Does Russia have the right to protect Donbass?
By Stanislav Smagin
Over the past few years, senior officials of the Russian Federation have publicly outlined conditions, under which the country may in some form actively intervene in the Ukrainian-Donbass conflict, not only by political and diplomatic methods.
During another escalation of this conflict in spring this year, the criteria were announced by Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Dmitry Kozak, who oversees the issues of Donbass and Ukraine.
This is what he said: "Everything depends on what the scale of fighting will be. If there is, as the president says, a Srebrenica, we will be forced to stand up for ourselves."
Mentioning the President's words, Kozak was referring to Putin’s statements at the 2017 Valdai Forum.
‘If all this is not done then closing the border between Russia and the unrecognized republics will lead to a situation on par with Srebrenica. There's just going to be a massacre. We will never allow it".
At another press conference in December the same year he said: "If they [Donbass] have no such opportunity [to defend themselves], so-called nationalist battalions will arrange a massacre there that will be even worse than the one in Srebrenica".
And after negotiations with Zelensky, Macron and Merkel two years later he said: "the Ukrainian side always raises the question: 'Give us the opportunity to close the border with troops.' Well, I imagine what will happen next. That will be a Srebrenica, that's it".
In this regard, it makes sense to recall what the notorious Srebrenica is.
This is a Bosnian town taken by the Bosnian Serb army on July 11, 1995, during the Yugoslav Civil War.
According to the Bosnian Muslims (actively supported by the West), eight thousand of their tribesmen of different age and gender died following the assault.
Widely disseminated information about the incident became one of the main "fuses" for the large-scale Croatian-Bosniak-NATO offensive on Serbian territories in Croatia and Bosnia, which ended up with the Dayton Accords.
Later on, the Hague International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia found General Ratko Mladić, who got a life sentence, and a number of Serbian officers guilty of the tragic events.
The remarkable thing is that there are many inconsistencies about the Bosnian-Western version of the tragedy.
Nevertheless, it is basically clear why Russian statesmen use the name of the Bosnian city in statements more or less designed for an international audience.
It has long become a kind of meme for the Western society, deemed a synonym for "genocide" and "massacre" by even those little or superficially familiar with at least the official Western Bosnian version of the 1995 events.
Mentioning Srebrenica is a short path to explain readiness criteria for actively intervening in a conflict and protecting civilians.
By the way, Kiev "hawks" regularly present themselves as a kind of inheritors of the Yugoslav war's anti-Serbian forces and promise to conduct their future offensive in the Donbass right under the post-Srebrenica guidelines for "solving the Serbian issue".
Therefore, our "away game" should be both thoughtful and diverse. For instance, Russia may rightfully and reasonably operate with the phrase "humanitarian intervention".
This concept has existed for more than a decade, and was legally and officially introduced into international law by the UN "Responsibility to Protect" concept in 2005.
The idea of humanitarian intervention suggests that international community members can intervene in the affairs of another state if the latter fails to protect its citizens from ethnic cleansing, war crimes, massacre for belonging to a particular community – or if the state itself acts as an initiator/promoter of such phenomena.
Western countries often use the good idea to overthrow regimes unsuitable for them, aiming to achieve their own selfish goals.
In cases where intervention is really and objectively required, waiting for it is oddly difficult. This was the case in 1994 during the genocide in Rwanda. The US did not intervene at all back then.
France, which had close ties with the forces that orchestrated the massacre, intervened at the very last moment, but in such a clumsy, inconsistent and doubtful way that the Rwandans themselves still consider it more a murderer accomplice than a defender of victims or at least a neutral buffer party.
Russia, on the other hand, has a wealth of experience in implementing the "responsibility to protect" in its truest and noblest meaning.
Back in the 1820s, we fought with the Ottoman Empire in defense of the rebellious Greeks. Then, be it noted there was cooperation of Britain and France, with geopolitical goals having accompanying humanitarian ones, if not exceeding them.
But in 1877, we exposed swords against the same enemy largely for altruistic and protective goals, while the European attitude ranged from benevolent neutrality to ardent hostility. Although in Britain being the most hostile country, influential politician William Gladstone admittedly did a lot to defend Russia's stance and neutralize the pro-Turkish line. The West clearly lacks such Gladstones nowadays.
In Ukraine, innumerable reasons for humanitarian intervention have accumulated over the last seven years, and not only in the Donbass – enough to recall the Odessa Khatyn.
In the Donbass, this number keeps multiplying with every passing day. Let's mention just one recent incident. In cold blood and aware of facing a civilian did a Ukrainian sniper shot an explosive bullet at a Donetsk resident, who lost his leg in a shelling six years ago, depriving him of the second one. Just for fun.
In such a case protection is not only a right, but a duty in a physical sense.
Not only for reasons of geopolitics and national security, although those are undeniable in the case of Ukraine. What comes to the fore is humanitarian considerations and sufferings of part of the same Russian people, who already got hundreds of thousands of Russian passports
__________________________________________________________________________ Stanislav Smagin is a political analyst