President Putin recently called the change in government in Ukraine an "anti-constitutional coup and a military seizure of power". Obviously, the interim government and their Western allies disagree, however I couldn't find a clear answer on whether the process followed to oust former President Yanukovych was actually in line with the Ukrainian constitution.

Was it?

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    As @julianschuessler said, Yanukovich was removed unconstitutionally. Note, however, that Russia is yet to break the law by being in the Ukraine. According to a 1997 treaty between Russia and Ukraine, Russia is allowed to have upto 25,000 troops on (Ukranian/Crimean) soil, in exchange for various goodies. Reports say that only 16,000 troops are in the Ukraine Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 17:40
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    Was the American revolution legal? The Arab spring uprisings? What is the difference between these examples and (for example) Hitler's... creative election? Could it be that a government's actions after its rise to power legitimize it over the regime it replaces?
    – kleineg
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 20:18
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    It seems to be a tactic deployed by EU and US to bring a pro EU government in Ukraine. Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 5:04
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    It was not legal by Ukraine laws, but it conforms to UN norms. However it is typical for totalitarian governments because they have tendency to have their laws ajusted toward protection of status-quo.
    – setec
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 9:18
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    @nicodemus13 That's the point of the question. If the constitutional process was followed, this wasn't a coup. If not, then Putin's claims of a coup have a basis.
    – yannis
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 14:06

3 Answers 3


No, it was illegal.

Jay Ulfelder discussed this topic among others in a nice blogpost I quote for convenience:

The vote to remove Yanukovych doesn’t seem to have followed constitutional procedures. Under Articles 108-112 of Ukraine’s constitution (here), there are four ways a sitting president may leave office between elections: resignation, incapacitation, death, and impeachment. None of the first three happened—early rumors to the contrary, Yanukovych has vehemently denied that he resigned—so that leaves the fourth, impeachment. According to Article 111, impeachment must follow a specific set of procedures: Parliament must vote to impeach and then convene a committee to investigate. That committee must investigate and report back to parliament, which must then vote to bring charges. A final vote to convict may only come after receipt of a judgment from the Constitutional Court that “the acts, of which the President of Ukraine is accused, contain elements of treason or other crime.”

And this final vote would have taken the votes of at least 3/4 of all MPs (338), whereas only 328 MPs simply voted for impeachment in a clearly unconstitutional way.

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    Worth noting: the blog does say continue on to suggest that Yanukovych's actions "qualify as an impeachable offense, but impeachment is not what happened". It will be interesting to see if the parliament goes through formal impeachment procedures in absentia to retroactively legitimatize its actions.
    – Bobson
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 14:20
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    Did they forgo the proceedings in order to establish some form of order in the country? It seems like until they actually hold the impeachment procedure Yanukovych can claim that he has legitimacy and is the real President.
    – kleineg
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 20:14
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    I believe that the argument used in the debates before that actual vote was to treat Yanukovych as incapacitated due to him being unable to govern after fleeing the capital. That being said, there probably wasn't any scenario offered by the current constitution that would be reasonable/realistic at that point, given the actions of both Yanukovych and the parliament; so they just implemented a de facto solution that would have to be reconfirmed or overturned after new elections and likely a change in constitution.
    – Peteris
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 22:12
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    This answer is based on a single source who, in turn, only refers Russian and pro-Russian sources. Yanukovich has deliberately fled to the Russia. As he has personally confessed in his interview to BBC, he did it with aid of the Russian special ops squadron who intruded in Ukraine with no permit. This is qualified recusal. Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 14:43

Let me share my observations as a Ukrainian citizen, from Kharkiv, Eastern Ukraine.

On February 21, 2014 Yanukovych and the opposition signed an agreement on resolving the crisis in Ukraine, one of the conditions was the immediate (within 2 days) rollback to the Constitution of 2004, constitutional reform and early presidential elections no later than December 2014.

The same day, right after signing the agreement, Yanukovych left Kyiv even without driving home.

The next day in the interview Yanukovych said that he would not resign and is not going to sign the decision of the Verkhovna Rada, which it considers illegal, and what is happening in the country qualified as "vandalism and gangsterism".

Form this moment it was clear that he run away, made everybody fool, and was not going to do what he signed on February 21.

Actually, Yanukovych in unconstitutional manner withdrew from the exercise of constitutional authority and did not fulfill his obligations.

On February 23 Acting President Rights were assigned to Oleksandr Turchynov.

It was absolutely unclear where Yanukovych has gone.

The east of the country was under separatists attack. Yanukovich seemed to be somewhere there. Assigning rights to new temporary president was the only correct way to save the country.

So it was absolutely legal.

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    The answer must be based on facts, not opinions.
    – user4035
    Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 11:51

I am sure this is more phylosophical and ethical question than it seems.

The status of "legalness" gained always afterwards when a new law order established, or the old order restored. Therefore in a point of view yes, it could be anti-constitutional (to be sure, one with decent ukrainian language knowledge have to check the ukrainian constitution if it allows to remove people from power if they become too powerful).

But from the perspective of the new law order it needs only a declaration to legalize the happenings, and it needs stable enforcement.

To make it clear, I am almost 100% sure in North Korea it is not constitutional if somebody coup Kim Jong Un and his militaristic leadership. But if happens and the coup is succeded that will be considered a legal revolution.

But an another example from history: The Hungarian Revolution in Austrian Empire happened in 1848. It was not legal for any ethnic group to leave the empire and declare freedom. It wasn't legal to use Hungarian as official language etc.
The plot is clear: If Hungary fights and keeps freedom then the country itself gets legalized. If Austria wins the old order restored and independent Hungary with different government stays illegal. However Hungary later received several autonomy laws from Austria, and from 1865 the empire became Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I hope somebody can improve this answer with more knowledge of law.

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    No new law was established, and the Ukrainian constitution remains the same. There's nothing philosophical about the question and I have no interest in the ethical aspects of the issue. The question is: Was the process followed to oust Yanukovych legal according to the Ukrainian constitution?, and I think it's a question that can be answered factually.
    – yannis
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 7:16
  • So, in another words : the winners are writing the history. Doesn't matter if they were right or wrong.
    – user2701
    Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 9:00
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    @BЈовић it is true while the winners reign. Whoever rules, give the law which legalize a revolution or not. The term "legal" is not in correlation with "moral". As Yannis wrote, there are no new laws yet, but if there will be, the entire situation will be revaluated. Commented Mar 6, 2014 at 9:03
  • @grovkin You are arguing that because a president visited a foreign country, he relinquished his legal authority. That's clearly nonsense, as presidents are visiting foreign countries all the time, and none of those are seen as a relinquishment of their power.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 5:36
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    @grovkin You can try to reframe it any way you want. But Yanukovych didn't resign. He was removed from power.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented May 11, 2017 at 12:40

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