briefly about Crimea
Crimea is a peninsula located in the southern part of
Ukraine on the coast of the Black Sea. Through its history it was controlled by
the Turkish and Russian Empires. In 1954 it was transferred from Russian SFSR
to Ukrainian SSR. After Ukraine gained independence in 1991 Crimea got status
of the autonomous republic. Nearly
60% of the Crimea population are Russians, 24% ? Ukrainians, 12%
? Crimean Tatars1.
of Crimea: how did it happen?
The annexation of
Crimea took place in the aftermath of the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 through
a carefully staged process.
On February 26, 2014, a week after
President Victor Yanukovych escaped from Ukraine armed men in uniforms without
identifiable signs started to seize control over the government institutions in
Crimea. The next day the Russian flag was put on the top of the Crimea’s
parliament and Sergey Aksyonov was declared to be a new prime minister. More
armed men, referred to as “little green men” appeared. Meanwhile, temporary
government in Kyiv was caught by surprise: the Ukrainian military at Crimea was
commanded to stay at their military bases.
The referendum with only two options
to choose: a) join Russia or b) return to the Crimean Constitution of 1992
giving Crimea a sovereign status was held on March 16, 2014. Referendum was
held breaking the Ukrainian national law, without approval from the central
government, no western observers such as OSCE or ODHIR were present. According
to the referendum organizers, 83% of registered voters took part in the poll
and 96.7% voted to unify with Russia. Most of the world’s countries have not
recognised the results of the referendum and referendum itself as it was held
violating Ukrainian national law.
On March 18, 2014 President Vladimir
Putin and Sergey Aksyonov signed the Treaty on Accession of the Republic of
Crimea to Russia, which three days later was ratified by the Russian
Parliament. In less than a month, Crimea became a subject of Russia2.
In the aftermath of the annexation the
oppression of the Crimean Tatars followed.
The latter continue to be arrested for expressing political views that
are unpopular with the Russian government, face increased travel restrictions,
unwarranted raids and extremely costly fines3. Since
2014, 37 Crimean Tatars had been arrested in politically motivated cases, 20
Crimean Tatars were in prison, and 17 were under house arrest or under travel
arguments for the legitimacy of the referendum and their invalidity in terms of
the international law
Annexation is the forcible acquisition of the
territory by one state at the expense of another state5.
Annexation of Crimea was achieved
through the use of force, breaking basic principles of the international law
concerning sovereignty and territorial integrity: “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
It should be noted, that Russian actions break also a number of bilateral
agreement, signed between Ukraine and Russia. For instance, the 1997 Treaty on
Friendships, Cooperation and Partnership: “both parties shall
build their mutual relations on the basis of the principles of mutual respect for
their sovereign equality, territorial integrity, inviolability of borders, peaceful
resolution of disputes, non-use of force or the threat of force, including economic
and other means of pressure, the right of peoples to freely determine their
fate, non-interference in internal affairs, observance of human rights and fundamental
freedoms, cooperation among states, the conscientious performance of
international obligations undertaken, and other generally recognized norms of international
The Russian Federation opposes the term “annexation” used
describing its action in Crimea, defending the legality of the referendum and justifying
use of force through arguments presented below.
Russia acted in defence of the Russian-speaking population in Crimea
Russian Federation claims that their intervention in
Crimea was necessary and legitimate applying to the principle of the
self-defence as Russia protected its nationals living in Crimea from the
violent Ukrainian revolution, targeted persecution, discrimination, etc8.
However, the principle of the
self-defence can be used only “if an armed attack occurs against a Member of
the United Nations”9. Russia’s use of the armed
force in the territory of another sovereign state to protect Russian minority
does not qualify as self-defence. Even if Russian population in Crimea was
threatened by targeted persecution, such actions won’t be considered as an
“armed attack”. Consequently, Russia’s argument lacks legal background.
3.2.Russia intervened in Crimea because of the request
made by a Ukrainian government for military assistance
On 4th March 2014 Russian
Permanent Representative to the Security Council of the United Nations, Vitaly
Churkin, presented a photocopy of the letter requesting Russian military
intervention to restore law and order, signed by Victor Yanukovych on the 1st
March 2014. In such way Russia tried to
classify its actions not as an invasion, but as a lawful response to a government
request for military assistance.
It can be argued whether the document
was real, as only photocopy was presented, and whether Victor Yanukovych was
still a legitimate Ukrainian president on the 1st March 2014, but
even if the document was real and Victor Yanukovych was a legitimate leader of
the state, he still did not have a right to ask for military assistance from
the foreign state: “The
authority of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine comprises: approving decisions on
providing military assistance to other states, on sending units of the Armed
Forces of Ukraine to a foreign state, or on admitting units of armed forces of
foreign states onto the territory of Ukraine”.10
Under the Ukrainian Constitution
President does not possess a right to request military assistance from the
foreign state, this power is given to the Ukrainian Parliament. That’s why
Russians actions are not considered as a lawful response to the government
3.3.Crimea became a subject of Russia as a result of the
A result of the referendum on the
status of Crimea is the final Russia’s argument which applies to the principle
The referendum was held on 16th March 2014 and 96.7% voted in favour
of joining Russia as a federal subject.
However, the referendum seems to be
controversial and illegal for several reasons.
First of all, “Issues of altering the territory of Ukraine are
resolved exclusively by an All-Ukrainian referendum”12.
“An All-Ukrainian referendum is designated by the
Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine or by the President of Ukraine, in accordance with
their authority established by this Constitution. An All-Ukrainian referendum
is called on popular initiative on the request of no less than three million
citizens of Ukraine who have the right to vote, on the condition that the
signatures in favour of designating the referendum have been collected in no
less than two-thirds of the oblasts, with no less than 100 000 signatures in
each oblast”13. Consequently, the referendum on the status of Crimea
broke the Ukrainian national law, as according to it referendum can be called
by the Ukrainian Parliament or President and it should be held in each oblast,
not only in Autonomous Republic of Crimea. That is the main reason, why this
referendum is illegitimate.
Secondly, violations of the voting procedure took
place. There were no international observers, such as OSCE; there is evidence
that some bulletins had marked answers already before the referendum; there
were only two options to choose neither of which was about the keeping of the
remaining status quo of Crimea.
reaction of the international community to the annexation of Crimea
On March 27, 2014 the UN General
Assembly has adopted the resolution, drafted by Ukraine, declaring Crimea’s
referendum illegitimate, refusing to recognise Russia’s annexation of the
peninsula. The resolution was passed with 100 votes in favour, 11 votes against
(Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Russia, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria,
Venezuela and Zimbabwe) and 20 countries did not vote14.
The USA, the EU, Canada and Australia
responded to the events in Ukraine with sanctions against Russian Federation.
Since March 2014, the EU has
progressively imposed different types of restrictive measures against Russia: diplomatic
measures; individual restrictive measures (asset freeze and travel
restrictions); restrictions on economic relations with Crimea and
Sevastopol; economic sanctions; restrictions on economic cooperation15.
Most of the sanctions were extended by the Council till March-July 2018
(different type of the sanction has a different date).
The USA authorized sanctions
on individuals and entities responsible for violating sovereignty and
territorial integrity of Ukraine (restriction on the travel for certain
The USA has imposed targeted sanctions limiting financing to 6 Russian banks
and 4 energy companies (such as Rosneft). Other important restrictions are
concerning exportation or re-exportation of goods and technology used for
exploration of Arctic deepwater and shale projects that might have a potential
of oil production in Russia. The USA sanctions are open-ended.
The combined effected of the
sanctions and fall in oil price resulted in the inflation and fall of the GDP
growth in Russia. In sum, Western
sanctions have been a success in terms of the proximate goal of inflicting
damage on the Russian economy17.
Annexation of Crimea is illegal as it
breaks the Constitution of Ukraine and basic principles of the international
law stated in the UN Charter.
For Ukraine annexation of Crimea
means loss of the strategic geopolitical region, loss of the state property
located on the peninsula, of the exclusive economic zone on the Black Sea and
the Sea of Azov, the breakup of the Ukrainian crisis. For Russia annexation of
Crimea was a short-term success, followed by great political and economic
International response to the events
occurring in Crimea was immediate and followed by the sanctions imposed by the
EU and the USA. It should be noted, that these sanctions represented a joined
efforts of the Western power to put pressure on Russia.
The question of the Crimea status and
its return to the control under the Ukrainian jurisdiction is unlikely to be
solved in the nearest future, because of the lasting Ukrainian crisis, arm
conflict in the Eastern Ukraine and instability in the region.
1 About number and composition population of Ukraine by
data: All-Ukrainian population census 2001 data State Statistics Committee of
Bilash Article “How it all happened-The Annexation of Crimea”
Article “Crimean Tatars: Despite International Condemnation, Russia Continues
Planck “Encyclopedia of Public International Law” Oxford Public International Law
6 Article 2
Charter of the United Nations
7 Treaty on
Friendships, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and Russian Federation
Balouziyeh Article “Russia’s Annexation
of Crimea: An analysis under the principles of Jus ad Bellum”
51 Charter of the United Nations
85, paragraph 23 of the Constitution of Ukraine
Balouziyeh Article “Russia’s Annexation
of Crimea: An analysis under the principles of Jus ad Bellum”
Article 73 of the Constitution of Ukraine
72 of the Constitution of Ukraine
News Article “UN rejects Russian annexation of Crimea”
15 Council of
the EU “EU restrictive measures in response to the crisis in Ukraine”
Department of State, Ukraine and Russia sanctions (state.gov)
Review Magazine, Article “Sanctions after Crimea: have they worked?”