Publication Date

April 2018


Peter Rutland


College of Social Studies


English (United States)


In 2014, the Crimean territory was annexed and established as two new constituent entities under the Russian government: the city of federal importance Sevastopol and the Republic of Crimea. This move quickly drew a political backlash from the international community, and the territorial transition is still disputed. Although Crimea is officially part of Russia under their domestic law, the majority of the international community has refused to recognize the territorial change, with less than a dozen members of the United Nations accepting Russia?s claim. Due to the controversy surrounding this event and its recentness, it is imperative to gain a better understanding of it and to examine the broader future implications that the Crimea case will have. My thesis considers three distinct questions related to the legal aspects of this annexation and the part Russia played in it. The first chapter looks at whether Crimea can be accepted as a valid case of self-determination. Both the Russian government and Russian scholarship have focused on the right of Crimeans to seek self-determination through a referendum and to subsequently secede from Ukraine. Multiple arguments are used to support this claim, including the illegality of the new regime in Kyiv, the historical connection between Crimea and Russia, the persecution of Crimeans, and the Kosovo case precedent. Each of these must be examined to determine whether or not Crimea could secede under the self-determination principle. The second chapter addresses the extent to which Russia used force in Crimea, and whether or not this was permissible under international law. Similarly to the defense of self-determination, a variety of different arguments have been presented in regard to why Russian forces were in Crimea, including the naval agreement between Ukraine and Russia, an invitation from Viktor Yanukovych, human rights intervention, and the protection of Russians abroad. After addressing all of these aspects in detail, and coming to a verdict on the legality of the annexation and on Russia?s actions in Crimea, it is crucial to more broadly examine the role of international law in Russia?s decision making. What does the Crimea case tell us about how Russia sees, and uses, international law? Russia has long stated its commitment to international law, but could the Crimean annexation be indicative of the rejection of this tradition? The third chapter of my thesis focuses on these questions and on whether Crimea should be interpreted as a case within the existing Russian approach to international law, a one-time departure from the law, or a new Russian approach that has the potential to create a new legal framework. I hope to contribute not only by analyzing Crimea in the context of current legal norms but also by attempting to gain a better understanding of Russia?s place within international law.



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