top of page
  • Arthur Dias Leite

Possible International Law responses to the Russia-Ukraine conflict

*Este material, seus resultados e conclusões são de responsabilidade dos autores e não representam, de qualquer maneira, a posição institucional da Fundação Getulio Vargas / FGV Direito Rio ou do FGV Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence on EU-South America Global Governance.

This paper intends to expose the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and how International Law can provide tools for responding to its humanitary consequences, especially in the case of refugees. Firstly, a summary of the most important facts involved in the Russia-Ukraine conflict will be presente. Secondly, the concept of refugees in International Law and the particularities of the current crisis will be presented.

Introduction: Historical background In order to understand this conflict, we need to look at the past international relations between these two countries. The most important one to take a look at is Russia and Ukraine were part of the URSS and this brings some useful look to this conflict because we can assume that the Cold War gave them some useful resources in this conflict with the United States, for example the politics to use nuclear armory. Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus signed an agreement that effectively sealed the end of the Soviet Union (URSS) since December 1991. In addition to this Moscow intended to maintain its influence in the region through the newly created Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a regionalintergovernmental organization involving11 former Soviet republics (Armenia,Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan). When Putin’s come to power we can observe the first major diplomatic crisis between the 2 sides. In 2003, Russia suddenly began to build a dam in the Kerch Strait near the Ukrainian island of Tulza - between Russian territory and the Crimean Peninsula. Kiev considered this a Russian attemptto redraw the national borders.To put an end to the conflictafter a face-to-face meeting between the 2 presidents, this construction was suspended, but the acade of friendship between the 2 sides began to show cracks. The Kremlin took advantage of the power vacuum in Kiev and annexed the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014. We could say this was a turning point in relations between the 2 countries and the beginning of an undeclared war. At the same instant, Russian paramilitary forces began to mobilize a separatist uprisingin the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine and set up Moscow-led "people's republics" with sham states in Donetsk and Luhansk. The Kiev government launch the major military offensive, called an aniti-terrorism operation, after May 2014 presidential election. At this time, the Ukrainian Army managed to push back the separatists, but in late August, Kiev charged,Russia intervened militarily on a large scale, which the Kremlindenies. Ukrainian forces near Ilovaisk,a small town east of Donetsk, were defeated, in an episodethat became a turning point in the war. The conflict was officially ended in September with the signing of a ceasefire in Minsk. This war continues to the present day. In 2015, the separatists launched a new offensive, supported by Russian troops who, prior to the fighting, removed their identifications from their uniforms, Moscow also denied. The Ukrainian forces suffered another defeat, this time in the city of Debaltseve, from where they were forced to withdraw. Intermediation by theWest resulted in what would come to be known as the Minsk Protocol, an agreement that serves as the basis for peace efforts, sadly it's not been followed in current days.

1. The current context of the conflict The actual conflict related to this case is the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2022. This war started with the allegations from the Russia’s president Vladimir Putin that a harassment was happening with the Russians in the Ukraine by a nazist militia so the Kremlin started a “special operation” to stop this pursuit with the objective of freeing two cities in this country with a majorityof russians, Donetsk and Luhansk. In another way, Ukraine alleged that Russia was attacking their territory because they were trying to get into the OTAN alliance, an organization of North American and European countries that provide each other with military help. Seven months after the start of the conflict some things happened: (i) More than 5 million refugees recentlyfled from Ukraine mostly to European countries beside it, like Poland, Moldova and Romania. (ii) Ukraine starts to mobilized some troops and it was accepting some international help from whoever wants to fight with them. (iii) Ukraine starts to receive some international help with armory, specially from the United States. (iv) Some powerful countries, like the USA or UK, are developing some economic sanctions on Russia for attacking Ukraine, especially the Russian oil industry. (v) Russia has ended the supply to Europe in response to the international economic sanctions which brings a lot of fear for the next winter. (vi) Russia and Ukraine started negotiations to end this war. (vii) 15% of the Ukraine territory is partially in Russia control like Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhya.

During the time this war started, more than 5 million people were escaping out of the conflict area between Russia and Ukraine territory. The worst part of this story is the difficult way they need to survive until they finallyfeel safe. We can see some kind of problemsin this immigration: (i) restrictions on access to territory and the availability of humanitarian assistance based on race and nationality; (ii) preferential treatmentof TPD protection beneficiaries comparedto other groups of forced migrants; and (iii) inadequate national implementation of both mandatory and permissive provisions of the TPD.

The first problem related to this war is the difference between the Ukraine and Russians that are trying to get out of their country. Ukrainians are treated with a lot more trouble than the Russians because we can see that Russia is the one which starts the aggressions. Beyond that, Russians are getting some sanctions in order to give answers for attacking Ukraine, for example some restrictions for getting an approving passport to get in Europe´s territory.

2. The case of Refugee protection in International Law

Before the FirstGreat War, refugeeswere treated like aliens in accordance with the regionallaw from the countries where they were trying to get a new home, but this get some really big issues to all the international governance because the governments didn't really know who these people would be seeing to their laws. In order to solve this problem, the Arrangement relating to the Legal Status of Russianand Armenian Refugeesin 1928 was the first international instrument with relevance to the legal status of refugees developed within the League of Nations. This was followed by the limitation in the 1933 Convention relating to the International Status of Refugees to the then existing refugees. As a model instrument, it dealt not only with the issue of travel documents (see also → Passports) but with a variety of matters affecting the daily lives of refugees such as personal status, employment, social rights, education, exemption from reciprocity, and expulsion.

Based on preparatory work under the auspices of the United Nations, especially within the Economic and Social Council (‘ECOSOC’) (→ United Nations, Economic and Social Council [ECOSOC]), the Refugee Convention was adopted on 28 July 1951 as a fundamentallegal instrument of refugee law. As the application of the Refugee Convention was limited to the refugee problems known at the time of its adoption, its terms were later made applicable to all new refugee situations by the 1967 Refugee Protocol.

One of the greatest merits of the Convention of '51 and the Protocol of '67 was the establishment of well-defined and comprehensive criteria for the recognition of refugee status in a homogeneous manner at the international level. There are five internationally recognized grounds for refugee status, nationality, political opinion, religion, and membership in a social group. belonging to a social group.

In conclusion, all these protocols create a new kind of intervention from International Law to prevent the actions from different countries about the refugees and help them to be respectful about their rights in this condition.


Now that Russia has attacked, there is no turning back. Either Putin succeeds in his bid to subdue Ukraine, which would allow him to "entrust" a new government with the task of "restoring order." Or the situation gets bogged down in endless confrontation, unless Russia agrees to engage in combat in the cities, even if it means destroying them with their populations (which was done in Syria). In either case, the conditions will have been created to revive a kind of new cold war, which will be fueled by violent attacks on the Russian economy, the excessive militarization of Central Europe around the strategic allies that are the Baltic countries and Poland, support for the Ukrainian resistance.

5 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page