No busting of sanctions against Russia

By Sir Ronald Sanders 

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States.  He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto.  The views expressed are his own) 

The Caribbean cannot escape the economic and financial consequences of the Russian Federation’s invasion of the sovereign, independent nation of Ukraine.    

The effects of these consequences are already being felt in higher oil prices (at the time of writing, on March 3, the global oil benchmark, rose to $113.94 a barrel, the highest since June 2014), and they will intensify if the Russian action continues, forcing the world community to show its displeasure through the many sanctions that have been imposed on Russia, not only by countries but also on bodies responsible for international sport. 

Rightly, Caribbean countries have participated fully in expressing their disapproval of Russia’s infringement of the United Nations Charter, the Charter of the Organization of American States and of international law by its unlawful, unjustified, and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.    

On February 24, all CARICOM states jointly issued a statement, making it clear that  “the hostilities against Ukraine go counter to the principles of respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-interference in the internal affairs of another sovereign state and the prohibition on the threat or use of force, and the peaceful resolution of disputes, which are the bedrock of this Community”. 

On February 25, all but four CARICOM countries, joined in co-sponsoring an OAS Declaration by more than two-thirds of its member states, led by Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala, that “strongly condemn(ed) the unlawful, unjustified, and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation and call(ed) for the immediate withdrawal of the military presence and the cessation of any further military actions in that country”.   

On that same day, the UN Security Council failed to issue its own condemnatory resolution because Russia, exercised its veto, as one of five permanent members, to stop the resolution.  The continued existence of a veto by any one of only 5 countries is a serious anomaly in today’s world.   Each of these countries can halt binding UN action against their own violations, crippling the ability to censure them, as is evident from the Russian veto. 

After hesitation by some CARICOM countries to participate in the UN General Assembly meeting on Ukraine two days before the invasion, all of them were among the 141 nations at the Special Emergency Session, on March 2, that deplored “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine” and demanded “that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders”. 

It is, of course, right that CARICOM countries should adopt a strong position on any country that violates international law by invading other nations, and by seeking to alter the settled borders of countries by force.  Within CARICOM, Venezuela threatens Guyana’s territorial integrity and Guatemala threatens Belize’s.  In the case of Guatemala and Belize, they have both agreed to seeking a peaceful settlement through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Guatemala has led from the front in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, Venezuela has refused to accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ, and its President is reported to have stated his support for Russia’s unlawful actions against Ukraine. 

At the meeting of the OAS, where the overwhelming number of countries made a declaration condemning the Russian invasion, I stated on behalf of Antigua and Barbuda the following: “Small and military powerless states depend upon adherence and respect to the agreed and settled principles that are set out in the UN Charter and in international law. When these principles are flouted and international law is violated, small states are obliged to speak out loudly in our own interest as much as in the interest of nations that are the actual victims of aggression”.    

And, that is the crux of the matter.  When international law is breached, the wall that safeguards the interest of small states crumbles, exposing them to the aggression of others; and that aggression can come in many forms, not only military. 

In any event, the action of Russia in the Ukraine is now so vicious, so inhumane and so alarming that no right-minded society anywhere in the world can do anything but forcefully condemn it.   Innocent people, including children and babies, are being killed in their homes as Russia bombards them with long-range missiles in the Russian government’s attempt to seize control of their country.  Nothing could justify such brutal and cowardly behaviour. 

In standing up for an immediate end to the unjustified violence and slaughter in Ukraine, and for the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia, the 141 countries that voted at the UN, and the 25 that voted at the OAS, including all CARICOM states, were also standing up for the protection of themselves from the tyranny of more militarily powerful countries.  They were standing up for human values of the right to life and the right to live in peace within secure borders. 

In every society, there are those who seek to gain from misfortune and misery.  Sadly, there is already some speculation in the Caribbean that governments should allow private companies to profit from busting sanctions against Russia by accommodating, for instance, the yachts of the Russian Oligarchs who have become billionaires through their cosy relationships with the Russian government.   

Still others complain about the higher prices that they will have to pay for commodities, such as oil and its related uses.  But such persons should be reminded that freedom and the protection of human life and dignity comes by defending what is right and by some sacrifice.   

Higher prices will have to be paid for a time, but it is worth the freedom and rights that all humanity deserves.   To see the sacrifice for rights and freedom, we need look no further than the courage of the Ukrainian people – men, women and children – who are confronting Russian military tanks and weaponry with nothing in their hands but the flag of their besieged nation. 

In the Caribbean, we should remind those, who advocate sanctions busting for short term gain, of the biblical admonition: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul”. 

Responses and previous commentaries: www.sirronaldsanders.com 

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