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Political energy well spent in the soft power media war? Undoubtedly

April 20, 2014

A somewhat  deliberately un-academic yet slightly academic entry today.

It relates to why there is still so much political and diplomatic energy being spent refuting each and every  Kremlin statement about Ukraine – even after Mr Putin himself has eventually and publicly admitted that those “little green men” that appeared in Crimea and that were so robustly denied, were indeed, as we all knew, Russian special forces.

“We had to take unavoidable steps so that events did not develop as they are currently developing in southeast Ukraine.  Of course our troops stood behind Crimea’s self-defence forces.

Other than the issue that the special forces actually set the scene for the local self defence forces to be established after critical infrastructure had been seized, is it an accurate statement that comes as no surprise to anybody.  A lie revealed as a lie by the liar.

Every Kremlin lie, misleading statement or false parallel has been challenged in the public realm fairly convincingly – so why is political and diplomatic energy still being spent refuting what are so blatantly clear falsehoods at every single opportunity?  The disingenuous nature of Kremlin propaganda has been proven already after all.

The answer lays not only within the soft power war occurring in the media – a battle in and of itself – but also within the attempt by the Kremlin to pervert that still uneasy concept within international law that is “responsibility to protect” (R2P) – an instrument employed when dealing with systematic and widespread human rights violations that is yet to consolidate itself withing  customary international law.

I have mentioned R2P several times over the past few months as it seems attempts at creating faux pretext are being established by The Kremlin.

R2P is a somewhat malleable concept that falls within what is known as a “soft law”.  For want of a better definition “soft law” is a non-binding international instrument that uses legal language but creates no legal obligations.  Perhaps a poor definition, but this is not an academic entry about R2P and deliberately so – a general outline will suffice.

Without going into too much detail, R2P works on the concept of levels of responsibility.

Naturally, the responsibility to protect the ethnic Russians and Russian speakers within the territory of Ukraine, first and foremost is the responsibility of Ukraine.  That is why The Kremlin goes to great lengths to show Ukraine is failing in that task.  Living in a Russian speaking city and speaking Russian in it myself, in Odessa, Ukraine has no case to answer.  Kremlin charges simply do not stick.

The next level of responsibility would be that Ukraine forms international partnerships to protect the rights and wellbeing of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine.  It is no accident nor sign of failing to protect, that Ukraine has asked OSCE to send monitors.  This was a deliberate tactic to refute the Russian pretext for the final level of R2P intervention.  It is also no surprise that Ukraine has also asked for UN peacekeepers to prevent that same pretext.

The last level of R2P to which I refer is of course direct intervention within a sovereign State by an external actor – but the who decides if a State has failed in its duty to protect?  Who decides whether to intervene, and who is sent to intervene?  This is where it all can get a little messy.

R2P is about prevention, reaction and (unfortunately) rebuilding after the fact.

The traditional view would be that only the UN Security Council can authorise such a R2P military intervention.  Any unilateral or regional intervention would therefore be illegal under international law.

However the inability of the UN Security Council to agree on much has raised questions about whether any unilateral or regional intervention without UN Security Council authorisation would actually be illegal.

R2P has within it a “legitimacy criteria” – and it is against this criteria the global public and many nations are likely to judge any interventions – with or without UN Security Council mandate.  Perhaps a conflict between justification, legitimacy and legality would exist as a result – or perhaps not.

Uncharted international legal waters, but waters that will eventually be sailed several times before an answer is accepted as a legal normative no doubt – one way or the other.

Anyway, it is against – at least in part – the R2P “legitimacy criteria” that the political and diplomatic energy is consistently being used to negate Kremlin claims in the public realm (beside the self perpetuating soft power war in the media).

For a Russian military incursion on the pretext it is attempting to sell to the world,  to legitimately and justifiably test the international legal waters without a UN Security Council mandate it would have to:

1.  Show “just cause” – The scale, gravity and systematic human rights violations against ethnic Russians and Russian speakers.  Large scale loss of life?  Planned genocide?  Ethnic cleansing?

This The Kremlin is patently failing to convince thus far.

2.  Have the “right intention” for its intervention.  In short the pretext for intervention is purely a human rights driven cause.  There is no pretext or intent for a land grab, control of raw materials, political control etc.

At the very least, political control is what The Kremlin seeks to achieve with regard Ukraine.

3.  “Last resort” – There is no other option to direct intervention to protect those whose human rights are being grossly and systematically violated.

The Kremlin has yet to display any systematic or widespread human rights violations against ethnic Russians and Russian speakers let alone justify any “last resort” criteria.

4.  “Proportional means” – Will Kremlin military intervention in Ukraine be proportional to the human rights violations they claim occur?  Is military intervention proportional at all?

The Kremlin claims have been refuted by the UN and OSCE monitors thus far.

5.  “Reasonable prospects” – Would military intervention have reasonable prospects of preventing further rights abuses?

Quite honestly, there first needs to be a fire before it can be put out.  Therefore reasonable prospects of dousing a fire that has not been ignited has no chance of succeeding.  Thus The Kremlin now seeks to at least give the impression of smoke where a blaze has failed to ignite.

So whilst it may seem that a lot of political and diplomatic energy is being spent – and possibly perceived as being wasted – refuting each and every Kremlin statement in the soft power war, there are other very good reasons for doing so other than point scoring in the media.

As it seems the Kremlin seeks to establish some legitimacy/justification to enter Ukraine on the pretext of a responsibility to protect styled narrative, the continued refuting of the R2P legitimacy criteria is absolutely essential.

Political and diplomatic energy well spent?  Undoubtedly – even if it doesn’t prevent any overt military incursion – in part or in full – it clearly displays any such incursion as nothing more than an act of unjustified military aggression and war.

For now every false and misleading Kremlin statement rebuffed regarding the rights violations of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers not only scores points in the soft power war, but also undermines the legitimacy and justification for any R2P-esque scenario.

 

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