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I will discuss the referendum and eventual annexation of the territory Crimea from Ukraine into Russia, and the legal implications of those action. The history behind the conflict is fairly diverse, and depending on how far back one actually wanted to probe, the question of where Crimea rightly rests is a very convoluted and controversial question. Rather than determine whether Crimea is rightfully – legally or culturally – Ukrainian or Russian, I will instead focus on the legal ramifications of Russia’s actions in the annexation, and the legal capacity to which they could have acted instead. Some of the biggest issues raised against Russia’s actions in both international law and state/non-governmental actor opinions are the legality of the referendum at all (Brilmayer, 2014), the ability of Ukraine to be divided as a landmass nation at all (Marxsen, 380), The appointment of Russian military forces in Ukraine (BBC), and whether or not Ukraine’s ruling power is legitimate (Bellinger III & Masters, 2014). For the last point, whether or not Ukraine’s ruling power is legitimate, during an interview between John B. Bellinger III and Jonathan Masters for the Council on Foreign Relations, one of the legal issues to take into account when addressing the question of Crimea is Russia’s argument that Ukraine’s government is not valid, and thus the legal authority is void, however they argue that even if it was so, international law would still have been broken when Russia invaded Ukraine’s territory (Bellinger III & Masters, 2014). According to Lea Brilmayer from the newspaper and online media conglomerate The Guardian, one of the biggest issues in determining the legal capacity and breadth of Russia’s actions, is whether or not the referendum in and of itself was legal (Brilmayer, 2014). While the piece from Brilmayer is an opinion article, when cross referenced with the Ukrainian Constitution itself, as per Chapter III, Article 72 & 73, there must be at least 3 million calls for the referendum, that the referendum petitions must come from diverse territory within and around Ukraine, and dictates that a popular referendum is the only way to exact state border change (Constitution of Ukraine). During the referendum that took place in Ukraine, annexing Crimea from Ukrainian Territory and sectioning it off into Russia, according to John B. Bellinger III, and Jonathan Masters, these conditions were not met (Bellinger III & Masters, 2014). Thus, from a simple International Law standpoint, the annexation of Crimea was not legal, because the referendum that caused it was not legal. Brilmayer even brings up a further point, arguing that the implementation of Russian military units inside the Ukraine before the referendum (BBC), could have altered the results of the outcome, even further nullifying the referendum (Brilmayer, 2014). When one takes into account of the legality of the annexation of Crimea, that Russia’s main argument for their actions, the international controversial discussion of whether or not Crimea belongs to Russia now is null and void. By not implementing a referendum according to the constitutional law of Ukraine, the Russian forces have nullified any actions or efforts taken based on the result of the referendum, and by international law, any action based on the referendum is indeed illegal. There are many arguments that one can make before and after the referendum for either side, whether the historical passing of Crimean territory changes the legitimate ownership of the Crimean territory, but from a legal point of view none of that is important. The only thing that really needs to be determined, regardless of who actually owns rightful claim to the territory in question, is was Russia’s action legal, and from this perspective it was not. Marxsen raises, in his analysis of the Crimean conflict, that the referendum was only illegal by Ukrainian constitutional standards, and not illegal under international legal codes, just against international standards (Marxsen, 380-382). While this is a very important criterion to keep in mind, the United Nations charter, to which both Ukraine and Russia are members (U.N., Member States), states in Chapter I, Article 2, “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members” (U.N. Charter, U.N.). According to this principle then, even if Russia did not in fact contradict or break any international law (Marxsen, 380-382), the U.N. Charter article resolutely confirming the sovereignty of any member state proves that Russia’s actions were even illegal under an international setting, and thus the condemnation from Ukraine and from fellow U.N. member states is legal and valid.

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