My old boss Mark Lyall Grant, UK Ambassador to the United Nations, is a deeply unpleasant man. But he was quite right to dismiss Russia’s legal pretext for invading Ukraine on the basis of an invitation letter from ex-President Yanukovich.
The problem is Mark Lyall Grant is the last person in world to have moral authority to do this, as he was directly involved in drafting an invitation letter from ex-President Kabbah of Sierra Leone inviting Britain to invade Sierra Leone, which Britain then did. Mark Lyall Grant said at the UN yesterday about Yanukovich that: “We are talking about a former leader who abandoned his office, his capital and his country, whose corrupt governance brought his country to the brink of economic ruin”. Exactly the same things could have been said about Kabbah, whose government had been massively corrupt – and was again when restored, and who issued his invitation to invade from a five star hotel in London after living in exile in Guinea.
The unspeakable horrors of the Sierra Leonean civil war have led to a lazy mainstream media accepting Sierra Leone as the “good” invasion. But the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone were not a spontaneous outbreak of human evil, they were caused by the massive corruption of ruling coastal elites in both Sierra Leone and neighbouring Liberia, compared to the appalling poverty and lack of basic services and education for those in the hinterland. It is one of the ironies of history that the elites were the descendants of slaves returned with the very best of intentions by the US and UK, educated and given much charitable provision, who controlled the state and then set to exploiting the hinterland tribes ruthlessly from the “hut wars” of the 1880’s on. The eruption of massive scale diamond mining from the 1960’s on escalated levels of corruption, warlordism and violence and almost continual military rule. Laudable attempts to foster democracy did nothing to lessen corruption. The dreadful atrocities of the RUF and Kamajors were a result of the tribal eruption that ensued.
What the British invasion did was simply to put the old corrupt elite safely back in place, and make the minerals secure for western interests. Even more valuable than the diamonds is Sierra Leone’s rutile mine, the world’s single most profitable mine. Following the British invasion guess who suddenly became a director of that mine? Valerie Amos, who was one of the ministers who authorized the invasion, and is now at the UN in charge of pushing for war in Syria.
I always opposed the doctrine of “liberal intervention” and still do. But those who invented “the right to protect” were stupid enough to believe that they would forever be the only military power strong enough to seize assets in other countries. For the historian, the “right to protect” and “liberal intervention” are precisely the same as excuses given for imperial grabs throughout the millennia.
Invading another territory is wrong when the British do it, and it is wrong when the Russians do it. It is quite simply untrue that ethnic Russians were under threat in the Ukraine. International law always recognizes and deals with the government actually in power in the country. If ousted leaders are accepted as having in the right to call in freeing invasion to restore them, the world would be in a state of perpetual war.
Plainly Russian actions are illegal. They do have an agreed right to station forces in Crimea. It is impossible to tell at the moment if the agreed numbers have been exceeded, but the Russian production of Yanukovich’s letter would certainly appear to indicate that. But Russian actions in blocking roads and blockading Ukrainian military bases on Ukrainian soil are plainly illegal.
Russia is behaving as what it is, an imperialist thug. The British and the United States indeed lack any moral authority to make such a statement. But I do not suffer from that handicap, and nor do you.
PS The story of my Sierra Leone involvement is in my book The Catholic Orangemen of Togo. This is available for free download in a number of places around the web, including here.