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


Full Text:


This article answers a multi-faceted question: do the people occupying the region of Eastern and Southern Ukraine have the right to secede from 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 Ukraine.

The argument 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 constructs an argument based upon relevant public international law texts, interpreted according to contemporary jurisprudential thought and principles of statutory construction partially embodied in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969, the implied right of secession contained in the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on Friendly Relations of 1970, and the need to achieve pragmatic results to legal questions. The argument thus avoids traditional doctrinal analysis and the mud of history.

In short, the people occupying the region of Eastern and Southern Ukraine have the right to secede from Ukraine and merge with the Russian Federation, and the economic sanctions imposed against the Russian Federation for its presumed interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine are illegal under the United Nations Charter and the World Trade Organisation.


About the Authors

John J.A. Burke
Almaty Management University

Professor of Law and Director of the LL.M. Programme, School of Law

227 Rozybakiev str., Almaty, 050060, Republic of Kazakhstan

Svetlana Panina-Burke

227 Rozybakiev str., Almaty, Republic of Kazakhstan;

Diploma in Mechanical Engineering, Ukrainian State Marine Technical University (1997)


1. Balanovsky, Oleg, et al. Two Sources of the Russian Patrilineal Heritage in Their Eurasian Context, 82(1) Am. J. Hum. Genet. (2008). doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2007.09.019

2. Blair, David. Russians Are Trying to ‘Eliminate’ Our Country, Says Ukrainian Prime Minister, The Telegraph (Sep. 13, 2014), <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/11094351/Russians-are-trying-to-eliminate-ourcountry-says-Ukrainian-prime-minister.html> (accessed Mar. 7, 2015).

3. Borgen, Christopher J. Thawing a Frozen Conflict: Legal Aspects of the Separatist Crisis in Moldova: A Report from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York 6, 34, 37–38 (St. John’s University, Legal Studies Research Paper #06-0045), at <http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract_id=920151> (accessed Mar. 7, 2015).

4. Burke, John J.A. Political Foundation of Law and the Need for Theory with Practical Value: The Theories of Ronald Dworkin and Roberto Unger 178 (Austin & Winfield 1992).

5. Christakis, Théodore. Les conflits de secession en Crimée et dans l’est de l’Ukraine et le droit international, 2014(3) Journal du droit international (Clunet) 23.

6. Copi, Irving M., & Cohen, Carl. Introduction to Logic 145 (12th ed., Pearson Education, Inc. 2008).

7. Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watch Maker (Penguin 1986).

8. Dawkins, Richard. The Extended Phenotype (Penguin 1982).

9. Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene (30th ed., Oxford University Press 2006).

10. Deeks, Ashley. Russia in Ukraine: A Reader Responds, LAWFARE (Mar. 5, 2014), <http://www.lawfareblog.com/2014/03/russia-in-ukraine-a-reader-responds/>(accessed Mar. 7, 2015).

11. Galbraith, John K. A Journey Through Economic Time: A Firsthand View (Houghton Mifflin 1994).

12. Mancini, Susanna. Secession and Self-Determination, in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Constitutional Law ch. 23, at 491 (Michel Rosenfeld & András Sajó, eds.) (Oxford University Press 2012), available at <http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract_id=2140457> (accessed Mar. 8, 2015).

13. Miller, Geoffrey P. Pragmatics and the Maxims of Interpretation, 1990 Wis. L. Rev. 1179.

14. Minsk Protocol, Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minsk_Protocol>(accessed Mar. 7, 2015).

15. Pirani, Simon, et al. What the Ukrainian Crisis Means for Gas Markets, The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (Mar. 10, 2014), <http://www.oxfordenergy.org/2014/03/what-the-ukrainian-crisis-means-for-gas-markets/> (accessed Mar. 7, 2015).

16. Posner, Richard A. Law and Literature 19, 29, 180, 243 (Harvard University Press 1970).

17. Pro-Russian Protesters Storm Donetsk Offices, BBC News (May 12, 2014), <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27369980> (accessed Mar. 7, 2015).

18. Rowe, Peter. Freedom Fighters and Rebels: The Rules of Civil War, 95(1) J. R. Soc. Med. (2001), available at <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1279138/>(accessed Mar. 7, 2015).

19. Salem, Harriet. Who Exactly is Governing Ukraine?, The Guardian (Mar. 4, 2014),<http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/04/who-governing-ukraineolexander-turchynov> (accessed Mar. 7, 2015).

Supplementary files

For citation: Burke J., Panina-Burke S. Eastern and Southern Ukraine’s Right to Secede and Join the Russian Federation. Russian Law Journal. 2015;3(1):33-57. https://doi.org/10.17589/2309-8678-2015-3-1-33-57

Views: 1613


  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN 2309-8678 (Print)
ISSN 2312-3605 (Online)