This article is dedicated to the publications of the Russian legal scholars on the annexation of Crimea in 2014 or, according to the Russian version of the events “Crimea’s reunification with Russia.” Based on the factual circumstances of the case and the norms of Ukrainian constitutional law and international law, as well as modern approaches in international legal doctrine, the article analyses the key arguments of the Russian authorities and its legal scholarship, namely the following: 1) Russia’s use of force against Ukraine was necessary to defend Russian nationals and compatriots; 2) Russia’s use of force against Ukraine was a lawful response to the request for assistance by the legitimate leaders of Ukraine (V. Yanukovych) and Crimea (S. Aksyonov); 3) the events in Crimea were a secession, with the subsequent accession of the Republic of Crimea to the Russian Federation as an independent state; 4) Ukraine disregarded the principle of the equality and self-determination of peoples vis-à-vis the residents of Crimea, therefore, Crimeans had the right to secede; 5) Crimea is historically Russian; 6) Ukraine had been exercising peaceful annexation of the peninsula since 1991, and Russia did not object to this (subject to certain conditions, which Ukraine violated in 2014); 7) the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 was illegal. This article evaluates whether these claims hold any weight under international law. In addition the general trends in contemporary Russian approaches to international law are outlined and their effects on its foreign policy are examined.
In light of international law, the incorporation of the Crimean Peninsula (Crimea), which forms part of Ukraine’s territory, into the Russian Federation qualifies as annexation, i.e. the illegal acquisition of the territory of another state by the threat or use of force. In this respect, Crimea remains an occupied territory under international law. The annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation has violated many treaties and fundamental principles of international law, namely the principle of territorial integrity of states, non-intervention into the domestic affairs of another state, and the prohibition of the threat or use of force against another state. Consequently, the Russian Federation has violated Ukraine’s rights which enjoy international protection. Moreover, due to the special legal status of the principles of international law that have been violated, the Russian Federation has breached its commitments under law to the entire international community. This community has an international legal obligation not to recognize the illegal situation created by the illegal use of force in the form of armed aggression, and its consequences.
On 11 March 2014 Crimea declared independence. Ukraine and international society has not recognised that act. However Crimea’s independence was recognised by Russia and on 18 March 2014 an agreement on the accession of the Republic of Crimea to the Russian Federation was signed. Many countries and international organisations have condemned that step, viewing it as illegal annexation. Regardless of how this situation is treated however, it is at present a fait accompli. Such a situation evokes legal consequences both in the internal law of Ukraine and Russia as well as on the plane of international law. The residents of Crimea appear to be in the worst situation. Legal certainty is a fiction for them now. There are also problems on the international plane. Despite the fact that in the opinion of international society Crimea remains an integral part of Ukraine, in practice there are many conflicting problems of a legal nature that cannot be solved, at least for the time being. This article analyses the legality and certain legal consequences of the “accession” of Crimea to Russia and the effect of this accession on the legal situation for residents of Crimea. The article concludes that legal situation of Crimeans will not improve anytime soon, and that the legal problems which have arisen on the international plane will not be resolved soon either.
The international community anxiously awaited delivery of the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Kosovo’s declaration of independence, hoping it would clarify the controversial right of self-determination and the right of secession. Although it was hailed by many as a confirmation of both rights, the advisory opinion was disappointing regarding that part of the analysis which was based on general international law. The ICJ interpreted the question posed in a very narrow and formalistic way. It concluded that declarations of independence (not their consequences) are not in violation of international law, but it did not rule that they are in accordance with international law, as was requested in the posed question. The ICJ refused to examine whether there is a positive entitlement to secession under international law. Although Kosovo and its supporters claimed that the case of Kosovo is unique and will not set a precedent, Russia used the case of Kosovo and the advisory opinion to justify the so-called referendum in Crimea and the subsequent incorporation of Crimea into Russia. However, the situation in Crimea is only superficially comparable to Kosovo and the advisory opinion gives little or no support in the case of Crimea