflict, as the longer, it prolongs the more the costs it has to bear and the more time the global community has to react and take steps. Economic measures while not worrying Russia in the short run, definitely can cause issues in the long run. Pontoon bridges and makeshift bridges are being made by the land troops to open various fronts and take up key strategic places such as the Chornobyl nuclear plant and an airbase near Kyiv. As mentioned, textbook air superiority is essential before taking mass ground manoeuvres. Taking down communications and supply lines is yet another essential aspect that Russia is covering and has allegedly taken acts of state cyberwarfare. Bringing troops to the frontlines using air assets given the factor of air superiority could turn the tide and cause major issues for Ukraine.
It is sad to assume that given the sheer amount of manpower and resources deployed by Russia, it doesn’t expect a NATO intervention. Furthermore, we see that the current weather in Ukraine is in favour of conventional warfare, with sunny weather and firm dry ground presenting perfect conditions for both Russian aerial and ground missions. The Ukraine force currently engaged in combat will be attacked from behind the trenches causing them to surrender or die.
The fact remains that though a high chance of success, as history has shown the entire operation will be very manpower-intensive, with a high amount of bloodshed on the Russian side. These operations will also be very costly and expend more and more of Russia’s resources and the situation could develop into one of the street battles in the major cities and a potential situation of civil war and infighting may arise
The legality of Invasion:
The actions undertaken by Russia are in clear violation of Article 2(4) of the Charter and Articles 1 and 2 of the Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances. Intervention Via Invitation(IVI) and Responsibility to Protect (R2P) are the only two exceptions to Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and Russia has claimed both of these.
The rationale of the concept is that the prohibition on the use of force only covers the use of force without consent. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) codified IVI as a concept within international law in the Nicaragua case. However, the ICJ also stated that the concept of non-intervention would lose its legal efficacy if the intervention were justified only based on a request for help made by an opposition organization in another State. Indeed, it is difficult to see how the principle of non-intervention would survive in international law if the intervention were permitted at the opposition’s request. This would allow any state to interfere at any time in another State’s internal affairs, whether at the request of the administration or the opposition. The ICJ further stated that such an interpretation is not consistent with the present position of international law
Applying this principle here, the legalizing effect of consent by “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” must be questioned. Especially since the situation is such that the consenting government is not legitimate and not recognised by any State other than Russia. Therefore, the Russian defence of IVI is baseless.
It is essential to reiterate that Russia has historically denied the use of R2P as a valid exception to the prohibition on the use of force. Further, in his speech, the Russian President criticized the use of force by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in various instances.
We see how the current Russian strategy sets the stage for the future steps that they might take. From their current strategy. Ukraine may be fighting a lost war, except for the factor of time. It remains yet to be seen whether Russia lays siege to the major cities or attacks them head-on. As for Ukraine, they might be able to prolong the conflict and successfully resist if they can defend air supremacy, – establish interior defensive lines and maintain their morale. Unfortunately, the chances of this happening are very glum.
Thus, the justifications provided by the Russian President regarding IVI and R2P do not meet the criteria necessary to be valid exceptions to the prohibition on the use of force. The actions by Russia appear to be founded on the warped Russian assertion of the world being dominated by a hostile west, leaving them to be the sole protectors of the people of Russia and Ukraine. Russia never accepted the right of Kosovo to self-determination or remedial cessation based on genocide. However, Russia wants to use the same argument when it favours its policy. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is neither justified under IVI or R2P nor does it meet their interpretation of international law in the past.
We see how Russia in blatant disregard of international law and with no respect for state sovereignty has taken to military action, something that had not yet been seen on this scale in the 21 Century.
It can be rightly said “It’s like a 21 – st century version of the major European wars of the 20th century, especially World War 2”