News Release

Leading Expert on Legal Status of Crimea

AP reports: “President Barack Obama declared on Thursday that a referendum in 10 days on the future of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula would violate international law, and the United States moved to impose visa restrictions and financial sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians for the moves Moscow already has made into Crimea.

“Speaking from the White House, Obama said any decisions on the future of Crimea, a pro-Russia area of Ukraine, must include the country’s new government.

“’The proposed referendum on the future of Crimea would violate the constitution and violate international law,’ Obama said, hours after government officials in Crimea set a March 16 date for a referendum on whether the region should become part of Russia.”

JOHN QUIGLEY, Quigley.2 at osu.edu
Professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University, Quigley dealt with conflicts between Ukraine and Russia arising from the breakup of the USSR on behalf of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Today the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law published his piece: “Finding a Way Forward for Crimea,” which states: “The Russians of Crimea see themselves as being in a posture not unlike that of the Albanians of Kosovo, as that group perceived itself, in 1999. That situation led to military intervention that secured separation. While differences may surely be found between the two situations, the Russians of Crimea do, in the main, fear for their future within Ukraine.

“The Crimea parliament voted on March 6 to separate from Ukraine and to join Russia. It in fact indicated that the separation is effective immediately. Nonetheless, it has scheduled a referendum vote for the population of Crimea for March 16. The ballot will ask voters to choose whether to join Russia, or to remain in the autonomy status in Ukraine under the Ukraine constitution. The vote may well go strongly in favor of affiliation with Russia. The Government of the Russian Federation has not indicated whether it would accept Crimea, but in the Russian Duma, parliamentarians are indicating they will address the issue.

“The majlis — the legislative body representing the Tatars of Crimea — has indicated it does not recognize the recent actions of the Crimea parliament as legitimate. The Tatars may boycott the referendum. They oppose affiliation with Russia. If Crimea does affiliate with Russia, the Government of Russia will need to move proactively to assure the Tatars that their status will be protected.

“Affiliation with Russia, if it comes about, is likely to be regarded by the Western powers as a product of Russian aggression. They might deem the affiliation invalid, an outcome that could result in uncertainty as to Crimea’s status and potential difficulties for its inhabitants.

“Self-determination is a concept whose implementation in the international community has been inconsistent. Given the history of the territory, the population of Crimea has a plausible claim to self-determination. If Crimea remains within Ukraine, it may be an irritant between Russia and Ukraine for a long time to come. It could well be to the interest of Ukraine that Crimea affiliate with Russia. The Government of Ukraine does not see the matter that way, to be sure. It regards the action of the Crimea parliament and the scheduled referendum as unlawful under the Ukraine constitution. It will also point out that Russia has agreed to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

“Whatever the outcome, it is important that the Western powers, Ukraine, and Russia all refrain from regarding the Crimea question through the lens of geopolitics at the world level. The issue should not be whether President Putin or President Obama emerges a winner. The focus should be on the welfare of the population of Crimea.”

Quigley recently appeared on The Real News: “Is Russian-Ukraine Intervention Illegal?

Also see Los Angeles Times: “CIA Reportedly says Russia Sees Treaty as Justifying Ukraine Moves.”