What’s the Situation in Ukraine right now?
Right as the young and fresh new Ukrainian government was scrambling to get themselves together, Russia moved their military into Crimea this past weekend. It was a rapid, unexpected, and non-violent military takeover that caught not just Ukraine but the entire international community by surprise. The Ukrainian government has not authorized military action against the Russians in fear of starting a bloody war.
Putin’s intentions in Ukraine aren’t entirely clear. More modest speculations include wanting to protect the Russians in Crimea from anti-Russian violence , wanting to stabilize a potentially volatile political situation right along Russia’s border. More bold speculation includes Putin wanting to potentially take over Crimea or even all of Ukraine and annex it into Russia. Other former Soviet states have expressed concern that Russia’s aggression might extend to their territories as well. Estonia’s president called for stronger defense in fear of further Russian aggression.
Is This an Act of Aggression?
There has been significant international outcry against Russia’s actions, centered largely around the illegality of such military action under international law. Acts of aggression are defined by amendment of the Rome Statute as the use of armed force carried out by one state against another state without the justification of self-defense or through UN Sanction. By this definition, Russia’s actions can definitely be construed as a crime of aggression.
Can/Will/Should the ICC Step In?
Although the ICC is technically a retroactive court, it has demonstrated since its inception that it has a clear interest in intervention and prevention. It would not be entirely inconceivable for the ICC to want to prevent mass violence in this case by stepping in under the umbrella of crimes of aggression.
Whether the ICC can is another question entirely, and the answer is a pretty resolute no. Russia and Ukraine are both not party to the Rome Statute, so the prosecutor cannot initiate an investigation. The UN Security Council referral option is out, given that Russia would veto any action on that front. One possible option, should Ukraine really want the intervention of the ICC, is for Ukraine to pull the stunt that the Cote d’Ivoire pulled in 2011, where they invited the ICC to open an investigation and accepted the jurisdiction of the court without being a member state of the Rome treaty.
But the chances of that occurring are slim to none, particularly in a case where there have been no deaths or mass violence on Russia’s part. The crime of aggression, although clearly defined in the ICC’s jurisdiction, has never actually been acted upon. A good precedent would be the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, which faced limited international retribution for its potential violation of aggression laws. Even if military action breaks out in Crimea, consequences for aggression are unlikely.
If not the ICC, then Who?
The United Nations is the most obvious international player with an interest in preventing a potential war, but is severely handicapped by Russia’s position on the Security Council. Some articles have speculated that NATO will play one of the biggest roles in standing up to Russia. Although Ukraine is not a part of NATO, NATO has interests in the surrounding Baltic states and Poland, all of which are threatened by Russia’s expansion into Ukraine. The European Court of Human Rights has also been mentioned, although what role it could or would play appears to be ambiguous.
Without any international regulatory institutions directly involved, it might come down to political and economic pressure to convince Russia to not advance. But that poses its own problems–Russia’s economy is largely dependent on the exportation of natural resources, and sanctions on resources such as gas would severely impact European countries like Germany and France, for whom Russia is the biggest supplier.
Given the rapid developments over the past few days, there is no telling where the situation will go in the next few weeks, and who will end up being pulled into this potential crisis in Eurasia.