Russia’s war must stop

The EU stands for the rule of law against the rule of the gun

Updated - March 24, 2022 01:16 am IST

Published - March 24, 2022 12:15 am IST

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows burning and destroyed apartment buildings in Mariupol on March 22, 2022. Photo: Maxar Technologies via AP

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows burning and destroyed apartment buildings in Mariupol on March 22, 2022. Photo: Maxar Technologies via AP

In the 21st century, on the European continent, bombs are again killing children, women and destroying civilian infrastructure. Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to unleash an unprovoked, illegal aggression against a neighbouring, sovereign country and its population. In violation of Russia’s international commitments, in violation of international law and the United Nations Charter.

An unjustified war

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted on March 2 the resolution on 'Aggression against Ukraine', by an overwhelming majority of 141 in favour to five against, with 35 abstentions. The UNGA issued a resounding condemnation of President Putin’s illegal and unprovoked attacks on a free and sovereign state. The UNGA has been speaking loud and clear in defence of the values and principles enshrined in the UN Charter. Russia must stop and withdraw all military forces from the entire territory of Ukraine – immediately, completely and unconditionally. The International Court of Justice on March 16 also ordered Russia to suspend its military operation in Ukraine. President Putin must heed this clear decision from the international community. This unjustified war must stop.

Across Ukraine, we see the violence and destruction caused by the Russian military, including wide-scale indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets. An Indian student lost his life in Kharkiv on March 1 due to indiscriminate Russian shelling. A children’s hospital and its maternity ward were bombed in Mariupol on March 9. In the past few days, a theatre and then an art school sheltering civilians and children were bombed by Russian forces, again in Mariupol.

Hundreds of civilians have died and more than three million people, mostly women and children, have fled the violence – with many more to come. The European Union (EU), its Member States and ordinary citizens are offering shelter and support to all those fleeing the violence unleashed by Russia, regardless of whether they speak Russian or Ukrainian, of their nationality, ethnicity or skin colour.

The EU together with its friends and partners worked hard for months to avert this war and pursue the path of diplomacy. There was no threat emanating from Ukraine. President Putin chose to unleash an invasion, a fully-fledged war, violating the most basic principles of international law and all agreements, covenants and treaties underpinning Europe’s security such as the Helsinki Final Act or the Paris Charter – to which Russia is a party. This multilateral framework is the foundation of European security, including Russia’s security. There can be no justification for President Putin’s attack against a sovereign country.

The Kremlin underestimated the resistance of the people of Ukraine against such unprovoked and unjustified aggression. Ukraine has resisted despite the overwhelming number of Russian forces and the outrageous escalating tactics that the Kremlin has chosen, including attacks on residential areas and nuclear power plants.

The EU is united

President Putin may have counted on the EU to be divided. Instead, he has led Russia into growing isolation. The EU has shown unity and taken concrete steps with real bite. From the start of the war, we have worked to support Ukraine and condemn President Putin’s actions. We reject a world where “might makes right”.

We have adopted tough and unprecedented sanctions, targeting the sectors that are key in financing and supporting this war - the financial, energy and transport sectors - and we have placed restrictions on dual use goods. The list of Russian individuals sanctioned now include President Putin and Minister Sergey Lavrov as well as top oligarchs, political and military figures who have responsibility for the aggression.

In addition, we have cut off the most significant Russian banks from the SWIFT system and frozen all transactions with the Russian Central Bank. All EU member states have closed their airspace to Russian aircraft. EU heads of state and government met in Versailles on March 10-11 and adopted further important measures, such as reducing drastically the EU energy dependency, phasing out Russian gas, oil and coal and bolstering our defence capabilities. These sanctions will come at a cost for our economy, but investments today will make us more independent tomorrow.

We are taking these measures to isolate further Russia and drain the resources to fund this war. Russia and its leaders cannot grossly violate international law and, at the same time, expect to benefit from the privileges of being part of the international economic order. The international community shall stand united to stop President Putin’s war machine.

We will also continue to fight the Kremlin’s disinformation, including the fake narrative about NATO as a threat to Russia: there was no NATO threat whatsoever. There was no enlargement process going on for Ukraine. There were no NATO weapons in Ukraine, no provocation. The aggressor tries to pose as a victim but the facts speak for themselves: death and destruction upon defenceless civilians in Ukraine.

Ukraine has been attacked and is defending itself. The EU has therefore decided to support Ukraine financially and supply it also with military equipment and platforms, for the first time in the history of the EU. Russia’s outrageous attack on Ukraine was a shock, sending waves across the continent and further afield, signalling that it prefers a world where the rules-based international order gives way to the law of force. The reaction from Europe has been consistent and determined. We stand with Ukraine.

As the UN Secretary General said: “We need an immediate cessation of hostilities and serious negotiations based on the principles of the UN Charter and international law.” We have to ramp up pressure on the Kremlin to stop this war.

A watershed moment

We do not know when or how this conflict will end. We want Russia to come back to reason so that peace can be re-established in Ukraine and the European continent. This is a watershed moment. Repercussions will have a global impact and the risk of further escalation cannot be ruled out. The EU will stand for the rule of law against the rule of the gun. The international community as a whole has to stand for a rules-based order and shall prevail against the dark vision of a world of naked aggression and brutality.

Ugo Astuto is Ambassador of the European Union to India. This article is co-signed by the Ambassadors and High Commissioners of the 27 EU Member States

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