In order to pursue its expansionist goals in Ukraine, Russia also unleashed information warfare against Ukraine simultaneously with its military aggression. Moreover, it was the “pretext” based on disinformation and falsehoods which Putin used to launch his invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022.
On 24 February 2022, Putin stated that the goals of the full-scale war, which he calls a “special operation,” are to “protect the population from genocide as well as denazify and demilitarise Ukraine together with the protection of those people who were abused and subjected to genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years.” Putin made similar statements at the session of the Human Rights Council in December 2021, saying that “what is happening in Donbas now very much reminds us of genocide.” Russian MFA spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, also made a statement of similar content on 18 February 2022: “The situation [in Donbass] does not resemble a genocide. No, it does not resemble a genocide… It is a genocide…”
The claim that Ukraine was committing genocide in Donbas has become a main propaganda message not only for the Kremlin and Kremlin-run media but in other pro-Russian sources as well. The aim of this disinformation is to proclaim Russia’s actions in Ukraine as legitimate and completely disregard any Kremlin-directed blame.
In fact, there is not a single international document or conclusion of any relevant international organisation whatsoever that would confirm Moscow’s allegations. That Putin and the Kremlin are unable to prove that genocide indeed took place in Donbas is confirmed by the fact that Russia has never officially appealed to the UN Genocide Prevention Office or any other international institutions over the issues of genocide and ethnic cleansing. Moreover, Russia did not launch an inter-state lawsuit against Ukraine until the summer of 2021.
On 22 July 2021, Russia lodged inter-state application Number 36958/21 against Ukraine at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms grants each member state the right to lodge an application about another member state’s violation of the Convention and its protocols. Russia took legal action against Ukraine in 2021 within the scope of this right.
Russia’s application includes multiple alleged violations and blames Kyiv for killing civilians during the 2014 Euromaidan protests as well as for killings and abductions in the following period, a restriction on the use of the Russian language and attacks against Russian embassies and consulates. Of note is that Russia did not press genocide and ethnic cleansing charges against Ukraine in that application as well which indicates that Moscow did not possess evidence to prove such an allegation. Therefore, Moscow’s decision to speak about genocide and ethnic cleansing both before 2014 and amid the February 2022 invasion serves propaganda aims only.
With this application, Russia blamed Ukraine for the violation of the rights enshrined in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In particular, according to Russia’s application Ukraine violates the Convention-guaranteed right to life, the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to liberty and security, the right to respect private and family life, the prohibition of discrimination and the limitation on the use of the restriction of rights as well as the protection of property and the right to education.
In addition, Russia submitted an urgent request to the ECHR to impose temporary measures with the wording as follows:
• To stop the restrictions on the rights of Russian-speaking persons notably as concerns access to the use of their mother tongue in schools, the media and the internet.
• To order the Ukrainian authorities to suspend the blockade of the North Crimean Canal.
Russia requested the imposition of this urgent temporary measure under Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court. Measures under Rule 39 stipulate that when the ECHR receives an application, it may demand that the state take certain temporary measures until the court reviews the case and issues a final verdict.
The Court uses this right when there is a risk of a serious abuse of human rights before the case review is completed. However, the ECHR decided to reject Russia’s application since the situation in Donbas did not involve a serious risk of the irreparable harm of a core right of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The ECHR has not released an update about the aforementioned application since 23 July 2021. It is unknown when the proceedings will continue given the circumstances that the Court has not made any indication to this end in any statements.
Therefore, Russia has not made allegations of genocide against Ukraine. Furthermore, Russia does not have any evidence to substantiate that claim. In response to verbal allegations, Ukraine lodged a case in The Hague’s International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC is the UN’s main judiciary authority and in line with the Rome Statute, its jurisdiction covers four types of crimes as defined by the Geneva Convention: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of aggression. Ukraine’s case concerned Russia’s invasion of the Donbas region and Russia used alleged “genocide” by the Ukrainians against the Russian-speaking population to provide a pretext for the invasion.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) released a preliminary decision over Ukraine’s case against Russia on 16 March 2022. The case was about Russia’s false claims about genocide and using these claims to justify its aggression against Ukraine. The court declared: “Under these circumstances, the Court considers that Ukraine has a plausible right not to be subjected to military operations by the Russian Federation for the purpose of preventing and punishing an alleged genocide on the territory of Ukraine.” The ICJ also called for the Russian Federation to “immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February 2022 on the territory of Ukraine” and said that “the Russian Federation shall ensure that any military or irregular armed units which may be directed or supported by it, as well as any organisations and persons which may be subject to its control or direction, take no steps in the furtherance of the military operations.”
In order to qualify an event as a genocide, there must be evidence that a government or a group which are blamed for the genocide have the intent of a mass annihilation of a population. None of the international organisations which have monitored the state of human rights in the Donbas region since 2014 has confirmed a fact of such deliberate mass-killings. This is proven by reports published by the Council of Europe, the UN High Commission for Human Rights and the OSCE.
On 23 February 2022, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, unequivocally stated that the situation in Donbas is not a genocide. Officials of the European Commission also do not consider the situation in Donbas as a genocide. In response to a journalist, European Commission spokesperson, Peter Stano, stated: “This is what Bashar al-Assad does in Syria, where half a million people were killed. Nothing similar has happened in Donbas.”
The international community agrees that Russia, which invaded the territory of a sovereign nation, is an aggressor in the Russian war against Ukraine. The United Nation’s General Assembly session on 2 March 2022, where a resolution about Russia’s aggression was adopted, is of particular importance. The resolution, entitled Aggression Against Ukraine, demands that “the Russian Federation immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.” The resolution defines aggression as the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another state. The resolution condemns Russia’s use of force against Ukraine starting on 24 February 2022 and it is assessed as a violation of the aims and the principles of the UN Charter as well as the resolution of 14 December 1974. The resolution expresses deep concern in regard to attacks on civilian facilities and the killing of civilians, including women, the elderly, people with special needs and children.
This UN resolution was voted in favour by 141 sovereign nations whilst only five voted against (Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea). This is yet another confirmation that only five nations join Russia’s ludicrous claims about Ukraine being governed by a Nazi regime. All of these 141 nations say that Russia, not Ukraine, is the aggressor. Of note is that the aforementioned resolution is the first of its kind adopted by the UN General Assembly in the last four decades. On 24 March 2022, the UN General Assembly also adopted another resolution as a part of its emergency session entitled Humanitarian Consequences of the Aggression Against Ukraine. The resolution demands that Russia immediately cease fighting against Ukraine and ensure the protection of civilians as well as medical and humanitarian workers. The resolution also echoes the UN Secretary General’s call for Russia to halt the military attack and come back to negotiations.
Therefore, any piece of pro-Russian disinformation that Ukraine was committing genocide in Donbas for eight years which necessitated Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the “protection” of civilians is false.
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