Hillary Clinton answered a journalist's question about Trump appearing on the Larry King Show, a Russian State TV program. She called the annexation of Crimea was illegal. But, there was a legal process for it (the 2014 Crimean referendum). Why would it be illegal since the 2014 referendum showed that the population of Crimea overwhelmingly (96.77% in Autonomous Republic of Crimea and 95.6% in Sevastopol) desired to reunite as a part of Russia?

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    Hint: after WWII, most of the countries involved agreed to the principle of rejecting the use of force to change border. – SJuan76 Sep 22 '16 at 19:32
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    @SJuan76 but 1) the annexation was a result of a referendum, not by the usage of force 2) using force to change border did happen after WWII: the Kosovo War resulted in the independency of Kosovo, and in which US was part of the combat forces of the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. – Dylan Czenski Sep 22 '16 at 19:46
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    The referendum was null; apart from the fact that it was conducted under foreign occupation, sovereignty is based in the state so regions generally do not have the right to secede (so the vote was about something that could not be decided in the referendum). And the part about Kosovo is a good one; the general history is indeed way more complicated than the one you acknowledge but in general I agree that Kosovo independence should not have been recognized (the usual explanation was that Kosovo was a case sui generis due to etnic violence in ex-Yugoslavia). – SJuan76 Sep 22 '16 at 23:58
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    @DylanChensky annexation of Crimea (and supporting the People's Republic of Donetsk) is in violation of Russia's signing the Budapest memorandum, in which they and America agreed to respect the then territorial sovereignty and borders of Ukraine. Ukraine gave away her nuclear weapons in good faith that she would be respected, and this has not happened. Perhaps Ukraine should acquire nuclear weapons now? – inappropriateCode Sep 23 '16 at 10:02
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    Formally, neither Puerto Rico, nor Guam are annexed. They are still "colonies" (dependent territories). Their citizens are not US citizens and cannot vote (except on primaries). – Anixx Sep 23 '16 at 14:17

Legal Usage of Force

Under the UN charter, military force can only be used for self-defense or when deployed be the international community for collective security. 'Collective security' is to be determined by the UN Security Council.

Source: Article 42 of the United Nations Charter

The Problems with Crimea

The central problem is that Russia used military force to annex Crimea. The use of force there without the approval of the Security Council (or in self defense) is a violation of international law.

You can find this legal analysis present in many places:

Russian Counterarguments

Russia offered at least two answers to this argument.

First, Russian nationals were conceivably under threat in Crimea. Russia does have the sovereign right (and responsibility) to protect its citizens. However, the legal notion of self-defense for states require an ongoing armed attack (ref: pg.372 of Marxsen). Without such an attack, intervention is unjustified.

Second, Russian officials defended their actions on the basis of being invited into Crimea. Both Russian officials and the Ukrainian President Yanukovych have confirmed that this was true. The legal arguments against the intervention by invitation claim mostly center around whether Yanukovych could legitimately claim to represent Ukraine. It seems that although he was not actually impeached by the legislature, he had vacated his role de facto.

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    @Anixx- If that is backed up by some kind legal analysis, I would love to include it. Do you have a reference? – indigochild Apr 2 '17 at 22:11
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    @Venture2099 - For international law, preemptive self defense is not recognized. To be self defense, an army would have to be already attacking Russia. – indigochild Apr 27 '17 at 12:12
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    “If international law is, in some ways, at the vanishing point of law, the law of war is, perhaps even more conspicuously, at the vanishing point of international law. - Hersch Lauterpacht The point is, international law is conspicuous in it's complete and utter circumvention. – Venture2099 Apr 27 '17 at 14:05
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    You are missing the point of Lauterpacht's quote. Legality relies on the trifecta of Legislation, Judiciary and Enforcement which means it is not really law at all.. fed-soc.org/publications/detail/is-international-law-really-law. I am not disagreeing with your post I am simply taking a broader view that illegal is an ambiguous term when it comes to international law and it is Western publications which state the actions of Russia are illegal. Non-western sources don't share the same view. – Venture2099 Apr 27 '17 at 15:54
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    "It seems that although he was not actually impeached by the legislature, he had vacated his role de facto" - This is simply not true. When the coup took place he was still on the territory of Ukraine and said in his televised address to the nation from Harkiv that he was still the legal President of Ukraine. – brilliant Mar 14 '18 at 20:17

First of all, the referendum was illegal according to Ukrainian law, because in Ukraine a referendum cannot be conducted in only a part of the country.

Second, the referendum was conducted with the support of the Russian Military, which is a violation of the UN Charter and the Russian-Ukrainian treaty about Russian military presence in Crimea (the quotas were exceeded), and of course, the Ukrainian law which disallows foreign soldiers from exerting force on Ukrainian Police and Army.

Since many Russian units participated under a false flag, without any insignia on them and refused to confirm they were from Russia, it constitutes a violation of the Geneva Convention.

But the referendum was not the exact cause of Crimea's declaration of independence. It was just a propaganda and justification tool. What makes the whole annexation thing illegal is the following paper signed by Putin:

enter image description here

It is the presidential decree on recognition of the sovereignty of the Crimean Republic, and it openly violates the UN Charter.

Everything that followed this was pretty legal: a country can legally accept another sovereign country into itself. It is notable that Putin requested that the Constitutional Court of Russia examine the legality of the law of admitting Crimea into Russia. The court examined the law of admitting Crimea and found it perfectly legal. But, in the text of the Court's resolution, it was pointed out that the court did not examine the legality of the recognition of Crimea. They simply said that admitting Crimea into Russia is legal assuming Crimea was already a sovereign state at the moment. The legality of the presidential decree on recognition was never examined in the Court.

But, of course, one should note that if the recognition of Crimea was illegal, so was the recognition of Kosovo by a lot of other countries, which also was in contradiction with the UN Charter. So, Putin calculated that those countries would not be in a position to criticize him, or otherwise should revoke their recognition of Kosovo.

Since half of the world violates international law, why cannot Russia do the same?

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    I downvoted this because it contains quite a few biased or leading statements. Answers are meant to be expert analyses of questions - not persuasive tools. There are a lot of other great aspects to this answer and I would be happy to upvote if cleaned up a bit. – indigochild Sep 23 '16 at 21:49
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    (1) "First of all, the referendum was illegal according the Ukrainian law, because in that country a referendum cannot be conducted in a part of a country separately" – The only problem is… that country was already non-existent at that time. That referendum cannot be conducted separately was written in the Constitution of Ukraine. It was also written in that Constitution that the state power in the country in no way can be changed by means of a revolution. – brilliant Mar 25 '18 at 0:32
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    (2) By the time the Russians showed up in Crimea the so called “Revolution of Dignity” had taken place in Kiev, in which the state power had been usurped by means of violation of the Constitution of Ukraine. Consequently, Crimea and the East of Ukraine declared their independence because the Constitution did not oblige anyone to submit to those who came to power by means of breaking the Constitution. This simply means a collapse of a country. – brilliant Mar 25 '18 at 0:33
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    @brilliant even if they refused to oblige the central authorities, this does not give the right to secede. They could invite Yanukovich in Crimea to continue his rule if they wished. – Anixx Mar 25 '18 at 7:10
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    (2) Secondly, says who? Or, better, which law in particular, which they had earlier subscribed to, obliged them not to declare independence in case of a revolution? Yanukovich had been elected President of Ukraine - that state of Ukraine that Crimea used to belong to before the revolution. However, Yanukovich had never been or been elected President of Crimea. Now Crimea was and was actually forced to act freely on their own discretion. There was no law obliging Russia to replace Yeltsin with Gorbachev in case of the collapse of USSR. – brilliant Mar 25 '18 at 7:44

Aside from the reasons listed in other answers, the annexation violated at least two treaties Russia agreed to honor:

  1. The Helsinki accords from 1975 forbids any non-consensual border changes in Europe
  2. The Budapest Memorandum guarantees the borders of the Ukraine as of 1994..
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    The Budapest Memorandum is not a legal document. Is the Helsinki Accords a legal document? Because the Kosovo War was also a non-consensual border change, Kosovo left Yugoslavia after NATO intervention. There are also multiple attempts including the Spanish proposual of annexing Gibraltar, and the Sinn Fein Party's proposal of advocating a part of UK (Northern Ireland) leaving the UK and join the Republic of Ireland. – Dylan Czenski Sep 28 '16 at 20:24
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    @DylanCzenski An international agreement such as the Budapest Memorandum absolutely is a legal document. And, the fact that a law is sometimes violated is no proof that it is not a law. People can break the law and people can advocate for changes in the law. So can governments run by people. – ohwilleke Apr 23 '17 at 22:17
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    @DylanCzenski: The Budapest Memorandum is "a treaty Russia agreed to honor". It may not be a legal treaty that the World Court would consider, but that doesn't matter: Russia promised to honor it. – Martin Schröder Apr 23 '17 at 22:21
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    According to the United States; the Budapest Memorandum is not legally binding. web.archive.org/web/20140419030507/http://minsk.usembassy.gov/… – Venture2099 Apr 27 '17 at 15:58
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    @Venture2099: "Although the Memorandum is not legally binding, we take these political commitments seriously" – Martin Schröder Apr 27 '17 at 19:34

Actually I think that you already partially answered your question. Do you believe that in a referendum on a controversial issue a result of 96.77% is plausible. Or maybe is simply too good to be true?

Mock voting under guns of Russian special forces actually is not considered as legal way of changing borders (at least outside Russia). The only real referendum was there in 1991 and actually local population voted (with slight margin) on becoming part of independent Ukraine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukrainian_independence_referendum,_1991

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    @dan-klasson "the majority of the Crimean population are Russian" just because the Tartars got exterminated by the russians – Federico Apr 28 '17 at 10:53
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    @dan-klasson Why bother with comparing with so far and much more developed countries like UK? I can find you a much closer example of properly organized voting by Russians. After Hitler and Stalin divided spoils in eastern Europe, in parliamentary elections organized by Russians in 1940 in freshly occupied Baltic states, communist party got over 99% in Lithuania, 97,8% in Latvia and 92.8% in Estonia. And all parliaments voted to join the SU immediately. – Shadow1024 Apr 28 '17 at 11:07
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    "The results of this inquiry show that 109,956 (46.2%) Crimean Tatars of the 238,500 deportees died between July 1, 1944 and January 1, 1947 due to starvation and disease." sure, they were not exterminated, they only got starved to death. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deportation_of_the_Crimean_Tatars – Federico Apr 28 '17 at 11:11
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    @dan-klasson "was a part of Russia for hundreds of years". :D Actually Russians occupied this region for quite short time (from 1783, so roughly counting 2 centuries to SU collapse) For 4 centuries it belonged to Mongols or Turks. (So maybe Russia should cede it to Turkey? ;) ). Before that were Ukrainians (Kiyev Rus) and Greek colony... – Shadow1024 Apr 28 '17 at 11:23
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    @dan-klasson No, I simply think that Russians faked referendum in 2014, as they for example faked elections in 1940. – Shadow1024 Apr 28 '17 at 11:27

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