Anarchical Structure of International Relations: The Case of the Russia-Ukraine War

The states in Europe were accepted as sovereign equal units in international relations with the peace of Westphalia, dated 1648.  In 1945, 297 years later than the peace of Westphalia, the United Nations (UN) established by international society as a global international organization. States were recognized as being equal in international arena with the status of the UN too. Thus, it has been possible for states to establish relations independently by using their authority stemming from sovereignty.


In the status of the UN, the responsibility of maintaining international peace and security is left to the UN Security Council, and using of force or threating to use of force prohibited in international disputes, except for the right of self-defense and participation in UN Security Council resolutions. The UN Security Council consists of 15 states, 5 permanent and 10 temporary members. The permanent members with veto right are the United States of America, the People’s Republic of China, France, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation.


There are differences between domestic structure established by a state within its country and international order established by international society in international relations. A state; with the authority stemming from its sovereignty, it has the monopoly of using violence within the country, enacts laws to protect the domestic order, ensures compliance with the law enforcement forces, the judiciary and justice organization, and if required, can punish some who do not obey the law.  Unlike the situation in a country, there is no superior authority that can apply power to the states due to the policies they implement in international arena. States conduct their foreign policies on the axis of the concepts of friend/enemy, power, trust/distrust, self-sufficiency and war. This indicates that a state has a hierarchical structure within its country and there is an anarchical structure in international relations. In this study, the war between Russia and Ukraine will be discussed in the context of the anarchical structure of international relations.


Ukraine, after the disintegration of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), gained its independence in 1991. Discussions on the future of the country after independence continued. Then, 23 years later than independency, President Viktor Yanukovych has been toppled down through a coup with western support. With his departure from the country on February 22, 2014, pro-westerns gained power in Ukraine.  Russia immediately responded to these developments in Ukraine by annexing Ukraine’s Crimea in the same year. In the process leading up to the annexation started in Crimean Peninsula. The soldiers who served at the Russian base stationed in Crimea began to appear in different regions of the peninsula. Armed men without ranks and insignia took control of public buildings including the Supreme Council (Crimean parliament). In the continuation of these developments, the Supreme Council declared that the Republic of Crimea, as being independent entity, decided on a referendum on the status of Crimea on March 6, 2014. Then, on March 16, 2014, it was announced that referendum resulted in a majority vote to join the Russian Federation. Thereupon, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law on the accession of Crimea and Sevastopol to Russia and the creation of new federal regions on March 21, 2014.


States previously parts of the USSR (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and former Eastern Bloc members such as Poland, Czechoslovakia (later Czech Republic and Slovakia), Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania became EU members by following a similar process. The same is also true for Croatia and Slovenia, which got their independence after the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. These countries primarily joined in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), then became NATO and EU members.  Montenegro and North Macedonia which got their independency after the dissolution of Yugoslavia are still NATO members like Albania.


Since 2000, with Putin’s presidency, Russia has been following a policy that prioritizes being respected as a powerful actor, as it was during the Cold War, in international relations, and ignoring the sovereignty of the countries which gained their independence after the collapse of the USSR. Russia, citing security concerns, opposes Ukraine’s NATO membership and NATO expansion towards Russia. This country showed its determination in the policy it pursued, by launching a special military operation in the Donbas region in the east of Ukraine, where the Russians live intensely as of February 24, 2022, including the south and north of Ukraine in a short time. At this point, it should be also highlighted that Russia uses Belarusian territory to attack North Ukraine.


Russia’s use of force in Ukraine has once again opened up the anarchical structure of international relations to discussion. Russia foresees that NATO will become stronger in the Black Sea, if Ukraine becomes member in NATO. Russia, by taking into account that NATO will not abandon its containment policy against Russia and expanding policy towards east since the end of the Cold War, did not hesitate to intervene in Ukraine by setting aside its responsibilities under international law in order to prevent Ukrainian NATO membership. The UN, on the other hand, due to not having any military power or any similar tool which can be used, could not prevent a permanent member of UN Security Council, Russia, and it’s using of force. As a result, with the limited support consist of various weapons, war equipment and volunteer fighters provided by the West, Ukraine, trying to protect its existence on the ground against Russian assault, became a country with the greatest migration mobility in Europe since the World War II.


The Russia-Ukraine War seems to have taken its place in world political history as a new example in which the international order, established in 1945, was destroyed, with a confrontation between national power and international law to protect the national interest in international relations. Whether humanity will succeed in establishing a more effective international order remains uncertain as a question that can be answered in the future.

1 Comment

  1. I congratulate you for this comprehensive information..I look forward to continuing such themes… Intellectual perspectives give people depth. Thanks

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