The current on-going battle between Russia and Ukraine over the accession of the Crimean Peninsula has inarguably become one of the most controversial matters of the year. Now what Kashmir is to India- Pakistan or the Palestinian Territories to Israel- Palestine; the territory of Crimean Peninsula has proven to be the same to the two East European countries. In just the four months that 2014 has seen the Crimean crisis has shown the world the start of a revolution of peaceful protests turning in to violent clashes; Grave violation of Constitution of Ukraine; a contentious referendum; possibly a renewed cold war; and relentless misinterpretation of international law.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Crimea obtained its pre- 1945 autonomy back and declared itself independent in 1991. In 1994, Russia recognized Crimea as a legal part of Ukraine and signed the Budapest Memorandum. The new- found independence did not last long when Ukraine abolished the office of Crimean President and introduced a new weaker Constitution, with no legislative powers. The status of Crimea and Russian Naval base in Sevastopol have since then been a controversial point when spoken about the Russian- Ukrainian ties.
The Euromaiden protests started in November 2013 with riots in Kiev demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych who postponed signing the Ukraine- European Union Association Agreement and instead got a deal with Russia where Russia would buy $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds, and discount gas prices to Ukraine by one-third, much to everyone’s suspicion. These protests have since carried on hit climax in February 2014. Since February 2014, the world has observed various and very serious violations of International Law.
Russian forces have now entered Crimea and if the reports are to be believed the Russians are now digging trenches in the bridge that connects Crimea to the rest of Ukraine.
Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
The act of Putin- led Russia sending its armed forces in another state without consent, definitely falls under the prohibition of the Charter. As per Reuters, Russian troops have “swarmed the major thoroughfares of Crimea, encircled government buildings, closed the main airport and seized communication hubs, solidifying what began as a covert effort to control the largely pro-Russian region.” Now the question that arises for Ukraine is that can they claim their right to self-defence.
Article 51 of the Charter states that “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”
Thus, for any right of self- defence to be brought up it has to be as a consequence of an armed attack. Astonishingly the only violence that has taken place in Ukraine or in the Crimean Peninsula was committed by the Crimean Tatars or pro- Russian protesters and none as such by the Russian troops or military. Therefore, in absence of armed attack it will be incorrect for Ukraine to avail its right to self- defence. The justification of Russia to UN for sending its troops is to protect its Russian citizens as Ukraine has failed to protect its citizens from the protests. International Law allows such justification in case if, (i) the nationals have been taken as hostage; (ii) where their nationals are under attack; or (iii) where their national are facing more generic threatening situations. In the present case there have been no reports suggesting that any Russian national has even been subjected to threats. Thus, the justification given by Russia fails to find its place in any of the three situations thus, violating the principles of International Law.
On March 16, 2014 the much- awaited results of a referendum showed that some 95.5% Crimeans support joining Russia. Since then all the parties have come up with their respective interpretations of international law on whether the referendum was legal or not.
Article 73 of the Ukrainian constitution: “Alterations to the territory of Ukraine shall be resolved exclusively by the All-Ukrainian referendum”.
The referendum held in Crimea is in clear violation of Article 73 of the Constitution of Ukraine. Only people who resided in Crimea voted and the rest of Ukraine’s people have no been allowed to decide the fate of the peninsula. U.S. President Barack Obama stated that the referendum violates both International Law and the Municipal law of Ukraine. To this Vladimir Putin responded by saying that “Led by the U.S., our western partners prefer in their practical politics to be guided not by international law but ‘might- makes- right law.” Ultimately on 27 March, 2014 the UN General Assembly approved a resolution citing the referendum invalid and illegal- 100 votes in favour, 11 against and 58 abstentions.
The fact is that international law itself is not clear in its treatment of separatist movements. Where, it does not recognize the right of any community to secede per se, it also does not prohibit the unilateral declarations of independence (as done by Crimea itself in 1991). Also going by the logic of the principle of self- determination ideally only the votes of the people of Crimea should matter, making the referendum legal.
International law is ambiguous as to how countries should decide the fate of such disputed territories. But nevertheless the legal methods of resolving issues of sovereignty are found in international law and it is only just to let the people of Crimea decide their fate. On the contrary isn’t one of the shortcomings of international law that municipal law always supersedes it and thus, holding the referendum invalid. There can be many interpretations to the principles of international law stated but ultimately all we can hope for is a peaceful world.
About the Author
A student of Symbiosis Law School, Noida she has an aptitude for public speaking and likes reading. She has an inclination towards International Law, affairs and economics. When she manages to get spare time she is daydreaming about travelling all over the world. She is a big novel and movie buff. She has a special interest in taxation law and wants to pursue the same in the future.