Lauri Mälksoo, professor of international law at the University of Tartu, said on the ETV "Ukraina stuudio" talk show that Russian President Vladimir Putin and those around him have grown up knowing that might makes right. At the same time, Putin has signed a document recognizing Ukraine's independence.
"It is contrary to international law. Since 1945, the UN system has been based on states not being allowed to attack other states, it constituting a breach of international law, with one of the criteria being that the aggressor mustn't benefit. Hence the non-recognition policy," Mälksoo said.
"The problem is made more complicated by what Putin said in his September 30 speech, that Russia is not fighting just for territories in Ukraine but in the name of a more suitable world order. Every period's international law is born out of some sort of struggle, which was also the case in 1945," the expert said.
Mälksoo offered that one of the problems with international law in 1945 was Moscow being forgiven for certain breaches. "The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, it was not discussed in Nurnberg. Moscow's hegemony in Eastern Europe was also based on lies to uphold democratic principles in the region. And I believe that Putin and his generation of Moscow power brokers grew up during a time when law belonged to the strongest. Where a so-called internationally constitutional order is created through law," Mälksoo said.
Host Andres Kuusk asked why Putin even needs to present recent annexations as legitimate.
"I think the reason is pretty much the same it was for the Baltics in the summer of 1940. To create an illusion of popular will, democratic processes. For that narrative to dominate over the fact that violence was used. To be able to point to the will of the people, even though no one can check," Mälksoo replied.
The expert said that Putin's Russia is constantly trying to cater to Western sensitivities. The termins they use, such as, "Ukraine has committed genocide" –it's a lie but makes one listen and wonder what if. Or that, "we are acting in self-defense or following the will of the people." All of it works to sow confusion aimed at the Russian people, so they would think that Russia is being defended."
Mälksoo emphasized that Putin's speech also included a lot of messages aimed at the dissatisfied in the West. "The radical right, people who identify as nationalists. The aim is to erode Western unity. Why should you suffer for someone else's misguided war in Russia?"
The professor said that the annexation of Ukrainian territories is contrary to international law because Russia has recognized Ukraine's territorial integrity in the past.
"Russia recognized Ukraine's territorial integrity in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. There is the Ukraine-Russia border agreement from January 28, 2003, signed in Kyiv and bearing Putin's own signature to confirm that Ukraine's territory is that of 1991, including Crimea and the Donbas."
Mälksoo said that the rule of states not being allowed to attack other states or benefit from it surfaced in the late 1920s. "Before that, attacking someone and forcing them to sign a peace treaty to relinquish the territory was the way people lived. In Putin's world, that should still be the case, at least as far as Russia is concerned," he said.
Editor: Marcus Turovski