When representatives from the United Nations signed the UN Charter on June 26, 1945, those representatives bound their governments to the entirety of the Charter, including provisions regarding sovereignty. Article 2 is organized with the understanding that nations would respect the sovereignty of other nations. Specifically, Article 2 states, “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.” Further, Members are required to conduct their foreign affairs without the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. However, Article 51 states that nothing in the Charter prevents a Member from using self-defense against an armed attack.
Russia attempted to justify its invasion into Ukraine by invoking Article 51. On the day of the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a video in which he explains his reasoning:
“I decided to conduct a special military operation. It aims to protect people who have been bullied and subjected to genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years. For that, we will strive for de-militarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine and will bring to justice those who committed multiple bloody crimes against civilians, including Russian citizens.”
However, Putin’s reasoning for invoking Article 51 falls short. Even if Ukraine committed “multiple bloody crimes against civilians, including Russian citizens,” Article 51 would not warrant an invasion because Article 51 only supports self-defense against an armed attack. For Russia to invoke Article 51, Russia would be required to demonstrate that Ukraine took up arms against Russia and directly attacked Russia’s sovereignty. Because Ukraine did not attack Russia, Russia’s claim of self-defense is unfounded.
Moreover, without adequate justification, Russia violated Article 2 when it invaded Ukraine. Shortly before his invasion, Putin signed a declaration that essentially recognized the independence of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine. While this recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states was inconsistent with international law governing state sovereignty and secession, it was the armed attack against Ukraine‘s sovereignty that shortly followed that violated the Charter. Even though Russia recognized Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states, the international community (particularly Ukraine) did not. Rather, the international community recognized these two regions as part of Ukraine. Therefore, the moment that Russia began its invasion in the Luhansk region was the moment Russia violated Article 2 of the Charter.
In sum, Russia violated the UN Charter when it invaded Ukraine in February under false pretenses. Russia faced no immediate threat of an armed attack that would warrant the invasion, and Russia did not confer with the UN Security Council about the alleged threat. Russia was well aware its actions not only violated the Charter but the trust of the international community as well.