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Vladimir Putin launched a massive attack on the American electoral system in 2016, to help elect Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. Among his goals were that of getting the U.S. and European sanctions lifted. These were imposed after the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea (February-March 2014) and its invasion of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine (summer 2014 with irregular forces; August 2014 with regular forces).
He succeeded in securing the election of a pro-Russian U.S. President, Donald Trump. Upon assuming office in January, 2017, Trump explored the possibility of lifting sanctions, but his hands were tied by passage of a veto-proof law by Congress limiting his freedom of action.
Since then Trump has taken a number of actions favorable to Moscow, and failed to take actions he should have in opposition to Russian aggression.
Now, at the G-7 in La Malbaie, Quebec on June 8, 2018, he has proposed re-admitting Russia to the G-7 group of leading economic powers. Russia was expelled from the group (then known as the G-8) following its invasions of the Ukraine.
By doing so, Trump revealed that he has no clue regarding what the exclusion of Russia was all about, which is the same reason the Western sanctions were imposed on Russia in 2014.
The reason in both cases was that Russia had flagrantly violated the most important norm of the U.N. Charter and International Law, the prohibition of the international use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another country. That is the cornerstone principle upon which the United Nations and the postwar international legal order is based.
We may now expect Donald Trump, who has once again shown his pro-Russian colors, to further Putin’s agenda by seeking to relax U.S. and European sanctions against Russia.
Significantly, the political landscape has changed not only in the United States, but also in Europe, in ways that make a lifting of the sanctions against Russia by the European Union more likely.
See Steven Erlanger and Neil MacFarquhar, “Putin Sees an Opening in Europe’s Fury With Trump,” New York Times, June 5, 2018.
The lack of U.S. opposition to such a move makes its achievement considerably more likely.
Should the sanctions be lifted, the postwar international legal order will have suffered its greatest defeat since 1945. For the strength of international legal norms, such as the U.N. Charter prohibition on the use of force (Article 2 paragraph 4) depends not merely on whether states like Russia violate its prohibitions, but also and more importantly on the reactions of other states to such violations.
What is needed is for U.S. Congressmen and Senators to speak out forcefully against Trump’s proposal to readmit Russia to the G-7, and any efforts by Europe or the United States to lift the sanctions against Russia. This they should do with a full explanation of the rationales supporting Russia’s exclusion from the G-7 and the imposition of the U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia in 2014, together will an explanation of why the prohibition on the use of force across international frontiers was adopted in 1945, and why it remains so important today.
When Trump or Putin speaks of abandoning “the old liberal international order”, it should be clear, they are arguing for abandoning the international legal order based on the U.N. Charter and the prohibition of the international use of force.
European and American political leaders should eschew the now-fashionable reference to a “rules-based international order” and return to using the more explicit terms of “international legal order” and “international law” For a nation may argue that it can violate this or that rule while maintaining its support of a “rules-based international order”. International law is not so forgiving. It is binding. One of its central pillars is the norm that “treaties are to be observed”. That includes the norms of the World Trade Organization which govern tariffs and international trade.
The Trenchant Observer