Russia’s Prime Minister Medvedev claims direct threat to Russian citizens, laying basis for Russian military intervention in Ukraine

Careful note should be taken of the statements on Monday by Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian Prime Minister.


Friedrich Schmidt (Moskau), “Krise in der Ukraine–Medwedjew sieht Bedrohung für Russen; Der russische Ministerpräsident hat die Situation in der Ukraine als Bedrohung für die Sicherheit der Russen im Land bezeichnet. Medwedjew kritisierte die EU und nannte die Legitimität der neuen ukrainischen Regierung „zweifelhaft“,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 24 Februar 2014.

Schmidt reports,

“The Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, has described the situation in the Ukraine as a threat to the security of Russians in the country. ‘It is incomprehensible, what is going on there. There exists a real threat to our interests, to the lives and health of our citizens,’ Medvedev said on Monday in Sochi, according to the Interfax news agency.”

(Der russische Ministerpräsident Dmitrij Medwedjew hat die Lage in der Ukraine als eine Bedrohung für die Sicherheit von Russen in dem Land bezeichnet. „Es ist uns unverständlich, was dort vor sich geht, es besteht eine reale Bedrohung unserer Interessen, des Lebens und der Gesundheit unserer Bürger“, sagte Medwedjew am Montag in Sotschi laut der Nachrichtenagentur Interfax.

These words are highly significant, as they could constitute the justification under international law that Russia might advance if it were to intervene militarily in the Ukraine. So-called “Inntervention to Protect Nationals” represents a long-standing if dubious exception in practice to the prohibition of the use of force in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter, which provides:

Article 2
(4) 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, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

While the so-called right of intervention to protect nationals cannot be squared with the text of UN Charter Articles 2(4) and 51, the United States has used it to justify military intervention in the Dominican Republic (1965) and other countries, and Russia has used it recently to justify its actions in the Russia-Georgia war of 2008.

If Russia intervenes militarily in the Ukraine, it is highly likely that it would justify its actions under international law under this rubric of “intervention to protect nationals”. Consequently, the EU and the U.S. would be well-advised to call in their international lawyers and to rebut this legal argument before it is used.

The fact that Medvedev is making these claims should be taken seriously, and merits a strong and immediate response from the West, both in terms of the facts on the ground and in terms of the legal argument Russia might be tempted to use to justify any military intervention.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.