The United Nations Security Council
© Reuters / Eduardo Munoz
The United Nations "Security" Council
The role reversal between Russia and the West becomes ever starker.

During the Cold War the West supposedly stood for international law and human rights. The USSR was supposed to represent the antithesis.

What we now see is the EU proposing to the UN Security Council a Resolution that would permit the European powers to launch military strikes to destroy ships supposedly owned by human traffickers in Libyan ports.

Not only would this violate whatever tattered vestige of sovereignty Libya still has left. Use of military force to destroy ships in this way without any pretense of due legal process is about as gross a violation of the basic legal principles of the presumption of innocence and of the right to trial and due process as it is possible to get.


It has taken Russia — the country always criticised in the West for its supposed lack of conscience, violation of human rights and disrespect for law — to point this out.

Not only has Russia pointed it out, it has made it clear that the proposal is completely unacceptable and that Russia will veto any resolution based upon it.

In the words of Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's ambassador to the EU, "apprehending human traffickers and arresting these vessels is one thing. But destroying them would be going too far." Destruction of ships without a court order and the consent of the host country would amount "to a contravention of the existing norms of international law".

Russia's objections are so obviously correct that the EU has been forced shamefacedly to accept them. Latest reports suggest that the proposal has been dropped and that the EU is now working on a more restricted mandate involving a search and rescue role for Europe's military alongside powers to stop and seize traffickers' boats at sea.

What this episode once again shows is that the popular Western image of Russia as a brutal, lawless place has no truth.

Russia is unaffected by Mediterranean migrant flows. However if it were as indifferent to humanitarian considerations or to the rule of law as is repeatedly said, then it is difficult to see why it would object to the proposal. It is not as if Russia gains anything by doing so.

The reality is that Russia is far from being a country without conscience or one which is indifferent to human rights and to the rule of law. On the contrary Russia's history makes Russia particularly sensitive about these matters.

By contrast it is Europe that is taking its commitment to human rights and the rule of law increasingly for granted, and is therefore becoming increasingly indifferent to how it violates them.