Skip to main content

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

Posted by on Monday, November 30, 2015 in Articles, Blog, Vol. 48 No. 5, Volume 48.

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.

Leave a Response

ExpressO Top 10 Law Review


The Journal is pleased to announce its 2018-2019 Board of Editors. Complete-Masthead-2018-2019

Vanderbilt University Law School Professor Michael A. Newton’s 2016 VJTL Article entitled How the International Criminal Court Threatens Treaty Norms  was cited by the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s November 2017 filing seeking investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan.

May 2018 Issue on the Second Israel Defense Forces International Conference on the Law of Armed Conflict. Read more about the Journal’s May 2018 issue here.

Thank you to everyone who attended the Journal’s 50th Anniversary celebration on October 5, 2017! View photos from the event here and read about the Journal’s history here.

Connect with the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law on LinkedIn.

The Journal is pleased to listed as the #5 International Law Journal by the 2017 Washington and Lee Law Journal Rankings.

The Journal is very excited about the success of our February 2017 Symposium, “Sovereign Conduct on the Margins of the Law.” Read more about our February 2017 Symposium here

Please join us in congratulating the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 2017-2018 Write-On Competition Winners.

Video is available from the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law’s 2015-2016 SymposiumThis is Not a Drill: Confronting Legal Issues in the Wake of International Disasters. Watch here.