The Commonwealth at a time of threat to the international legal order


By Sir Ronald Sanders 

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United States of America 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 Commonwealth, made up of 54 nations of which 32 are small states, should be deeply concerned at the grave threat to the international legal order caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and should act together to show strong disapproval.

This was the theme of a lecture I delivered at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, on March 7, to over 100 high-level government and military participants from 47 countries, 14 of which were Commonwealth members.  This week’s commentary is a brief outline of some of the points in a 45-minute lecture .

Russian military forces have invaded the sovereign territory of Ukraine in violation of the agreed principles of the United Nations and of international law.  In the words of a distinguished group of international lawyers and academics, on March 4: “President Putin’s decision to launch attacks on Ukraine poses a grave challenge to the post-1945 international order. He has sought to replace the rule of law and principles of self-determination for all peoples by the use of force” .

In almost every international forum, the actions of the Russian government have been roundly condemned, and many governments have instituted measures not only to register their strong disapproval, but also to penalize the Russian government.

However, the response of the 54 Commonwealth countries to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has not been uniform.  Commonwealth countries are located across the globe.  Nineteen of them are in Africa, 8 are in Asia, 13 are in the Americas and the Caribbean, 3 are in Europe and 7 are in the Pacific.

The most telling evidence of the differing positions of the 54 Commonwealth countries is the vote, on March 2, in the United Nations General Assembly on a Resolution that condemned the Russian invasion. Forty-three of the 54 Commonwealth member states voted in favour of the Resolution; and eleven of them abstained or absented themselves.

Of the 11 Commonwealth countries that abstained or stayed away from the vote 7 were African and 4 were Asian.  The three other regions – the Americans and the Caribbean, the Pacific, and Europe – comprising 23 countries, all voted in favour.

To be clear, there was no meeting of governments under a Commonwealth umbrella before the United Nations General Assembly Special Emergency Session on March 2, or at any time, concerning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Each Commonwealth country voted at the Session, or stayed away from it, either on the basis of its own government’s conviction, or in harmony with other non-Commonwealth organisations of which it is a member. Every small state voted for the Resolution of condemnation.

These small countries would almost automatically oppose any military aggression toward any country or invasion of it.  Lacking the military means to defend themselves against a powerful aggressor, and also deficient in economic strength to apply sanctions, these countries depend on respect for the rule of international law and adherence to the principles of the UN Charter to safeguard their sovereignty and territorial integrity.  When the walls of international law are breached, these small and militarily powerless nations become even more vulnerable to aggression from others.  The arbitrary and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine demanded their immediate condemnation in what they would have considered to be their own interests.

The Commonwealth’s greatest benefit to each of its leaders is that it puts them in close contact with each other at first hand, and privately at their retreats, when the leader of the smallest country can talk with the leader of the largest or richest nation as an equal, in frank discussion.

As a practical matter, no other association of countries brings together governments and non-governmental organisations from every continent in the world that have a voice in almost all regional and multilateral groupings, including the G7, the G20, NATO and a host of multilateral organisations such as the Organisation for Co-operation in Economic Development, the Organisation of American States, the African Union, the Association of South East Asian Nations and the Caribbean Community and Common Market.  The potential of a collective Commonwealth outreach into these and other international groups remain of enormous value.

In the present dispensation of international politics and military and economic alliances, it would be impossible to form the Commonwealth today.  That it already exists as a forum for international dialogue and debate in an atmosphere of intimacy is a gift to its members.

In this regard, events in Ukraine and the precedent that Russia has now set by discarding international law and replacing it with force to invade and subjugate the country, should remind the Commonwealth that it, too, has disputes that threaten its member states.  Among these are: India and Pakistan over Kashmir; Guatemala which claims all of Belize; Venezuela that claims two-thirds of Guyana; Argentina and Britain over the Falklands Islands; and issues with Turkey over Cyprus.

As early as 1971, in their Declaration of Commonwealth Principles, Commonwealth countries stated that they were “convinced that the Commonwealth is one of the most fruitful associations” for “international co-operation (that) is essential to remove the causes of war, promote tolerance, combat injustice and secure development among the peoples of the world”.  That declaration remains valid today, with even greater urgency.

The nations of the world are now engaged in a struggle to safeguard the international legal order, which has been gravely threatened by Russia’s invasion of a sovereign State. No states are more vulnerable than small ones which are usually the first victims.

Responses and previous commentaries: www.  

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  1. The countries that support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine


    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his country is not taking part in the Russian war on Ukraine. In a meeting with his army generals, he ordered his troops to protect the borders with Nato members Lithuanian and Poland, saying, “We must see everything that is happening there, in Poland,” the Belta news agency reported.

    But video footage on Thursday morning showed Russian troops rolling across Belarusian borders into Ukraine. Belarus still hosts around 30,000 Russian troops who have taken part in joint military drills this month and are poised to remain in the country indefinitely.

    Using Belarusian territories by Russia to invade a neighbouring Ukraine could be seen by Ukrainian and European officials as direct aggression. Croatia has already summoned its ambassador to Belarus.

    Despite becoming increasingly reliant on Mr Putin to remain in power, Mr Lukashenko thought to command a balancing act between Russia and Ukraine by brushing aside claims of war plans, saying that his country did not want war before the invasion.


    The recent statements from China’s foreign ministry, following a 5,300-word joint-statement by Mr Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month, suggest that China would support Russian demands all the way. The foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had a massive swipe at the US and warned against a spillover of western economic sanctions that would affect China’s interests. After the invasion, China called for restrain and refused to portray the Russian military operations in Ukraine as an “invasion,” which suggests a Chinese aim to stick to Russia’s narrative over the rapid developments.

    But, in reality, the Ukraine crisis poses a significant challenge to China as it tries to strike a delicate balance between its unprecedently close partnership with Russia and its efforts to stop its relations with the west from deteriorating. Beijing has also shown it is willing to accommodate the concerns of Ukraine, the EU and the US, repeating their call for de-escalation and restoration of the diplomatic path.

    To be sure, China is not expected to openly endorse the Russian invasion of Ukraine as this would be detrimental to its positive relations with Ukraine and further cast a shadow over its already complicated ties with the rest of Europe. It would also erode its longstanding claim that it respects sovereignty, territorial integrity of nations and the non-intervention principle.

    North Korea

    The regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un thought to weigh in on the Russia-Ukraine crisis to support Russia and settle a diplomatic score with the US, demanding it to cease its “hostile policy for isolating and weakening” Russia.

    Prior to the invasion, North Korean diplomats met with their Russian counterparts to discuss “strategic cooperation” and “issues of mutual concern regarding the regional and international situation,” as per North Korean press releases.

    Russia is one of the North’s few partners. Last month, Russia and China blocked US efforts to impose sanctions on Pyongyang after the regime launched a record-breaking seven consecutive missile tests in one month.

    South Korean presidential hopeful Yoon Suk-yeol suggested last week that Mr Kim may exploit the war in Ukraine to launch more long-range missile tests. Mr Kim may think that the US and its allies are distracted and out-stretched by the war in Ukraine and that more missile barrage would go unpunished. This would also be portrayed as a test for the Biden administration and its ability to simultaneously observe and effectively deal with multiple security crises in different regions.


    Syria was quick to recognise the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, the Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, hours after Mr Putin this week recognised them as independent states. According to the state-run Syrian news agency, Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Damascus “will cooperate” with the two eastern Ukrainian regions.

    Mr Putin has supported the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad throughout the civil war raging across the country since 2011. Bashar al-Assad also relies heavily on Russia for survival and for the reconstruction of his country from the large-scale devastation which Russian troops played a central role in initiating during the fight against rebels and insurgents.

    Experts say Assad has no option but to show his public backing for Mr Putin’s demands. For instance, Syria also recognized the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the Russian-Georgian war of 2008.


    This week, the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has expressed support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, as the two countries worked to consolidate their relations.

    On Tuesday, vice president of the ruling Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, said that Russia has “every right to defend its position and its territory,” claiming, without evidence, that “People are taking refuge in Russia because they are being massacred in Ukraine.”

    Meanwhile, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who was recognised by the US, multiple European and Latin American countries as the legitimate Venezuelan leader, expressed in a statement his solidarity with Ukraine. His government said that it backed Kyiv in the face of the “unfortunate” realisation of “a unilateral action of intervention” by Russia and condemned the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as “illegal.”

    The Houthis

    Yemen Houthi rebels have supported Russia’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics but warned against the war that would “drain Russian capabilities.”

    Critics of the Houthis say that the Iran-backed group, which seized the capital Sanaa by force and expelled the UN-recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, has received political and financial support from Russia in recent years.

    Experts say that Iran, which called for restrain but blamed the US and Nato for the Russian escalation, would tacitly approve the Houthis’ declare support of Russia’s policies in Ukraine.

    Iran is currently engaged in fierce negotiations with western powers, Russia and China, over the potential revival of the nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018. Russia has sold scores of advanced weapons to Iran in recent years and granted it diplomatic cover in the UN against US economic sanctions.

  2. I notice that the Commonwealth Nations have now gained a voice. Have those nations been asleep for all those years that Israel has been bombing and killing the people of Palestine? Have they been blind to the killing of the muslim people in Iraq, Afghanistan?

    I am indeed sorry for the innocent people in Ukraine but why all of a sudden the whole has awoken?

    Sorry but I would rather save the Muslims because the Arabs/Muslim are more aligned with black people.

  3. by: Greg Hunter
    Even though Russia and Ukraine have been talking, zero agreement has been reached in stopping the three-week-old war between the two countries. There is no good faith effort to end it, and it appears the Deep State globalists want this conflict to continue. The only conclusion you can come to is, ultimately, this leads to war, and that’s what they want. Be prepared for this conflict and escalating sanctions to continue for some time to come. Maybe this is why Martin Armstrong sees a big war cycle coming in 2023.

    It’s been difficult reporting on Ukraine because of the lies and propaganda. For the past few weeks, the Biden/Obama Administration has been denying there are U.S. bio-weapons labs in Ukraine. They called it conspiracy theories and “fake news.” They should have told that to State Department Under Secretary Victoria Nuland because in Senate testimony under oath, she basically confirmed the U.S. did indeed have bio-weapons labs in Ukraine. Nuland said she was worried about the labs falling into the hands of the Russians, and she was not talking about the Russians finding out about a cure for cancer. This breaks a 1992 agreement by the U.S. and Russia on bio-weapons. Another example of propaganda in Ukraine is many of the videos you are seeing contain old video from other battles and even video game footage that simulate war. A big percentage are fake or total misrepresentations of what is going on in Ukraine. It’s all used to sway public opinion against Russia and for NATO. Even globalist George Soros is shilling for Ukraine, and that alone is a huge red flag.

    As the sanctions on Russia increase, the economy continues to tank. The big issue is supply of goods and commodities causing spiking inflation. Just look at wheat prices. Last fall, when winter wheat was planted, the grain was around $ 5.50 per bushel. Today, thanks to sanctions on Russia, it is averaging more than $ 11.00 per bushel. Expect the free bread at Outback and every other restaurant to not be so free in the future. All indications are the tanking of the global economy will keep going because the Russia/Ukraine conflict has no end in sight. and that’s what the Deep State globalists want.

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