Almost five weeks have passed since the beginning of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, which the Kremlin calls a “special military operation.” During this time, thousands of houses, hundreds of hospitals, schools, and life support infrastructure facilities have been destroyed, and, worst of all, thousands of civilians have died. Along with other Ukrainians, I see the enormous consequences of this inhuman terror on the Ukrainian population. Winged and ballistic missiles fall on my compatriots. Our children are sitting in bomb shelters for a long time.
In peacetime, I was involved in the economics of nature. I am a professor and work at the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. In one moment the whole country was in a different reality! Today, nature in my country also suffers because of Russian aggression. Thousands of hectares [one hectare equals close to 2.5 acres] of fertile Ukrainian land have so far been destroyed. The air is polluted with smoke from fires. It seems that nature itself rebels against the invaders: In the spring, migratory birds travel a path along the North Black Sea. According to environmentalists, several geese fell into the turbines of Russian planes and disabled them.
The Black Sea is mined. Several mines were found close to the mouth of the Danube and in the Bosporus. Almost every day the shores around Odesa are shelled by Russian ships. This affects marine animals and natural complexes.
But the war is dictating these challenges! In their speeches, officials of the Russian Federation constantly use the officially coined euphemism “special military operation” in order to mislead the public and make the work of international lawyers and judges of national and international courts as difficult as possible.
It seems to me that the euphemism is being used to blur, to obscure the concept of “war,” which is what the Russians are actually perpetrating. Russia’s attempts to use euphemisms are not new. In 2014, during the military annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea—the territory of the sovereign state of Ukraine—Russian propaganda and even officials actively used the euphemism “polite people” to describe the military personnel of the Russian Federation.
On February 26, 2022, Ukraine filed a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Russia’s violation of the 1947 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Ukraine has also applied for interim measures, essentially asking the International Court of Justice to order Russia to stop waging war in Ukraine.
Using the imperfection of the international legal system, Russia tried to accuse Ukraine of genocide. These are completely absurd claims. And this manipulation of facts by the Russian Federation was rejected by the International Court in The Hague. The U.N. Court is a very important institution in the world, whose activities were important for the Russian Federation itself. Thus, we can draw an important conclusion that Russia is deliberately destroying the bases of the modern international legal order.
On March 16, ICJ president Joan Donoghue announced the decision of the International Court of Justice: “The Court considers that, with regard to the situation described above, the Russian Federation must, pending the final decision in the case, suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February 2022 in the territory of Ukraine. In addition, recalling the statement of the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations that the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and the ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ had turned to the Russian Federation with a request to grant military support, the Court considers that the Russian Federation must also ensure that any military or irregular armed units which may be directed or supported by it, as well as any organizations and persons which may be subject to its control or direction, take no steps in furtherance of these military operations.”
Two weeks earlier, in a March 2 resolution at the U.N. General Assembly, the International Court of Justice was very clear, expressing “grave concern at reports of attacks on civilian facilities such as residences, schools, and hospitals, and of civilian casualties, including women, older persons, persons with disabilities, and children,” and also recognizing “that the military operations of the Russian Federation inside the sovereign territory of Ukraine are on a scale that the international community has not seen in Europe in decades and that urgent action is needed to save this generation from the scourge of war,” while also condemning “the decision of the Russian Federation to increase the readiness of its nuclear forces” and expressing “grave concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine, with an increasing number of internally displaced persons and refugees in need of humanitarian assistance.”
Ukraine continues to fight for democracy and justice. The Interim Judgment of the International Court of Justice in The Hague inspires confidence that Russia will not be able to undermine the international legal order.
Nonrecognition of the decision of the International Court of Justice by Russia is not only another gross violation of international law but also a serious reason for revising Russia’s status in the U.N. bodies, and above all, the status of a permanent member of the Security Council.
Today, lawyers, scientists, sociologists, and environmentalists are faced with the task of confronting Russia’s actions against humanity and nature. The presence of significant crimes against nature was also recognized by the ICJ in The Hague.
My colleagues from the Academy of Sciences teamed up with nongovernmental organizations and professionals from the Ministry of Environment of Ukraine in order to collect evidence for further consideration in the international court of all the consequences of Russia’s atrocities in the war against Ukraine. The Russian militarists will answer for all their evil deeds. But this requires a victory, and victory will only come if the entire Western society is consolidated around Ukraine’s struggle for democracy, freedom, and independence. ❖
Oleg Rubel is a professor of public administration at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, in Odesa, who is engaged in the economics of nature management and sustainable development.