HomeNewsDiplomatic NewsWestern troops operating in Ukraine, under International Law

Western troops operating in Ukraine, under International Law


Kyiv, 7 March 2024 (TDI): Just after Russia invaded Ukraine, the US government reportedly started mulling over the legality of providing arms to help with the country’s defense.

Similarly recently intercepted messages involving high-level German government and military personnel appear to confirm that British troops are engaged on the ground in Ukraine.

In response, the UK prime minister confirmed that there are few British military personnel “supporting the armed forces of Ukraine”.

In the wake of the invasion, Vladimir Putin, the Russian President declared impositions of economic sanctions akin to an “act of war”.

The Russian analogy of countries supporting Ukraine, by letting it use its bases as a haven for Ukrainian aircraft, relegated their active involvement to an armed conflict and act of aggression.

On the other hand, according to the laws of neutrality, states can provide weapons and other support to a state unjustly attacked by a belligerent country, enabling it to defend itself. The third-party countries would become co-combatants only if they resort to armed force against the attacking state.

The International community views Russia’s incursion into Ukraine as a flagrant breach of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, which prohibits the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.

Russia has been breaching International Humanitarian Law through indiscriminate bombing, violent attacks, and crimes against civilian populations. By this argument, anyone supporting Russia, the belligerent state here, is breaching international law.

Thus the question of legality in supplying Ukraine with weapons to help defend itself poses a difficult question for the international community.

While the law is not settled, legal scholars believe supplying Ukraine with the means to defend itself against Russia does not in itself constitute a breach of international law, nor does it make the supporting countries co-combatants.

Also Read: Freedom of the Seas: Fundamental principle of International Law

Accordingly, to prevent a confrontation with Russia, Nato countries have been wary about the kinds of weapons they will supply to Ukraine. The guiding principle has been that Western-supplied weapons should not be used in attacks against Russian territory.

Russia has consistently maintained that any non-Ukrainian military personnel training troops to operate weapons systems in the country would be legitimate military targets for Russia like the factories producing those weapons systems in third-party countries.

The incident raises some important questions as to whether training Ukrainian troops on the battlefield comprises an act of war, and whether this brings Britain into the ambit of being a co-combatant alongside Ukraine. As per law International Law any action by UK forces would only constitute a combat operation if they directly attack the Russian forces.

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