Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine possibly imminent; Russia lays out “facts” to justify “humanitarian intervention”, masses combat-ready troops on Ukrainian border

“When I speak of Russians and Russian-speaking citizens,” Mr. Putin said, “I am referring to those people who consider themselves part of the broad Russian community. They may not necessarily be ethnic Russians, but they consider themselves Russian people.”
–Vladimir Putin

See David M Herszenhorn, “Russia Demands New Cease-Fire in Ukraine as Foreign Ministers Seek Path to Peace, New York Time, July 2, 2014, quoting Putin.

On February 24 Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev laid out the factual predicates for military intervention in the Ukraine, which could be justified as a kind of “intervention to protect nationals”, a concept for which there are some precedents in international law (e.g., Dominican Republic, 1965; Grenada, 1983). The invasion of the Crimea took place within three days.

Russia has in the meantime used this argument, broadening its reach to include cultural nationals (a right claimed by Adolf Hitler in the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938), in efforts to articulate a right under international law to intervene to protect Russian-speaking or sympathetic people in foreign countries.

The argument lacks any validity under international law.

But it is highly significant as a clue to Russian intentions and plans. As noted above, only days after Medvedev set out his arguments in February, Russian military forces invaded and took over the Crimea.

It is in this light that Russia’s convening of an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on August 5  to consider the humanitarian situation in the eastern Ukraine should be viewed. The meeting was held on Tuesday evening, August 5, 2014. The Security Council issued a Press Release (U.N. Doc. SC/11508), summarizing statements by the representatives, which is found here.

Russia is conducting unprecedented air defense exercises in regions adjoining the Ukraine.

With some 20,000 Russian combat-ready forces again massed on the Ukrainian frontier, ready to invade at the push of a button, the convening of the Security Council at Russia’s request to consider the humanitarian situation in the Ukraine appears ominous, particularly in view of the fact that a Security Council meeting on the Ukraine was already scheduled for Friday.

A Russian invasion of the eastern Ukraine, on the pretext of intervention to protect Russian cultural nationals and on humanitarian grounds, could take place within days.


Julia Smirnova, “Angst vor der russischen Invasion,” Die Welt, 6. August 2014.

NATO officials have warned that there is a very real risk of such an invasion.


Peter Foster (Washington) and agencies, “Nato warns of Russian preparations to invade Ukraine; As Ukrainian forces close in on Russian-backed rebels in Donetsk and sanctions threaten to bite hard in Moscow, fears are deepening of a Russian military intervention,” The Telegraph, August 6, 2014 (3:37 p.m. BST).

Reuters (Brussels), “NATO says Russia could be poised to invade Ukraine,” August 6, 2014 (7:55am EDT).

Foster reported:

Chuck Hagel, the US defence secretary, said the threat of a Russian intervention in Ukraine was now “a reality” after a meeting with his senior US commanders in Stuttgart.

“When you see the build-up of Russian troops and the sophistication of those troops, the training of those troops, the heavy military equipment that’s being put along that border, of course it’s a reality, it’s a threat, it’s a possibility – absolutely,” he said.

Western diplomatic sources have told The Telegraph there are concerns that Mr Putin has become increasingly “erratic” in recent weeks.

Invasion under the pretext of a humanitarian mission was a “very real option,” a US defence department official told the New York Times on Monday. “And should Putin decide, he could do that with little or no notice. We just don’t know what he’s thinking.”

Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, visited Russian troops on peacekeeping exercises in central Russia on Wednesday and told them to “expect the unexpected”.

He told the soldiers on exercises in the Samara region: “The world has changed, and it has changed drastically. As you know from previous examples, including in this brigade, peace-keeping units can be called upon unexpectedly.”

Russian protestations that it has not massed troops on the border should be given no credence, in view of their record of war propagands and bald-faced lies.

The Security Council is scheduled to meet on Friday to discuss the situation in the Ukraine in general.

Given the seriousness and urgency of the NATO warnings, coupled with Russia’s attempt at the August 5 Security Council meeting to lay out a factual predicate for military intervention for “humanitarian purposes”, the West and other civilized nations should at the Security Council meeting on Friday lay out 1) the evidence of Russian intervention to date in the eastern Ukraine; 2) the evidence suggesting a direct intervention by regular forces of the Russian Federation is threatened and possibly imminent; and 3) detailed legal memoranda rejecting the legal arguments Vladimir Putin and Russia have set forth that could be used to justify any intervention to protect “Russians, Russian nationals, Russian-speakers, or Russian sympathizers.”

At this late hour, above all, a united West (EU, NATO, U.S., and other allies such as Japan and Australia) must make it immediately and unmistakably clear to Vladimmir Putin that if he sends Russian troops into the Ukraine again–under any pretext–such action will trigger a return to the Cold War and a new ice age in economic relations with the West.

See Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), “Krieg in der Ukraine: Letzte Chance vor der Eskalation,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 6. August 2014 (05:14 Uhr).

“Die Russen machen am Rand der Ukraine mobil. Es wird Zeit, dass die Politik im Westen aus den Sommerferien zurückkehrt und die Folgen einer neuerlichen militärischen Grenzüberschreitung benennt: eine politische und ökonomische Eiszeit.”

Kornelius urges Western leaders to return from their “summertime” vacations and to act urgently to deal with Putin and the Ukraine. He writes:

Therefore if an uncontrolled escalation in the coming days is to be avoided, then it is high time that Politics in the West return from the summer vacations and spell out the consequences of a new military violation of borders. Appeals to the 100-year-old memory of the First World War are cheap — Europe’s war is taking place now in the Donbass (Donets Basin region of the Ukraine).

(Wenn also eine unkontrollierte Eskalation in den kommenden Tagen verhindert werden soll, dann ist es hohe Zeit, dass die Politik gerade im Westen aus den Sommerferien zurückkehrt und die Folgen einer neuerlichen militärischen Grenzüberschreitung benennt. Appelle zum 100-Jahr-Gedenken des Ersten Weltkriegs sind wohlfeil – Europas Krieg findet jetzt im Donbass statt).

The Trenchant Observer

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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.