International Law and Crisis in Ukraine: A Roundtable Discussion

Recent events in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine have raised an array of challenging issues related to self-determination, secession, international intervention, and annexation. The panel aims to explore the legal and policy implications of these issues.

Note: It was recorded that no representative were present from the Russian Federation or from the 11 nation states that were against UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262 that was adopted on 27 March 2014, entitled “Territorial integrity of Ukraine”

In the pursuit of conducting a balanced debate on the issue of Crimea, participants were shown a video of the Republic of Nicaragua delegation providing the UN General Assembly their reasoning for voting against resolution 68/262. The main point highlighted related to the issue of self-determination. This Managua believed validated both – the referendum itself hosted in Crimea on March 16, 2014 and its outcome to join the Russian Federation.

H.E. Yuriy Sergeyev strongly posited that the referendum was illegitimate as it was inspired by Russia and the plebiscite took place while Russian soldiers occupied the peninsula. A similar view is shared by the 100 nations states that were in favour of resolution 68/262 on respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine.


Christopher Borgen, acting as a legal advisor on the panel, stated that Moscow’s rationale of categorizing the events, as humanitarian intervention too did not have any legal biases, as matters of intervention do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Crimean Constitution [Article 1] as granted by the parent state; Ukraine. Furthermore, he argued that even if the idea of self-determination is condoned in this scenario, it by no means gives any right to entirely dismember the state.

H.E. Ambassador Yuriy further denounced Moscow for violating the 1994 Budapest Agreement and for acting in a manner inconsistent with international law and thus “creating an imbalance in the international security environment”. As part of the agreement of ‘94, Ukraine had given up its nuclear weapons “on the basis of an explicit Russian guarantee of its territorial integrity”. However by breaching this guarantee, President Putin has undermined the foundational framework of the international order by disrespecting historical obligations that take expression in the form of treaties, pacts and agreements.


Meeting Title:  International Law and Crisis in Ukraine: A Roundtable Discussion
Speakers: Bettina B. Plevan Proskauer Rose LLP, Chair, Council on International Affairs; Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations; Christopher J. Borgen, Associate Dean for International Studies and Professor of Law, St. John’s University School of Law; Mark A. Meyer, Honorary Consul of the Republic of Moldova in New York, Herzfeld & Rubin, P.C.
Location: The Council on International Affairs of the New York City Bar Association
Date: 4 June 2014
Summary by WIT representative: Apurv Gupta
Edited by WIT representative: Sophia Griffiths-Mark 


Evolving Crisis in Ukraine and its Global Implications

NYU panel discussion

The Razom Sponsored ‘White Papers’ were put together in a collaborative effort to assist government, media and civil society to understand what has happened in Ukraine from a legal perspective and to predict and prepare for what will happen next.

Ms. Ivanna Bilych, co-author of the white papers, reiterated the illegality of the Crimea referendum, which breaches the Ukraine Constitution, territorial integrity and voters’ rights. The referendum was completed in just ten days, holding citizens at gunpoint, clearly violations of democracy and international law.

Mr. Alexander Gudko explained that the closest precedent is the Turkey and Northern Cyprus annexation, which was not recognized by the international community as a separate state and therefore this legal framework and response should be exercised again for the Crimean situation.

Mr de Moura Sena reminded the meeting of the energy ties between Russia and Ukraine as Russia builds a new pipeline for natural gas. Russia would face much higher development costs if the pipe were built along the deep seabed, rather than using the Crimean coast. The tensions surrounding European energy needs and Russia’s ability to provide this energy are central to this Crisis.


A key element to the Crimean situation is Russia’s violation of the Budapest Memorandum on security assurances, signed by all members of the Security Council and Ukraine. It was issued to ensure Ukraine would forfeit its nuclear weapons in return for complete political independence and freedom from threats or use of force against territorial integrity.

Dr. Paul Goble declared that Vladimir Putin has disregarded international law and human rights on his own personal agenda for power and expanding the Russian empire. Dr. Goble emphasised that a major step for western nations should be to provide alternative Russian language entertainment and news, to replace the existing Moscow TV. Moscow TV, being the Russian language entertainment monopoly, is manipulated to destabilise neighbouring countries in subversive attacks ordered from the Kremlin.


Meeting Title: Evolving Crisis in Ukraine and its Global Implications
Speakers: Mary Holland of NYU School of law, Ivanna Bilych General Counsel for Razom, Paul Goble expert in the post-Soviet region, Alexander Gudko and Matheus de Moura Sena co-author of the White papers, Giorgi Kvelashvili Senator Counselor for Georgia at the UN and Adrius Kalindra from the OSCE.
Location: NYU School of Law, New York
Date: 29 May 2014
Written by WIT representative: Sophia Griffiths-Mark

The White Paper Presentation – “Crisis in Ukraine: Its Legal Dimensions”


From left to right: Ivanna Bilych, Mary Holland, Ambassador of Ukraine H.E. Yuriy Sergeyev and Alexander Gudko

Today at the United Nations Headquarters, an international team of legal scholars from the organization RAZOM, presented their report, The White Paper – “Crisis in Ukraine: Its Legal Dimension”. RAZOM is an NGO established to support the people of Ukraine in their continued quest for democracy, justice, and human rights. The report gives policy makers and diplomats the legal tools to help stop further escalation of the current crisis threatening Ukraine’s peace and the international order. Lawyer and co-author of The White Paper, Ivanna Bilych, elucidated that, it is the first and only report that provides an in-depth look at the current situation in Ukraine. It also gives the International Community a solid recommendation on how to deal with the Russian Federation. Recommendations include reframing from recognizing Crimea as part of Russia, which the UN GA established back in March 27th, with 100 votes against the Crimea Referendum.

The Ambassador of Ukraine made it clear that Ukraine is NOT at civil war. The current situation is due to unilateral actions by the Russian government violating international law and the principles of sovereignty, which are central to the United Nations. Russian polls suggested that 97% of Crimean residents wanted to join the Russian Federation, however The White Paper shows that the fate of Crimea was decided by just 15% of the population who were in favor of the Russian invasion. Ambassador Sergeyev insists that much of Russian voting statistics should be disregarded due to duress, as violence and force played a major role in their illegal placement in Crimea.

In response, the delegate of Canada openly affirmed their strong support for the Ukraine, having already placed sanctions against Russia and travel bans on Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in the illegal Crimea Referendum. Canada has also promised to provide monitors, to ensure a free and democratic environment for the upcoming election, and will be financially supporting Ukraine with $240 million in loans and bilateral assistance. Poland and Latvia also declared their support for Ukraine and insisted that Russia has fundamentally broken international law with their invasion of Crimea. These delegates commend The White Paper’s recommendations going forward in ensuring Ukraine’s sovereignty based on their signing of the Budapest Referendum.

Ambassador Sergeyev, the Razom Organization and the international team of legal scholars that put together this document, encourage all people to access The White Paper and ensure that they keep actively informed.


Meeting Title – The White Paper Presentation – “Crisis in Ukraine: Its Legal Dimensions”
Speakers – The Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, H.E. Yuriy Sergeyev, Delegates from Canada, Poland, Latvia, and Norway, Mary Holland, Ivanna Bilych, Alexander Gudko, Kateryna Kuntsevich, Matheus de Moura Sena, Malvika Seth, and Olena Sharvan.
Location – United Nations Headquarters, NLB 6
Date – May 8th, 2014
Summary Written By – Modou Cham, Rin lee, and Sophia Griffiths-Mark