“The Russian war with Ukraine has entered a new phase based on a return to mass indiscriminate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. This includes the indiscriminate deployment of kamikaze drones. The use of these drones is like Adolf Hitler’s deployment of the V-1 flying bombs during World War II.”

Vladimir Putin has declared that he “has no regrets” regarding his special Ukrainian military operation. This statement was part of another attempt to justify his invasion of Ukraine. On Tuesday 18 October 2022 General Sergey Surovikin, Russia’s new commander of the so-called special military operation, proclaimed that “Russians and Ukrainians are one people” and “we just want one thing, for Ukraine to be independent of the West and NATO and be friendly to the Russian state”.

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The implication is that the goal is for Ukraine to become dependent on Russia. Nevertheless, one wonders how indiscriminate targeting of Ukrainian citizens and civilian infrastructure by kamikaze drones supports a military objective intended to encourage Ukrainians to be friendly to the Russian state.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Putin cannot afford to fail in Ukraine. Any failure would result in serious political consequences for Putin, but more importantly for the Russian Federation. Russia’s on-going failures in Ukraine have highlighted that the country has made major strategic errors over the last two decades that have undermined the country’s reputation as being a military superpower. The Russian Federation is divided into 89 federal subjects of which 24 are republics with their own constitutions, official languages, and national anthems. Some of these republics may decide that now is the time to break away from the federation given Russia’s military and economic weakness.

ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 24, 2024
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ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, April 24, 2024

Latest from the Institute for the Study of War.

Putin’s special military operation has triggered a domino effect that is beginning to set off a set of reactions within Russia and across the Russian Federation. The importance to Putin of not failing in Ukraine implies that Russia will increasingly intensify what Putin and Surovikin would claim to be so-called military activities, but what in reality are actions that are war crimes, crimes against humanity and climate crimes.

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‘Just war theory’ is a doctrine that proposes that a war must be morally justifiable and must meet a set of criteria. These criteria are divided into two groups. On the one hand, there is jus ad bellum, or the right to go to war, which concerns the criteria for starting a war. On the other hand, there is jus in bello, or the right conduct in war, and here the focus is on activities that occur once a war has commenced. As far as the right to go to war is concerned, Putin would argue that Russia is not at war with Ukraine. However, Russia’s partial military mobilization undermines this position. Thus, Russia is at war with Ukraine.

The problem for Russia is that there are no satisfactory or justifiable grounds for instigating this war. Ukraine was no threat to Russia. Putin argues that his war is about protecting Russians living in Ukraine. This argument then also collapses given the ways in which Russia is conducting military operations in Ukraine based on jus in bello. There is no question that Russia is indiscriminately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

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For Russia, Putin’s war with Ukraine must be defined as ‘unjust’. Ukrainians are responding to an illegal and unjust invasion. Ukraine could fall back and let Russia annex Ukraine, but this would be an unjust response to an unjust military activity. The only just action for Ukraine is to defend its people and territory.

This might seem to be a very philosophical discussion, but it is critical for all countries that are not directly involved in Russia’s Ukrainian war. Thus, countries can indirectly or directly support Russia’s unjust war. Indirect support includes abstaining from UN General Assembly resolutions. Direct support includes voting against UN resolutions and providing Russia with direct and indirect support. Indirect and even direct support of this unjust war also includes engaging in activities that work around sanctions.

The problem that all countries have is in deciding how far they should try to discourage Russia from engaging in inappropriate conduct on the battlefield. The Russian war with Ukraine has entered a new phase based on a return to mass indiscriminate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

This includes the indiscriminate deployment of kamikaze drones. The use of these drones is like Adolf Hitler’s deployment of the V-1 flying bombs or Vergeltungswaffe 1 (Vengeance Weapon 1) during World War II. The V-1 was deployed as a form of terror bombing of London in 1944. Thus, the deployment by Russia of kamikaze drones represents the use of a new form of vengeance weapon intended to terrorise the Ukrainian people and this is counter to jus in bello.

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Two important points come from this discussion of the initiation and conduct of ‘just’ versus ‘unjust’ wars. The first is the urgent need for the UN General Assembly to come to some agreement regarding jus in bello, or the right conduct in war that includes recent innovations in weaponry. This must include a clear statement that the indiscriminate use of kamikaze drones targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure is morally unjustifiable and any such use must be defined as a crime against humanity and as a war crime.

The second point concerns countries that are directly or indirectly supporting either Russia or Ukraine. For those supporting Russia, now is the time to reconsider this support and this includes the 24 republics that are members of the Russian Federation.

Those countries that are supporting Ukraine must enhance their level of support. There has been too much talk regarding providing Ukraine with an air defence shield and not enough provision of equipment. There are on-going talks of sanctions, but now is the time to have a discussion regarding maximising sanctions and making a clear link between maintaining all sanctions as long as Russia continues to occupy any territory that is defined under international law as Ukrainian.

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There must be clarity regarding Russian petrochemicals. Recently, Putin visited Turkey and proposed that Turkey should become a gas hub for Europe that would replace the Baltic Sea’s Nord Stream pipelines. This type of proposal should be ridiculed. Putin’s unjust Ukrainian war has highlighted the stupidity of any form of energy dependency based around one country supplier. No European country must permit itself to become too dependent on one energy source or energy provider.

Thus, Russia might decide to develop a new energy hub to support European clients, but there needs to be a clear message from all European countries that Russia as a major European energy supplier is something that occurred in the past. Putin’s initiation of an unjust Ukrainian war means that Russia can never again be a dominant energy provider.

Putin’s declaration that he has no regrets regarding his Ukrainian war must be challenged by actions rather than just by talk. He must be forced to regret his special military operation by actions taken by all Russian citizens and by those living within the Russian Federation, by the Ukrainian military and by all countries and people who recognise that Putin’s Ukrainian war is unjust.

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John R. Bryson, Professor of Enterprise and Economic Geography, Birmingham Business School

For further information, please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0)782 783 2312 or [email protected]. Out-of-hours, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

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