Russia threatens Ukraine, in violation of U.N. Charter; U.S. and NATO should push back with international law and the threat of real sanctions


1) “REPRISE: Russia’s utter and continuing violation of international law in the Ukraine: U.N. General Assembly Resolution A/RES/25/2625 (1970) on Principles of International Law and Friendly Relations Among States,” The Trenchant Observer,February 26, 2017.

2) Daniel Friedrich Sturm, “Der Moment ist gefährlicher, als den meisten Amerikanern bewusst ist,” Die Welt, den 3. Dezember 2021 (01:11 Uhr).

3) The Editorial Board, “Deterring Russia in Ukraine; Vladimir Putin is probing to see if the U.S. really would push back,” Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2021 (7:09 pm ET).

4) MIGUEL GONZÁLEZ y IKER SEISDEDOS, “Estados Unidos exige a Rusia que retire sus tropas de la frontera con Ucrania; Lavrov reclama a Blinken en un tenso cara a cara “garantías de seguridad a largo plazo” para Moscú,” El País, el 2 de diciembre 2021 (10:05, Actualizado: 14:28 EST).

Russia continues th threaten to invade the Ukraine, in direct violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter, which prohibits “the threat or use of force” against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. Belarus appears to be joining in Russia’s threat.

Russia illegally occupies the Crimea, in violation of Article 2 (4) of the Charter and the principle of peremptory law (jus cogens) codified in Article 53 of the 1969 U.N. Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

In countering Russia’s threats, the U.S., NATO and Ukraine should make full use of international law, which greatly favors their case. They should seek both discussion in the U.N. Security Council, and adoption of a resolution by the U.N. General Assembly.

In the Security Council, Russia cab block adoption of a resolution by using its veto as a Permanent Member. Still, it would be useful to make countries vote on a draft resolution, and particularly interesting to see how China articulates its position.

In the General Assembly, there is no veto, and one might expect a large majority in favor of reaffirming such basic principles in international, which are indeed reaffirmed in the 1979 General Assembly “Resolution on Friendly Relations,” which is reproduced in relenant part in the Trenchant Observer article cited above.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was expected to meet with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov at an Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OCSE) summit in Stockholm on Thursday, December 2. At a NATO meeting in Riga, Latvia on Wednesday, he warned the Russians of “serious consequences” if Russia were to invade Ukraine.

That weak language will not impress Lavrov, who in 2014 told bald-faced lies as Russia invaded the Crimea. State Department boilerplate might impress armchair diplomats in Washington or NATO diplomats, but it will surely convey only a lack of resolve to Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. should make those “serious consequences” concrete, and ramp up the courage and support needed to impose them. If Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. should:

1) Expel Russia from the SWIFT international payments banking systen;

2) Prohibit definitively completion and operation of the Nordstream II gas pipeline;

3) Prohibit the export to Russia of oil, gas, and related equipment and services;

4) Impose strong sectorial sections, such as a ban on steel and aluminum imports;

5) Sanction Putin personally under the terms of the Magnitsky Act; and

6) In conjunction with NATO and other allies, impose financial controls to block such actions by other countries.

Maybe Putin will hear this threat. If he doesn’t and invades Ukraine anyway, these sanctions should be implemented in coordination with our allies.

Putin’s long-term goal may be to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO or the European Union.

His short-term goal may be to get a meeting with Biden, to show Russians and everyone else that he is still a key player on the world stage. Biden should not grant Putin such a meeting while Ukraine is under military threat. To do so would be seen as weakness, and only encourage similar behavior in the future.

Putin must be persuaded that he will not achieve his goals through the use of military force, and that if he tries to do so he will trigger crippling sanctions.

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.