Monday, July 18, 2022

Moscow Moving Cautiously on Legal Arrangements for Annexing Portions of Ukraine Lest They be Used Against Russia, Baymukhametov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – If Moscow were to adopt a law that would allow it to absorb portions of another country on the basis of a vote by residents of these portions alone and not the agreement of the country of which they are a part or their declaration of independence from that state, such a law could be used against Russia, Sergey Baymukhametov says.

            “Some destructive elements in some subject of the Federation could use these formulations and declare (in violation of the laws of the Russian Federation) a referendum about independence and at the same time about joining let us say Denmark, possibly with the right of internal autonomy like the Faroe Islands and Greenland,” the Russian commentator says.

            That risk, he continues, explains why Moscow has avoided taking any such steps and also why the situation of South Ossetia is very different from Moscow’s point of view than that of the LNR, DNR or other parts of Ukraine (

            Baymukhametov’s hook for this discussion is Kazakhstan President Kasym-Jomart Tokayev’s recent remark that the integrity of states and the right of nations to self-determination are in conflict. But Tokayev is “not precisely accurate,” he says, given that international law provides a way out of what looks like a complete impasse.

            After the 2014 referendum in Crimea, many Russian officials and ordinary citizens were furious that the West did not accept that decision of the Crimean people and complained that they were being subject to “double standards.” After all, they said, “why are you recognizing Kosovo but not Crimea?”

            But the two cases are very different. Kosovo, having proclaimed independence, became an independent state and did not plan to join another state. Crimea, in contrast, did not declare its independence but simply voted to shift itself from one state to another, a act that from the point of view of international law is very different.

            Not only international law but Russian law as laid out in the Constitutional law of December 2011 requires that any such transfers be agreed to by the governments of the two countries involved. Because Ukraine was not about to do so, Russia ultimately adopted a different position and insisted others respect it.

            On February 28, 2014, Baymukhametov continues, a measure was proposed in the Duma that specified that when no agreement between the states involved in such a territorial transfer is possible, it is possible “to accept within the Russian Federation part of a foreign state on the basis of a referendum by the residents of that part.”

But when it was recognized how such a declaration might be used against the Russian Federation, he says, this draft bill was “quietly withdrawn” the day after the referendum was held in Crimea. Consequently, Russia did not adopt a legal principle that could be used now in the case of other portions of Ukraine. Any annexation would not rest in Russian law.

Moscow plans to go ahead with referenda in the DNR and LNR and perhaps other portions of Ukraine, but it will be doing so without the legal basis that many assume it has. This will simply be an act arising out of force or requiring that Moscow insist that Ukraine is no longer a state with which the Russian government could reach an agreement.

As to South Ossetia – on legal complexities of its situation, see – the situation is simpler and more difficult, simpler because South Ossetia has declared itself an independent state but more difficult because Georgia doesn’t recognize this action and Russia wants to maintain its relations with Tbilisi. 

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