On April 1 the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation made a cynical statement claiming that Russia’s military intervention in Crimea, followed by the illegal annexation of the peninsula, was not a violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. The statement was yet another demonstration of Russia’s contempt for and disrespect of international law and of its indisputable obligations before the international community.
Moscow is again trying to justify its aggressive military actions by the referendum which took place in Crimea on March 14, 2014. The Kremlin, in particular, stated that under the Budapest Memorandum Russia “did not undertake an obligation to force part of Ukraine to stay within its territory against the will of the local population”.
Yet this rhetoric is nothing but Russia’s hypocritical attempt to manipulate the facts to its own advantage. The infamous referendum in the Crimean Autonomous Republic was held in flagrant violation of the Constitution of Ukraine, which stipulates unconditionally that any changes to the territorial composition of Ukraine must be decided exclusively by an all-Ukrainian referendum.
Such a provision, notably, is fully in line with the generally recognized international practice related to the self-determination of peoples. The international community has long recognized the grave risks of uncontrolled and unlimited aspirations of statehood: to allow the world’s countless ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities to seek self-determination through the formation of new independent states would plunge the world into chaos and derail the modern system of international peace and security.
This logic was recently re-confirmed by the majority of the world’s nations in the UN General Assembly’s resolution on Crimea (07.042014), which reaffirmed the territorial integrity of Ukraine and stressed that the referendum “held in the Crimean AR and the city of Sevastopol did not have a legally binding force and could not be referred to as a ground for the change of the legal status of the Crimean AR”.
Russian diplomats’ claims that their country is being wrongfully blamed for the sabotage of the nuclear non-proliferation regime are no less absurd. They argue that since Russia has not violated the key obligations under the Budapest Memorandum, the so-called “negative guarantees”, which prohibit the use or the threat of use of nuclear weapons, it has not violated the agreement as such.
In reality, however, the Memorandum in addition to these “negative guarantees” contains five more equally binding legal provisions, which, inter alia, contained commitments “to respect the independence, sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine”, “refrain from threatening the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine and that no party’s weapons will ever be used against Ukraine”, as well as obligations “to refrain from using economic pressure with the view to subjecting Ukraine’s exercise of its sovereign rights to [the signatory parties’] own interests”.
Thus the security guarantees given to Ukraine by the Budapest Memorandum in return for relinquishing its nuclear weapons must be interpreted by states’ parties in their entirety. To conveniently refer to the “key” provisions of the document, while ignoring the other, no less important ones, is to make a mockery of international law.
One can hardly disagree with the statement of Russia’s Foreign Ministry which says that the recent commitments are not just the part of the Budapest memorandum, but also a part of other international agreements. Therefore, through its aggressive and violent actions against the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Russia has violated a number of universal international treaties, including the UN Charter.
In addition, Russia has bilaterally reaffirmed its commitment to respect the borders of Ukraine in Article 6 of the “Treaty between the USSR and the RSFSR” of November 19, 1990, in the “Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership” of May 31, 1997, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as in Article 5 of the “Treaty on the Ukrainian-Russian state border” on January 28, 2003.
Thus, the above multilateral and bilateral agreements of which Russia is a part create a clear system of safeguards to preserve the borders of Ukraine. There is nothing that can justify the breach of the system of contracts. If any such deviation occurs it becomes an egregious violation of the fundamental rules of international law.
PhD, Senior Research Fellow
State and Law Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine