Illegally Evading Attribution? Russia’s Use of Unmarked Troops in Crimea and International Humanitar

Ines Gillich, Dr. iur (Ph.D. equivalent), Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany. Her article discusses Russia’s use of Unmarked Troops in Crimea.

The Crimean Crisis of February and March 2014 poses several questions to International Law. This Article explores one of them: Does the use of unmarked troops, soldiers in uniforms but without nationality insignia, in Crimea violate principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)?

This Article first provides a brief summary of Crimea’s history and the facts of the 2014 Crimean Crisis. It will be argued that IHL is applicable to the events in Crimea in February and March 2014 since the unmarked soldiers are attributable to Russia—either as Russian nationals or through Russia’s exercise of control over them—and that there was no valid consent given justifying an “intervention by invitation.” The Article will argue that the principle of distinction under IHL is not violated since it requires only that combatants should be distinguishable from the civilian population but does not require a link between the combatant and a particular party to the conflict. Furthermore, it will be demonstrated that IHL regarding military uniforms leaves states a broad area of discretion as to the appearance of a military uniform and does not oblige combatants to visibly disclose their nationality by wearing emblems or insignia. This Article will also argue that the use of unmarked soldiers in the case at hand does not amount to illegal perfidy under IHL but—absent clear legal provisions and noticeable examples from state practice—must be regarded as a lawful ruse of war. Lastly, the final Part will consider whether it is wise to amend the current legal rules in order to prohibit the use of unmarked soldiers in similar situations arising in future armed conflicts and will spell out a recommendation.