“…We also see the recent serious flare-up in southeast Ukraine. This escalation pursues the clear aim of preventing the Minsk Agreements from going ahead. The current Ukrainian authorities are obviously not seeking a peaceful solution to this very complex problem and have decided to opt for the use of force instead. What is more, they speak openly about organising sabotage and terrorism, particularly in Russia. Obviously, this is a matter of great concern…”
Vladimir Putin’s speech at meeting of Federal Security Service Board, February 16, 2017
From Fort Russ
February 18, 2017 – Fort Russ –
Rostislav Ishchenko, RIA Analytics
– translated by J. Arnoldski –
On Thursday, February 16th, at the annual meeting of the Collegium of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Vladimir Putin drew particular attention to the situation in South-East Ukraine. According to the president, Ukrainian authorities are deliberately aggravating the situation in the conflict zone in Donbass in order to disrupt the Minsk Agreements and are betting on a military solution to the problem.
The head of state also emphasized that the Kiev authorities “are openly speaking of the organization of sabotage and terroristic, subversive work, including in Russia.”
A signal to the West
It is clear that anti-terrorist and counter-intelligence work lies at the heart of the FSB’s operations. But it is also clear that such statements by the president, by being made public, were aimed primarily at an external audience.
After all, the FSB leadership can be instructed in secret. Moreover, no one doubts that since the very beginning of the civil war in Ukraine, the FSB has followed attempts to spill the war over into Russian territory. Since 2014, the press has periodically been given information on the arrest of both Ukrainian and Russian citizens caught trying to conduct intelligence reconnaissance on the territory of Russia in the interests of Kiev, as well as prepare terrorist attacks.
Thus, the president’s statement was intended not for a Russian, but for a foreign audience. But this audience is not Ukrainian. If there was a desire to appeal to the Ukrainian government, then this would be done through diplomatic channels. And this statement is also not a threat of military response to Ukrainian provocations. Otherwise it would have been made at the collegium of the Ministry of Defense of Security Council.
The choice of place and format for this statement clearly indicates that it is a signal sent to our Western partners.
The FSB has great capacity for conducting counter-terrorist operations. It should be noted that preventative actions against terrorists and their masterminds are one of the main work components of the FSB not necessarily limited to Russian territory.
Sure, their operations on the territory of another state are limited by stringent conditions. In order for preventative counter-terrorism measures on a foreign territory to be justified from the point of view of international law, the concerned state must either be in a state of war or have suffered an unprovoked attack.
There is yet another scenario which is enshrined at the level of the UN Security Council: the loss by an acting government of control over territory from which terrorist activities are being conducted. This scenario is not relevant in this case, however, insofar as the international community does not consider the Kiev government to be incapable of controlling the situation on the territory of Ukraine.
Yet to this day Kiev has explained away all sorts of provocations against Russia, including bloody ones (in Crimea) as the independent initiatives of individuals and refused to recognize their belonging to Ukraine’s security agencies. Russia’s reaction, however, has been limited to diplomatic protests, documenting the facts of provocations, collecting evidence on the involvement of Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR), SBU, and General Staff in them, and presenting these reports to relevant international organizations.
Apparently, a critical mass of facts has been collected and a second aspect – international law – is now going to be activated.
President Putin’s statement was preceded by a report of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation that they had gathered the necessary and sufficient evidence to convict Ukrainian authorities of deliberate terrorist attacks on residential areas in Donbass cities with Tochka-U ballistic missiles. These actions were classified by the Investigative Committee as the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s) against a civilian population.
Putin’s statement takes the line of the Investigative Committee’s report to a logical conclusion. The use of WMD’s against a civilian population can qualify not only as a war crime, but as state terrorism. Such can also be qualified as subversive and terrorist operations against a state which is maintaining a state of peace. This is precisely what Vladimir Putin has accused the Ukrainian authorities of doing.
In recent years, state authorities that have sanctioned actions qualified as state terrorism have been recognized by the international community as having “lost legitimacy.” The application of this label to Hussein, Gaddafi, and Assad suggests that a UN Security Council resolution is not necessary – it is sufficient to be supported by the facts (sometimes unfounded ones) and the statements of the state that considers itself a victim.
The precedents established by the United States over the past 20 years allow any measures to be used against “illegitimate regimes” – including military and special operations, and the recognition and affording of official support to alternative rebel governments waging civil war against the regime. To apply any of these measures, a UN Security Council resolution is desirable, but not required. As the events in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, and Syria have shown, it is easy to go beyond the stipulations of a UN Security Council resolution or simply do without it.
The right to take steps
Russia has always been committed to strict adherence to the norms and procedures established by international law. Therefore, there can be no doubt that such a serious statement by President Putin would not have been made if there was not impeccable evidence and confidence that it is impossible to stop the Ukrainian government in any other way.
In other words, Russia is now ready to provide the international community with evidence of subversive activities sanctioned by the Kiev authorities. Of course, we understand that the presence of even the most impeccable evidence does not guarantee its acceptance as such by the UN Security Council, where everyone has their own interests and all permanent members their own veto power. The situation with the Malaysian Boeing, the culprit of whom the international investigative commission had no way of identifying and the fact that the latter did not examine the information provided by Russia is the best proof of the policy of double standards in modern politics.
However, there is one interesting point. The terrorist activities sanctioned by the authorities of one state against another (i.e., state terrorism) are not simply an act of unprovoked aggression, but a targeted armed attack.
Article 51 of the UN Charter permits the state subjected to armed attack the right to individual or collective self-defense, the content of which is to be decided by the state itself. This state is obliged to at least “immediately inform the UN Security Council on the measures taken and discontinue them as soon as the Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
In this scenario, UN mechanisms are on Russia’s side. Moscow has veto power, and without its consent the Council cannot adopt a binding decision and, therefore, is not able to “independently adopt measures.”
Thus, Putin has signaled to our Western “partners” that if they are incapable of calming the Kiev authorities, then Russia is ready to adopt measures that, although unilateral, are fully consistent with international law down to the spirit and letters of the UN Charter.
And as a cherry on top of the cake – Putin has kept them in the dark as to just what measures these will be (asymmetric). After all, the FSB does not report its plans to the State Department.