International Law Governing the Armed Conflict between Russia and Ukraine

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine in 2022 raised significant concerns regarding the use of force and the principles of international law that govern it. The conflict began in February 2022 when Russia launched a military invasion of Ukraine, citing concerns for the safety and security of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine. However, the use of force by Russia in the conflict has been widely condemned by the international community as a violation of the principles of international law. Russia’s actions have been deemed as an illegal use of force against Ukraine, in violation of the principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the prohibition on the use of force.

Under international law, the Principle of Sovereignty requires that all states have the right to govern their own territory without interference from other states. The Principle of Territorial Integrity requires that the territorial boundaries of states be respected by other states, and the Principle of Non-Intervention prohibits states from intervening in the internal affairs of other states. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine violated all three of these principles: The invasion represented an attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and constituted an illegal intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine. Moreover, the use of force by Russia was not authorized by the United Nations Security Council (Article 42 of the UN Charter) and did not meet the criteria for self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.

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International Law

Hostilities between Russian armed forces and Ukrainian armed forces constitute an international armed conflict governed by international humanitarian treaty law (primarily the four Geneva Conventions of 1949[i] and its first additional protocol of 1977 (Protocol I)[ii], and the Hague Conventions of 1907[iii] regulating the means and methods of warfare), as well as the rules of customary international humanitarian law.[iv] Both Russia and Ukraine are the parties to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Protocol I. International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, provides protections to civilians and other non- combatants from the hazards of armed conflict. It addresses the conduct of hostilities—the means and methods of warfare—by all parties to a conflict. Foremost is the rule that parties to a conflict must distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians. Under the International Humanitarian Law, the use of force is subjected to the Principles of Distinction, which requires that the use of force be directed only at legitimate targets and the civilians and non-combatants be protected. Civilians may never be the deliberate target of attacks. Moreover, here applies the Principle of Proportionality, which requires that the harm caused by the use of force be proportional to the military advantage gained.


The invasion by Russian Federation on Ukraine had a great impact on the International community as well as on various aspects of Public International Law. Firstly, the Russian invasion on Ukraine constituted a violation of the prohibition on the use of force contained in the UN Charter and in Customary International Law. The United Nations General Assembly, in the resolution that it adopted on March 2, 2022 characterised Russia’s conduct as an “Aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.”[v]

Secondly, the conduct of hostilities by the Russian forces appears to involve violations of various aspects of International Humanitarian Law. In particular, there have been multiple reports of Russian forces directing attacks on civilian objects in breach of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. These attacks breach the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks in the sense that they are not directed at a specific military objective, or they employ a method/ means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective. Another aspect of breach of International Humanitarian Law deals with the cases were there seems to be a return to siege warfare and a denial of humanitarian access which appears to be in breach of the law relating to humanitarian relief operations in situations of armed conflict.[vi]

Furthermore, the acts of Russian forces in Ukraine may amount to violations of human rights law by the Russian Federation. The International Court of Justice held in the Israeli Wall in Palestine advisory opinion that the protections that are offered by human rights conventions do not cease to apply in case of armed conflict.[vii] It is well known that in the case of particular human rights treaties, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and also the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, whether the state has obligations outside of its own territory will depend on whether victims fall within the jurisdiction of that state within the meaning of the particular provisions of those treaties.

In light of these wrongful acts by Russia, we have seen economic sanctions being implemented globally in response to Russian conduct. The EU has blocked Russian banks from capital markets and the SWIFT payment system as well as banning exports of Russian products. The EU, the US and UK have also banned people and businesses from dealings with the Russian central bank, its finance ministry and its wealth fund. Germany has put on hold permission for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. In addition to these, Political resolutions have also been made. The Council of Europe initially suspended Russian voting rights but has now unanimously adopted an Opinion excluding them. The UN General Assembly, with 141 votes in favour, adopted a resolution demanding Russia ends the military operation in Ukraine.


On March 16, 2022 the ICJ issued its provisional orders that demand “the Russian Federation shall immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February 2022 in the territory of Ukraine.”[viii] The Court prima facie rejected the argument of Russia that, because it was basing its use of force on self-defense under article 51 of the UN Charter, the Court had no jurisdiction as the Genocide Convention was inapplicable. Noting that President Putin expressly referred to stopping genocide as the purpose of Russia’s use of force, the Court rejected Russia’s argument and held it does have jurisdiction under the Genocide Convention. This led the Court to turn its attention to the use of force by Russia based on the claim of genocide. The Court accepted Ukraine’s argument that is 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 in the territory of Ukraine’. Importantly, the Court reiterated that the Genocide Convention duty of prevention operates only ‘within the limits of international law’ and expressed its doubt that the Genocide Convention authorises unilateral use of force in the territory of another state for the purpose of preventing alleged genocide.[ix] The Court granted 3 of the 4 provisional measures sought, ordering the Russian Federation shall immediately suspend the military operations without reference to any purported justification.

However, Russia’s continuing use of force in Ukraine even after the order of ICJ further amounts to a violation of the provisional measures order indicated by the International Court of Justice on 16 March 2022.

Author: Ipsita Sinha, a student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email to or at  Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.


[i] The 1949 Geneva Conventions.

[ii] Additional Protocol I (API), articles 48 et seq.

[iii] The 1907 Hague Regulations, articles 22-28, article 43.

[iv] J.-M. Henckaerts and L. Doswald-Beck, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Volume I: Rules, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005, rules 1-24, pp. 3-76.

[v] UNGA, ‘Aggression against Ukraine’, A/RES/ES-11/1, resolution adopted on 2 March 2022, at, para. 2.

[vi] Prof. Dapo Akande, Use of Force under Public International Law- The Case of Ukraine,, (Last visited May 5, 2023)

[vii] ICJ, Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory

Opinion of 9 July 2002, I.C.J. Reports 2004, p. 136, at, para. 106.

[viii] ICJ, Allegations of Genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Aggression (Ukraine v. Russian Federation), Order of 16 March 2022, Request for the indication of provisional measures, at, para. 86(1).

[ix] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Dec. 9, 1948.

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