Russian invasion of Ukraine grinds on amidst global condemnation


On 2 March, the 193-member UN General Assembly — meeting in emergency session pursuant to a referral from the UN Security Council not subject to Russia’s veto — overwhelming passed a resolution condemning the Russian invasion with 141 in favour, 5 against and 34 abstentions, including China.

For the full text of the resolution, click here. For a Crisis Group analysis behind some of the key votes, particularly those abstaining and voting against the condemnation, click here.

After the vote, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, addressing reporters, stated:

The message of the General Assembly is loud and clear:   End hostilities in Ukraine now.  Silence the guns now.   Open the door to dialogue and diplomacy now.

The resolution condemned Russian aggression and demanded that the Russian Federation “immediately cease its use of force against Ukraine” and “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces” from Ukraine.

Two other operative paragraphs merit special attention:

  1. Calls upon the parties to abide by the Minsk agreements and to work constructively in relevant international frameworks, including in the Normandy format and Trilateral Contact Group, towards their full implementation;
  1. Welcomes and urges the continued efforts by the Secretary-General, Member States, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international and regional organizations to support the de-escalation of the current situation, as well as the efforts of the United Nations, including of the United Nations Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, and humanitarian organizations to respond to the humanitarian and refugee crisis that the aggression by the Russian Federation has created; readers will recall that last week’s blog post urged consideration of a diplomatic-peacemaking role for the UN, and the General Assembly has done just that. What form it may take remains to be seen.


The International Criminal Court announced on 28 February 2022 its decision to open an investigation into the Situation in Ukraine, as rapidly as possible. This follows a preliminary investigation of events in Ukraine stretching back to late 2013 but also encompassing any new war crimes or crimes against humanity occurring since then.

In making this announcement, and in light of the fact that neither Russia nor Ukraine is a party to the Rome Statute, although Ukraine has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court, the ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan added:

The next step is to proceed with the process of seeking and obtaining authorisation from the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open an investigation.

An alternative route set out in the Statute that could further expedite matters would be for an ICC State Party to refer the situation to my Office, which would allow us to actively and immediately proceed with the Office’s independent and objective investigations.

On 2 March 2022 ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan in a further statement entitled Situation in Ukraine: Receipt of Referrals from 39 States Parties and the Opening of an Investigation confirmed that he had received referrals from 39 countries, including Canada, with the following result:

These referrals enable my Office to proceed with opening an investigation into the Situation in Ukraine from 21 November 2013 onwards, thereby encompassing within its scope any past and present allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide committed on any part of the territory of Ukraine by any person.

I have notified the ICC Presidency a few moments ago of my decision to immediately proceed with active investigations in the Situation. Our work in the collection of evidence has now commenced.

ICC appeal to states parties for additional resources to support all its investigations

The ICC Prosecutor, in light of the severe budgetary challenges of the ICC, went on to make a further appeal to States Parties:

The support of States Parties and the international community more broadly will be essential as we seek to meet the inherent challenges faced in the conduct of these investigations.

I will therefore seek the partnership and contributions of all States in order to address our need for additional resources across all situations addressed by my Office.

The Prosecutor ended his statement with this direct appeal to the parties to the Ukraine conflict:

With an active investigation now underway, I repeat my call to all those engaged in hostilities in Ukraine to adhere strictly to the applicable rules of international humanitarian law.

No individual in the Ukraine situation has a licence to commit crimes within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Canadian Ukraine referral tarnished by double standard on war crimes in Palestine

This prompt action by Canada to ensure possible war crimes in Ukraine are investigated as soon as possible by the ICC stands in sharp contrast to our opposition to a similar investigation in the Occupied Palestinian territories, launched on 3 March 2021, on the specious grounds — rejected by the Court — that it had no jurisdiction over the matter (a position first asserted by the Stephen Harper government in 2015 and later reiterated by the Justin Trudeau government).

Then Secretary-General of Amnesty International Canada Alex Neve commented at length on the Canadian position, which, he argues compellingly, ignores the central problem of the “culture of impunity” for grave breaches of international law by both sides in the Occupied Territories over many years:

The key here is that Canada should be taking as expansive action as possible to counter impunity and ensure that justice will prevail. But sadly, that is not the position that has been taken by Canada to date.

In the view of

This blatant double standard tarnishes our otherwise commendable effort to ensure timely legal accountability for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

What about the international crime of aggression?

The international crime of aggression means:

the planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.

While war crimes and crimes against humanity will require extensive investigation to determine whether civilians were deliberately targeted, or disproportionate force used, President Putin’s crime of aggression — his invasion of Ukraine — is a text book case of illegal aggression under international law, watched in horror by much of the world.

The International Criminal Court’s Assembly of States Parties was finally able to activate the crime of aggression in a decision that became effective on 17 July 2018, marking the first time since the Nuremberg Nazi trials that an international tribunal will be able to prosecute this crime.

However, there are significant limitations to the Court’s jurisdiction, as Alex Whiting, writing for in December 2017 when the historic agreement was reached, explains:

Absent a Security Council referral, the Court will have jurisdiction only when a State Party commits the crime of aggression against another State Party…. The Court’s jurisdiction is further narrowed to only those States Parties that have ratified the aggression amendment, presently just 43 of the 123 States Parties.

Finally, even those States Parties that ratify the aggression amendment can elect at any time to opt out of the aggression jurisdictional regime.

Note that, as we mentioned earlier, neither Russia nor Ukraine are States Parties to the Rome Statute and Russia can veto any attempted referral by the UN Security Council.

The only remaining option is one raised by Michael Byers in an article published on 3 March 2022 in the Globe and Mail, where he stated:

The UN General Assembly, unlike the Security Council, is not subject to Russia’s veto power. It could decide to establish a special international criminal tribunal to prosecute Mr. Putin and his generals for the crime of aggression.

And because the General Assembly has 193 member states, any such decision would – if widely supported – have global legitimacy.

For a view from international jurists,  see here the Statement by Members of the International Law Association Committee on the Use of Force.

For more information on the International Criminal Court and how it works, click here.

UN Human Rights Council investigation authorized

On 4 March 2022 the UN Human Rights Council — a body often criticized for the undue influence of powerful members like Saudi Arabia — voted to establish:

an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of human rights in the context of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine.

Humanitarian corridors agreement fails

In the first sign of progress in the ongoing talks between Russia and Ukraine, agreement was reached on 4 March 2022 to establish “humanitarian corridors” to deliver aid and help civilians exit besieged cities.

However, by the next day, Ukraine and Russia were trading allegations over the breakdown of a partial ceasefire to allow civilians to escape shelling in the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha.


In a press conference held on 4 March 2022 following an extraordinary meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated in his opening remarks:

We are not part of this conflict….

And we have a responsibility to ensure it does not escalate and spread beyond Ukraine. Because that would be even more devastating and more dangerous.

In response to questions on the establishment of a no-fly zone, Stoltenberg was crystal clear:

Allies agree that we should not have NATO planes operating over Ukrainian airspace, or NATO troops on Ukrainian territory.

Commenting on NATO’s steadfast refusal to engage directly with Russia, Professor Christoph Bluth writes:

Russia’s enormous nuclear arsenal and the risks of a wider war are effectively deterring NATO countries from any military involvement beyond providing equipment. Nuclear deterrence is working – it is deterring NATO, as western leaders are unsure about the rationality of Russia’s leadership.

As we have discussed in an earlier blog post, even with apparently rational leaders who are determined not to escalate, American war gaming suggests that a conventional conflict between nuclear-armed adversaries will inevitably lead to a nuclear exchange.

In the words of General John Hyten of US Strategic (Nuclear) Command:

It [the wargaming] ends the same way every time.… It ends bad. And the bad meaning it ends with global nuclear war.

For further discussion of the fraught nuclear weapons dimension, see Whatever happens in Ukraine, keep nuclear weapons out (Cesar Jaramillo,, 3 March 2022).

For an examination of mounting concerns over the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants in the fog of war, see How safe are Ukraine’s nuclear power plants amid Russian attacks? (Hannah Devlin,, 4 March 2022).

Where do we go from here? Can diplomacy end this war sooner?

As the conflict grinds on with mounting civilian casualties, as the sanctions deepen Russia’s isolation but also negatively impact the world economy, and as the weapons industry prepares for a bonanza, we ask again — what hope for diplomacy?

We begin with a deeply pessimistic view from French President Macron, following a 90-minute conversation on 3 March initiated, he said, by Russian President Putin. According to a senior French official:

The expectation of the president is that the worst is to come, given what President Putin told him.

Nonetheless, the Washington Post version of the telephone conversation included a pledge by Macron to continue his diplomatic efforts, tweeting on Thursday:

Maintaining dialogue to avoid human tragedies is absolutely necessary…. I will continue my efforts and outreach. We must avoid the worst.

We turn next to one of the most cited scholars in modern history, celebrated linguist Noam Chomsky, in a 1 March 2022 interview on the Ukraine conflict.

He begins by stating:

the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a major war crime, ranking alongside the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Hitler-Stalin invasion of Poland in September 1939, to take only two salient examples. It always makes sense to seek explanations, but there is no justification, no extenuation.

To make his point even clearer, he adds:

There is nothing to say about Putin’s attempt to offer legal justification for his aggression. Its merit is zero.

He goes on to counsel the US to choose urgent diplomacy over military escalation and affirms the importance of seeking explanations for what went wrong in order to avert “still worse catastrophes that loom ahead.”

On the potential diplomatic avenues, he states:

The options that remain after the invasion are grim. The least bad is support for the diplomatic options that still exist, in the hope of reaching an outcome not too far from what was very likely achievable a few days ago: Austrian-style neutralization of Ukraine, some version of Minsk II federalism within.

Much harder to reach now. And — necessarily — with an escape hatch for Putin, or outcomes will be still more dire for Ukraine and everyone else, perhaps almost unimaginably so.

He acknowledges such an outcome is “very remote from justice” but believes the alternative is:

the strong possibility of terminal war.

For a detailed outline of a possible peace deal between Russia and Ukraine from Quincy Institute expert Anatol Lieven, see It’s time to ask: what would a Ukraine-Russia peace deal look like? (the, 4 March 2022).

For a deep dive into the diplomatic options that still might be available, as well as broader repercussions of this conflict on an already sharply divided UN Security Council, see Any Hope Left for Diplomacy Over Ukraine? (, 5 March 2022).

Was President Zelensky misled by NATO?

In last week’s blog post we asked this question:

If the USA and NATO were never going to fight with Ukraine against Russia, then what was the alternative to a substantive negotiation with Ukraine over its neutrality?

Anatol Lieven, in a wide-ranging analysis of the meaning and consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the West’s response, makes a similar point more bluntly:

We never had the slightest intention of defending Ukraine, not the slightest….

That raises the question, since we never intended to defend them, of what in God’s name were we doing?

This question becomes even more pointed in light of President Zelensky’s furious condemnation of  NATO’s no-fly zone rejection, shared and translated by Axios on 4 March 2022.

Speaking directly to NATO, he stated:

All the people who will die starting from this day will also die because of you [NATO]. Because of your weakness, because of your disunity….

Is this the NATO we wanted? Is this the alliance you were building? asks:

Would Ukraine have taken a different view of the wrenching compromises required to implement the Minsk agreements, if they had fully understood the potential alternative — fighting Russia alone?

Retired Canadian diplomat Chris Westdal apologizes to Ukraine

We now include an excerpt from this courageous statement by Chris Westdal, Canada’s former Ambassador to both Russia and Ukraine:

Through the 15 years of my retirement from the Canadian foreign service, I have been a critic of NATO expansion, which I regarded as counterproductively provocative, and an advocate of detente, of engagement with Russia and of prudent respect for its security interests along its borders.

I have also defended the leadership of Russian President Putin, believing that while he would not abide Ukrainian NATO membership, he could have Russia live in peace with an independent Ukraine.

I was wrong about Putin. I am sorry. I apologize.

For the full statement, click here.

We note that this is a repudiation by Chris Westdal of his earlier and long-standing positive assessment of President Putin as a leader, not his critique of NATO expansion, although that is how it is being misinterpreted by many on the right. For a fuller elaboration of his views, including those on Putin the leader, which he now regrets, see his testimony to the Standing Committee on National Defence on 23 October 2017 available here.


A code red for humanity

Noam Chomsky also addresses another hideous effect of this conflict — its deleterious impact on addressing the “global scourge of environmental destruction”, at the very time when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released its most dire report yet, a report the UN Secretary-General calls a “code red for humanity”.

Yet rather than ramping up our green transition efforts, Chomsky warns the Ukraine conflict is pushing states in the opposite direction:

Meanwhile, the necessary actions are stalled, even driven into reverse, as badly needed resources are devoted to destruction and the world is now on a course to expand the use of fossil fuels, including the most dangerous and conveniently abundant of them, coal.

A more grotesque conjuncture could hardly be devised by a malevolent demon. It can’t be ignored. Every moment counts.

For a stark analysis of the choices we now face, see Toxic Nostalgia, From Putin to Trump to Trucker Convoys (Naomi Klein,, 1 March 2022).

The article begins:

War is reshaping our world. Will we harness that urgency for climate action or succumb to a final, deadly oil and gas boom?

Amid the gloom and urgency, Klein draws our attention to a supremely practical proposal by leading environmentalist, author and journalist Bill McKibben, which he writes about in his 27 February 2022 newsletter.

Klein summarizes his plan:

Biden could help in this [green] transformation, using powers only available during times of emergency, by invoking the Defense Production Act to build large numbers of electric heat pumps and shipping them to Europe to mitigate the pain of losing Russian gas.

And, as McKibben explains, this plan would not only help beleaguered Europeans, it would also dramatically lessen Putin’s power.

He writes:

Russia’s power … (besides nuclear weapons) is almost entirely based on its production of gas and oil. Remember—60% of its export earnings are hydrocarbons.

McKibben further observes:

We have to do it [within the US] if we’re going to meet our various climate targets—so we might as well do it now when it will dramatically weaken the power of Putin’s thuggery.

Noting that his proposal is an alternative to shipping US natural gas to Europe as a replacement for Russian gas, he argues:

anything that deepens dependence on oil and gas means that Russia’s hydrocarbon industry remains an economic asset.

Since fossil fuel is a global industry with global pricing power, it’s only when we switch to ever-cleaner electricity that we really undercut Putin’s power.

For the full article see Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom (


In an impassioned and clear-sighted article for the Washington Post (alas available only to subscribers), Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, writes that in response to Putin’s aggression:

the old order — with its Cold War attitudes, militaries, alliances and enmities — is reclaiming center stage…. Weapons-makers are drawing up plans to profit from the coming arms buildup, and idealogues and demagogues are dusting off familiar rhetoric.

Arguing that a new Cold War will sap resources and attention from pressing dangers we already face, she recalls the over 900,000 people who have died from the coronavirus in the USA alone, with many more permanently injured.

In a striking comparison, she writes:

The plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine is wrenching; at the same time, a report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimates that the majority of the nearly 31 million people displaced in 2020 were fleeing weather catastrophes.

The World Bank says extreme weather will displace more than 200 million people over the next three decades.

In Katrina vanden Heuvel’s view, to avoid this “wasteful Cold War revival”, we need a negotiated end to the Ukraine conflict and a renewed focus on how to build peace rather than weapons:

We need political leaders who will speak out about our real security needs and resist the reflex to fall into old patterns that distract from the threats we can no longer afford to ignore.

She concludes:

By invading Ukraine, Putin demands a return to just that archaic and obsolete Cold War order.

The world would be wise not to accede.

Are any of our leaders listening?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (ICC building, The Hague) is a public outreach project of the Rideau Institute.

Tags: Anatol Lieven, Bill McKibben, Climate change, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Minsk agreements, Naomi Klein, NATO, no-fly-zone, Noam Chomsky, Russia, Ukraine, UN General Assembly, UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), UN Secretary-General António Guterres, War crimes