2014 04 – the Secession of Crimea

Kosovo & Crimea: the West’s double standard

By David Morrison

In 1999, Yugoslavia consisted of two republics – Serbia and Montenegro.  According to Serbia’s constitution, Kosovo was an integral part of Serbia, but with an overwhelmingly Albanian majority that favoured separation from Serbia, and a Serb minority that opposed separation.

(In 2006, Montenegro seceded and Serbia became an independent state in its own right.  Yugoslavia was no more.)

That Kosovo would remain an integral part of Serbia was one of the principles enshrined in the agreement of 2 June 1999, which brought to an end NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia and the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo.  Point 8 of the agreement envisaged:

“A political process towards the establishment of an interim political framework agreement providing for substantial self-government for Kosovo, taking full account of the Rambouillet accords and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia …” [1] (Annex 2)

Kosovo was to have “substantial self-government”, but not going to be allowed to secede. The Security Council endorsed the agreement on 10 June 1999 when it passed Resolution 1244 by 14 votes to 0 (with China abstaining).  This reaffirmed “the commitment of all [UN] Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” [1]. So, in June 1999, the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia was sacrosanct to the international community, wasn’t it?  There could be no question of an independent state of Kosovo, recognised by the international community, could there?

Fast forward to 17 February 2008: “We, the democratically elected leaders of our people, hereby declare Kosovo to be an independent and sovereign state. This declaration reflects the will of our people …” [2]

These words are taken from the declaration of independence endorsed by the Assembly of Kosovo on that day with the unanimous support of those members present.  11 Serb representatives boycotted the proceedings.  There is no doubt that an overwhelming majority of the people living in Kosovo supported independence from Serbia, but no referendum took place to confirm this.

The following day, 9 states (including the France, the UK and the US) recognised Kosovo as an independent state.  Today, over a hundred states recognise it, including 23 out of the 28 members of the EU (an exception being Spain, which fears that approval of Kosovo’s secession would encourage its own secessionist movements) [3].

These states were undeterred by earlier commitments by the Security Council, binding all UN member states, to support the territorial integrity of Serbia, or by the fact that, according to the Serbian constitution, Kosovo was an integral part of Serbia.

Serbia asserted that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was contrary to international law.  It persuaded the UN General Assembly to exercise its powers under Article 96 of the UN Charter to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the matter.  Thus on 8 October 2008, the General Assembly passed resolution 63/3 [4] which requested the Court to render an advisory opinion on the following question:

“Is the unilateral declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo in accordance with international law?”

On 22 July 2010, the Court delivered the (majority) opinion that “the declaration of independence of Kosovo adopted on 17 February 2008 did not violate international law” (see [5], Paragraph 123).

 

Crimea

On 11 March 2014, the Parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea resolved that it would declare Crimea to be an independent state, if the people of Crimea voted to join the Russian Federation in the referendum to be held 5 days later.  The resolution, which was passed with the support of 78 out the 100 members of the Parliament, included the following:

We, the members of the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the Sevastopol City Council, with regard to the charter of the United Nations and a whole range of other international documents and taking into consideration the confirmation of the status of Kosovo by the United Nations International Court of Justice on July, 22, 2010, which says that unilateral declaration of independence by a part of the country doesn’t violate any international norms, make this decision.” [6]

On 16 March the people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to join the Russian Federation and, following this, the Crimean Parliament declared Crimea to be an independent state, which has now been recognised by Russia.  The Crimean Parliament has applied to become part of the Russian Federation and the application has been accepted in principle by Russia.

The US and the EU have been asserting that the declaration of independence by Crimea’s Parliament is illegal under Ukraine’s domestic law.

It is true that the Ukrainian constitution states:

“The Autonomous Republic of Crimea is an inseparable constituent part of Ukraine.” (Article 134)

and

“Alterations to the territory of Ukraine shall be resolved exclusively by the All-Ukrainian referendum.” (Article 73) [8]

But the Serbian constitution stated something similar with regard to Kosovo in 2008 and the Serbian authorities vigorously opposed the proposition that Kosovo had a right to declare independence.  This hasn’t stopped the US and most states of the EU recognising the declaration of independence by Kosovo’s Assembly in 2008 (which unlike Crimea’s wasn’t the subject of a referendum).

The question is: why was it permissible for the US and most states of the EU to recognise Kosovo as an independent state in 2008 but, according to these states, it is not permissible for Russia to recognise Crimea as an independent state in 2014?  Dare I suggest that a double standard is being applied?

If, as now seems certain, Crimea becomes a part of the Russian Federation, would that be in breach of international law?  This is been talked about in the West as the “annexation of Crimea”, which implies that Crimea is being forced to become part of the Russian Federation against the will of its people.  In reality, the union is voluntary – and that cannot possibly be contrary to international law.

 

What about Israeli occupation?

There are real instances of forcible occupation and annexation in this world, in particular, Israel’s 47-year occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Syrian Golan Heights against the wishes of the people who live there, and its annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.  The US and the EU have been remarkably indifferent to these over many years, resisting any suggestion that it would be appropriate to apply sanctions to Israel to persuade it end its occupation.

On the contrary, Israel receives about $3bn per annum in military aid from the US, more than any other country in the world, even though its GDP per head is around the EU average.  And since 2000, the EU has given it privileged access to the EU market for its exports through an Association Agreement.

 

What about the unconstitutional removal of the President?

The US/EU are concerned that the Ukrainian constitution has been breached by Crimea’s secession from Ukraine.  Or so they say.  But they are fickle in their concern.  On 22 February, the democratically elected President of the Ukraine was removed from office without following the impeachment procedure laid down in Article 111 [9] of the same constitution (see my How William Hague deceived the House of Commons on Ukraine [10]).  Were the US/UK concerned then?  Of course, not – since they wanted the removal of the President.  So they pretended to the world that the proper constitutional procedures had been followed.

References:

[1] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1244%281999%29

[2]  news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7249677.stm

[3] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_recognition_of_Kosovo

[4] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/63/3&Lang=E

[5]  http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/141/15987.pdf

6] rt.com/news/crimea-parliament-independence-ukraine-086/

[7]  http://www.president.gov.ua/en/content/chapter10.html

[8]  http://www.president.gov.ua/en/content/chapter03.html

[9]  http://www.president.gov.ua/en/content/chapter05.html

[10] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/david-morrison/ukraine-willliam-hague_b_4933177.html

 

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