Tom Ginsburg Discusses “Authoritarian International Law” in Light of the Invasion of Ukraine

Russia, Ukraine and the Dangers of Authoritarian International Law

Vladimir Putin’s claims of genocide in Ukraine were more than a fictional basis to rally domestic support for an invasion, according to University of Chicago Professor Tom Ginsburg. They were an example of a growing trend Ginsburg has termed “authoritarian international law.”  We spoke with Ginsburg, the co-chair of the World Justice Project’s research consortium and the author of the 2021 book  Democracies and International Law, about Putin’s motivations and how authoritarians are co-opting the language of human rights and the rule of law to justify terrible ends. We also asked him for signs of hope in countering authoritarianism, even as the latest WJP Rule of Law Index found it to be rising in more than 70% of countries studied.

WJP: Let’s start with the big question, what do you think has motivated Putin to invade Ukraine?

Ginsburg: Well, it's pretty clearly been a dream he's had for some time to reverse what he sees as a historic weakening of the Russian state and the sacrifice of the empire. His biographies it make clear that this is something he's been focused on for a long time. It's also the case that Russia has genuine security interests in its neighborhood. And in many ways, the EU and NATO expanding ever closer to his borders over the last decades did provoke a reaction. For instance, as I discuss in my book, Putin set up an alternative, international organization, the Eurasian Economic Union, which was seen as being a counterweight to the European Union, and it very much copies the EU institutional infrastructure. He’s also been trying to play a more muscular foreign policy. So I think the motives are pretty clear, and they're not very surprising. 

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