The Legal Case for Russian Intervention in Georgia by Nicolai N. Petro


VOLUME 32 MAY 2009 NO. 5

This article appears on pages 1524 to 1549 of this issue.

Fordham International Law Journal
Fordham University School of Law
140 West 62nd Street, Room 2
New York, NY 10023-7477


Nicolai N. Petro*

Now that some time has passed since the events of early August, it is possible to examine the legal argument for Russia’s military intervention in Georgia sine ira et studio.  While such arguments do not, of course, provide a full explanation for Russia’s intervention—that would require an examination of Russia’s economic, political and military ambitions in the Caucasus—they do tell us a great deal about the context within which foreign policy decisions are made.  It is therefore striking that so few western analysts bothered to seriously consider the legal arguments Russia put forward for what it calls its “peace enforcement” operation, a term introduced by former United Nations (“U.N.”) Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali sixteen years ago.

Had greater attention been paid, it would have revealed the unusual degree to which Russia sought the support of international institutions for what its leadership clearly believed to be a solid legal case for humanitarian intervention.  Since an appeal to legal argument is often considered a hallmark of the Western political tradition (and a weakness of the Russian political tradition), Russia’s emphasis on the legal justification for intervention should be viewed as a significant step to the adaptation of Russian foreign policy to post-Soviet norms.

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* Nicolai N. Petro is professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island (USA).  He is the author or editor of eight books on Russian politics, and has served as special assistant on Soviet affairs in the U.S. Department of State in 1989-90.  Additional publications are available on his web site: www.npetro.net.

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