Entering the Third Year of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict: International Barriers to Stopping the Ongoing Conflict


Over two years ago on February 24, 2022, Russia launched its military operation in Ukraine.[1] Since the commencement of the war, the United Nations has adopted resolutions and released various statements condemning Russian actions.[2] However, the United Nations has not placed on Russia one of its most common sanctions that it uses to encourage peace amongst nations.[3] Under the Article 41 of the U.N. charter, the U.N. can implement sanctions to discourage the actions of various countries.[4] However, the implementation of sanctions is dependent on the approval of the U.N. Security council.[5] This has created extreme limitations in sanction implementation and other resolutions, as exhibited by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.[6] The international legal community needs to consider restructuring the procedures of the U.N. Security Council to allow the Security Council to take effective action in international conflicts.

The U.N. Security Council comprises fifteen members, five of which are permanent members with veto power.[7] The permanent members of the Security Council are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.[8] These members were granted a special voting power known as the “right to veto,” which provides that if any one of the five permanent members voted against a resolution or decision, said decision will not be approved.[9]

The U.N. Charter authorizes the Security Council to adopt resolutions that would discourage the actions of various states, such as calling for a ceasefire or implementing sanctions.[10] Under Chapter VII, Article 41 of the U.N. Charter, the Security Council is authorized to interrupt economic relations completely or partially between countries to attempt to restore peace.[11] If the security council decides to impose sanctions, they first adopt a resolution establishing a new sanctions regime, where they decide what specific sanction measures will be the most effective.[12] Sanctions can include embargoes, assets freezes, or travel bans.[13] Once sanctions are approved by the Security Council, the Sanctions Committees, which are subsidiary organs of the Council and composed of all members of the Council, provide guidance on the implementation on sanctions, and monitor and provide recommendations on particular sanction regimes.[14]

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is rooted in centuries of cultural, economic, and political bonds.[15] After the fall of the Soviet Union, former Soviet states were divided into twelve independent republics, including Ukraine.[16] The two nation-states have deeply rooted ties, resulting in the Russian diaspora into Ukraine.[17] Further, the conflict between the two countries has largely stemmed from Crimea.[18] After the fall of the Soviet Union, many Russian nationalists in both Russian and Crimea called for a return of the Crimean peninsula.[19] Tensions between Russia and Ukraine rose in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea.[20] After this annexation, many pro-western advocates pushed for Ukraine to join western allies in NATO, which many theorize to be part of the reason for Russian invasion.[21]

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, the United States and NATO attempted to negotiate with Russia and threated to issue sanctions.[22] After months of attempted negotiations and diplomatic efforts, Russia invaded Ukraine.[23] However, the sanctions were merely a threat.[24] President Zelensky of Ukraine “pushed for the immediate implementation of sanctions, arguing that the sanctions contingent on invasion was ‘not the way to do it.’”[25] It took until two days before Russia invaded Ukraine for any sanctions to be implemented; sanctions were then placed against Russian parliament members, banks, and other assets in response to Putin’s troop order.[26]

Although individual countries placed sanctions on Russia, the U.N. Security Council could not act as a unified front to condemn Russian military actions.[27] After Russia’s invasion, the Security Council proposed a draft to call for a ceasefire for the Russian Federation.[28] Eleven members on the Security Council voted in favor of a ceasefire; however, the Russian veto prevented the adoption of the resolution that would end the crisis in Ukraine.[29]

The limitations of veto power regarding international sanctions are not unique to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.[30] For example, during the Syrian Civil war, the Security Council failed to adopt a resolution that would condemn the crackdown on anti-government protestors.[31] Permanent members of the Security Council, including France, the United States, and the United Kingdom believed that sanctions were necessary to minimize the conflict occurring.[32] However, this resolution’s failure to pass resulted from vetoes by the Russian Federation and China.[33]

The Russia-Ukraine conflict exhibits some of the shortfalls of international law. There needs to be a reexamination in the structure of the U.N. security council to allow the body to take effective action in international conflicts. Such restructuring might include making a country that is part of an act of ongoing violence abstain from voting, or it might include the prevention of the veto power if the majority of the Security Council votes in favor of a resolution.

[1] U.N. Regional Information for Western Europe, The UN and the War in Ukraine: Key Information (Sept. 3, 2022), https://unric.org/en/the-un-and-the-war-in-ukraine-key-information/.

[2] Id.

[3] Lt. Col. Susan S. Gibson, International Economic Sanctions: The Importance of Government Structures, 13 Emory Int’l L. Rev. 161, 165 (1999) (discussing the U.N. use of economic sanctions)

[4] See U.N. Charter, art. 41

[5] Id.

[6] See Press Release, Security Council, Security Council Fails to Adopt Draft Resolution on Ending Ukraine Crisis, as Russian Federation Wields Veto, U.N. Press Release SC/13808 (Feb. 25, 2022).

[7] U.N. Charter, art. 23 ¶ 1

[8] Id.

[9] U.N. Security Council, Voting System, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/content/voting-system

[10]  See Lt. Col. Susan S. Gibson, supra note 3 at 190-91 (discussing how international sanctions are implemented in the U.N.).

[11] U.N. Charter, art. 41

[12] U.N. News, UN Sanctions: What They Are, How They Work, and Who Uses Them (May 4, 2016), https://news.un.org/en/story/2016/05/528382-un-sanctions-what-they-are-how-they-work-and-who-uses-them.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] See Jonathan Masters, Ukraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia, Council on Foreign Relations (Feb. 14, 2023, 7:00am), https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russia.

[16] The Collapse of the Soviet Union, Office of the Historian,, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1989-1992/collapse-soviet-union.

[17] Jeffrey Mankoff, Russia’s War in Ukraine: Identity, History, and Conflict, Center for Strategic and International Studies (Apr. 22, 2022), https://www.csis.org/analysis/russias-war-ukraine-identity-history-and-conflict.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Jonathan Masters, Ukraine: Conflict at the Crossroads of Europe and Russia, Council on Foreign Relations (Feb. 14, 2023, 7:00am), https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-crossroads-europe-and-russia.

[21] Id.

[22] Contemporary practice of the United States Relating to International Law: Use of Force, Arms Control, and Nonproliferation: Russia Invades Ukraine, 116 A.J.I.L. 595, 595 – 601 (2022).

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Timeline: The events leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Reuters, March 1, 2022), https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/events-leading-up-russias-invasion-ukraine-2022-02-28/

[27] Press Release, Security Council, Security Council Fails to Adopt Draft Resolution on Ending Ukraine Crisis, as Russian Federation Wields Veto, U.N. Press Release SC/13808 (Feb. 25, 2022).

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Press Release, Security Council, Security Council Fails to Adopt Draft Resolution Condemning Syria’s Crackdown on Anti-Government Protestors, Owing to Veto by Russian Federation, China, U.N. Press Release SC/10403 (Oct. 4, 2011).

[31] See Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.