Staunton, June 24 – A discussion of the legal aspects of the possible absorption of South Ossetia into the Russian Federation and its unification with North Ossetia throws into high relief legal arrangements governing such transitions that may have an impact on other places, including Ukraine.
It is common ground among Russian legal specialists that for South Ossetia to become part of the Russian Federation, both an interstate agreement and a referendum in South Ossetia are needed, on the model of the Anschluss of Crimea in 2014; and that after joining Russia as a republic, it could join North Ossetia only as a result of referenda in both places.
But a comment by Elena Kireyeva, a professor of law at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service, raises a point that could have far broader application. She says that “if a state is accepted as a whole, it would be a republic in the Russian Federation; if only part, then three variants are possible: a republic, a kray or oblast, or an autonomy” (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/378634/).
Her words suggest that if Moscow annexes parts of other countries, it would be able under existing Russian law to treat them variously unless it absorbed the other countries as a whole. In the latter case, Russian legislation would either have to be changed or ignored or the country taken in would have to become a republic.
Even with respect to South Ossetia, all such discussions are hypothetical as the Kremlin has made clear that it doesn’t want to absorb South Ossetia at present lest it compromise its relations with Tbilisi. But Kireyev’s analysis may matter if Moscow moves to absorb portions of Ukraine in the coming months.