Eastern and Southern Ukraine’s Right to Secede and Join the Russian Federation

10 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2014 Last revised: 11 Aug 2014

Date Written: August 10, 2014


This article aims to answer a multi-faceted question: do the people occupying the region of Eastern and Southern Ukraine have the right to secede from the Republic of Ukraine and merge with the Russian Federation. It also evaluates the legal status of the economic sanctions imposed upon the Russian Federation for its alleged interference in the internal affairs of the Republic of Ukraine.

Public International Law provides no definitive answer to the first question, though “conventional wisdom” denies a right of secession. The denial turns primarily on two United Nations General Assembly Resolutions: (1) the UN General Assembly Declaration on Decolonisation, and (2) the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on Friendly Relations of 1970. The matter is exacerbated by the claim that the term “people” used in relevant international covenants recognising a “right of self-determination” is insusceptible of definition. Historical illustrations of secession and competing legal theories among scholars further confound the meaning of legal texts.

By contrast, public international law provides a definitive answer to the second question. Without a UN security council resolution, members of the UN may not impose economic sanctions against another member state. In the case of the Russian Federation, the economic sanctions imposed against the Russian Federation primarily by the United States and the European Union constitute violations of public international law.

This article proceeds from the assumption that the international legal system does not repose on a foundation of empirical validity, but rather upon sets of authoritative statements, insusceptible of verification. In this context, the article seeks to construct an argument, based upon canons of statutory construction partially embodied in the Vienna Convention of 1969, to applicable international covenants, and the implied right of secession contained in the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on Friendly Relations of 1970.

This article makes no pretension that its “reasoning” is correct, since that claim would contravene the basic premise that law is not only a “dismal science”, but no science at all. Rather, the ambition of the article is modest: to construct an argument based upon interpreting documents in their “best light”, without getting bogged down in traditional doctrinal analysis, or the mud of history.

Keywords: public international law, secession, self-determination, Ukraine, Russia, Russian Federation

JEL Classification: L50

Suggested Citation

Burke, John J. A. and Panina-Burke, Svetlana, Eastern and Southern Ukraine’s Right to Secede and Join the Russian Federation (August 10, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2474819 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2474819

John J. A. Burke (Contact Author)

RISEBA University ( email )

Meza iela 3
Riga, New Jersey 050010

HOME PAGE: http://www.riseba.lv

Svetlana Panina-Burke


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