16

How easy is it now for Russia to undo their annexation of the parts of Ukraine that they recently took or at least laid claim to? e.g. if there was a change of leadership to someone not in favour of the war, or if the war doesn't go well for Russia?

I mean within Russia's own political and legal framework.

Could it be simply swept under the carpet and kind of ignored, or would allowing Ukraine to have it back be akin to signing away a piece of Russia, like say, Belgorod Oblast? Are Russia now forever forced to maintain their claim on the territory and defend it and attempt to retake it with the same zeal they would if say a foreign army were attempting to occupy Russia itself?

6
  • 5
    Remark: there is a tendency to overestimate the importance of peace treaties and other legal steps, as opposed to the facts on the ground (like ceasefire/truce/cessation of hostilities). One could envisage a situation where Ukraine regains full control of its territory and this is acknowledged by Russia, without formalizing it as a peace agreement. Situations like this may last for decades - consider, e.g., the absence of a peace treaty between Russia and Japan, the status of Taiwan, etc.
    – Roger V.
    Oct 5, 2022 at 8:25
  • 1
    @RogerVadim that could probably make a fairly good answer Oct 5, 2022 at 17:32
  • @RogerVadim One might also mention the UK and the Republic of Ireland: the two states were on pretty friendly terms in the 1980s and 1990s, despite having competing territorial claims. (Some relevant non-state actors, of course, were on very unfriendly terms indeed.) Oct 6, 2022 at 15:29
  • @RogerVadim You'd also get my vote for a good answer on that premise. Absent sanction lifting considerations it seems a more likely outcome than the trauma of permanent constitutional changes to un-protect Russian territories as part of a formal peace treaty IF that is the only way out. Oct 6, 2022 at 23:15
  • This question is part of a calculated disinformation campaign of Russia. Hungarian opposition media has just covered it today: 444.hu/2022/10/08/… Oct 8, 2022 at 15:35

6 Answers 6

20

Constitution changes

The current constitution seems to prohibit this, which implies that after this formal annexation any peace treaty other than a complete Russian victory would require a constitutional amendment to follow due process in Russian legal system. This is not impossible, there are all kinds of historical precedents for countries accepting peace terms which are unconstitutional or being forced to change their constitution. We have also seen constitutional changes pushed in Russia for a specific purpose (e.g. extending president term limits), but that would certainly take time and effort to perform, complicating any negotiations, and essentially meaning that any compromise is now very hard to obtain - the annexation has pushed it towards an 'all or nothing' deal where either Russia keeps all of the annexed territory or has to suffer severe enough loss to be motivated to make concessions that they intentionally made complicated.

Perhaps it is relevant to note that the situation is symmetrical - according to the Ukrainian constitution article 73, any changes to Ukrainian territory must be approved by an all-Ukrainian referendum. Therefore, Zelensky's government does not have the authority to sign a compromise peace treaty which returns some but not all of the currently occupied territories, and the government can not recognize (for example) Crimea as de jure Russian land without an approval from a referendum across all of Ukraine.

4

War is the continuation of politics by other means and Necessity is the mother of invention.

IF Russia loses on the battlefield and IF it finds it necessary to conclude a peace treaty with Ukraine, then Ukraine won't care overmuch about Russia's constitutional arrangements.

"Yes, we understand, your constitution doesn't allow for it. Never mind." makes no sense.

Whether constitutionally or informally, all nation states have an extreme aversion to loss of territory. Doesn't mean it doesn't happen, when a state loses a war.

etc...

At some point, if mobilization, nukes, or gas blackmail doesn't solve Putin's problems, Russia runs the very real risk of not having armed forces able to challenge Ukraine on Ukrainian territory. Then all the "constitutional stuff" doesn't matter all that much.

IF Ukraine is in a dominant enough position to impose terms then Russia will have no choice but to comply, having failed to enforce its will on the battlefield. That's the nature of war and unequal treaties: the loser can implicitly loses some of that Westphalian sovereignty - and supremacy of its own laws on its territory - everyone is so fond to talk about. And that's before we get into how much of a farce "the territories" in question are in this case.

This could be done in several ways:

  • Putin losing power and his successor rejecting his annexation.

  • Putin finding a technicality with the annexation process, blaming others, and walking it back. Just like he is blaming MoD for battlefield failures and draft bureaucrats for mobilization errors.

  • Arranging for new referendums and recognizing their outcome. Ukraine would probably not go for that and Russia would not want to expose their 90%+ claims for outright fraud.

  • A tit for tat, where say Russia gets an internationally-recognized Crimea and returns the rest.

  • Amending the constitution. That seems overkill, since it would seem to open the door for ceding actual parts of Russia in the future. Unlike everyone else, I see that as the least likely option as it brings genuine long term risk to Russian territorial integrity.

  • ...other ways, the end is more relevant than the means...

Putin has shown a great capacity to disregard Russian law. In the way he has been running elections. And in the way people have been drafted and sent to die in a non-war. He can make this work, if he has to, he has that level of control over the state.

Would the Russian people, at that point care overmuch about the pretense that these are actually Russian territories? And somehow stop Putin from making those concessions? Really? This Putin, the one who is pulling all the strings and disregarding Russian laws?

Point is, if the war is lost, then Russia will have to find a way. The only real problem is that Putin would lose face and may find that risks to his own personal political survival justifies keeping that war going far past any hope for Russia to win.


No, halt to combats does not need a peace treaty and a peace treaty/ceasefire may not address the annexations.

Russia could just be booted out back to its territory and sulk while not engaging in actual combat (no opinion on where Crimea figures in this).

Another possibility is that there is a ceasefire, without Russia actually giving up its claims.

These variations might work, but would sanctions get lifted sufficiently to make this viable long term for Russia?

IF the war is lost, then Russia will just have to suck it up and make adjustments, just like other countries have had to do when losing wars. If the war is not conclusively lost then Russia has limited reasons to worry about un-annexation, except if it wants to be a good neighbor.

p.s. this is all predicated on the war being conclusively won by Ukraine. Which is a bit early to call though on current extrapolation Russia is losing, big time.

p.p.s. and the reverse equally applies to Ukraine, should they lose big time - their own constitutional prohibitions about territory cessions will have to be worked around.

4
  • 1
    IF Russia loses on the battlefield and it finds it necessary to conclude a peace treaty with Ukraine - ending of a war doesn't imply/require signing a peace treaty. Peace treaty regulates relations between countries, and there are many examples of countries not engaging in a war despite an absence of a formal peace agreement. Colloquial use of peace as absence of war is misleading in this respect.
    – Roger V.
    Oct 5, 2022 at 8:41
  • @RogerVadim True, but that's already mentioned several times in my post. Editing once again to reinforce this. However... sanctions may also very well be hard to lift unless Russia stops claiming as its own Ukrainian territory that Ukraine is not willing to negotiate about. Anyway, this is more "where there is a will there is a way", not so much that Russia will have to do it. Oct 5, 2022 at 16:19
  • Algeria 1962 is a good example, but I think Kaliningrad 1945 is not : it was not detached from Germany the IIIrd Reich legal system nor even the Weimar Constitution, but when those juridictions had disappeared.
    – Evargalo
    Oct 6, 2022 at 14:02
  • @Evargalo seems covered in wikipedia. Kalingrad was Danzig and there were other cessions too. But the idea is that unhappy changes sometime come to losers and that their internal legal system has little traction. Oct 6, 2022 at 15:57
3

A constitutional change as such only seems like a high barrier because of the notion that it is difficult to change the constitution. As it happens, the barrier to changing the constitution in the Russian Federation is very low.

  • It doesn't require any referendum.
  • It requires 2/3rds supermajority of the lower house of the federal parliament and 3/4th of the upper house.
  • ratification by 2/3rds of the regional legislatures.

This all may seem like a difficult hurdle to pass, but it's not.

  • Putin's party has a lock on the parliament.
  • And a 2020 law has given the President the power to dismiss regional governors and legislators. So the regional legislators can be forced to ratify "or else."
  • The Russian government owns controlling interest (>50%) of Gazprom, the largest producer of gas and oil in Russia and the largest private bank in Russia. This makes Russia effectively a corporate state with the President of Russia controlling access to the top positions in Gazprom. So one way or another, he has control over the parliament's access to the food chain.

It's also not clear if the votes even serve any function other than an advisory one because any amendments only take force after a President signs an executive order amending the constitution. In fact, after Ukraine took back Lyman, Putin signed an executive order excluding Lyman from the Russian Federation.

4
  • 1
    Counterpoint: Putin is the one who pushed for the change in the Russian constitution that makes it illegal to cede any territory. It was a propaganda move for him, declaring his intent to rebuild the Great Russian Empire and reclaim the wayward soviets, will they or nil they. Amending the constitution again to take it back would be an admission of complete failure, and his strongman self-image can't survive that. Oct 11, 2022 at 5:38
  • @Shadur what his image would or wouldn't survive is off topic for this site. That's an opinion. We deal with what's known to be a fact. If there is a mechanism for a government to perform a certain function, then, for the purposes of what this site covers, it's possible.
    – wrod
    Oct 11, 2022 at 21:43
  • Suggesting that image and perception don't matter in politics is beyond absurd. That goes triple for the type of authoritarian strongman politics that Putin has been playing for the past decade. He cannot admit to having been wrong, and he'll let Russia - and if need be the rest of the world - burn first. Look at history -- tyrants rarely go quietly, if ever. Oct 12, 2022 at 6:48
  • @Shadur the topics on this site are more narrow than its name suggests. It's not anything that has to do with "politics." It's formation and functioning of governments and governmental institutions as can be verified by independent sources. While some opinions maybe relevant to the larger topic of politics, they are nonetheless off topic for the site if they cannot be independently verified.
    – wrod
    Oct 12, 2022 at 17:20
0

If the opposing political party comes to power, they can easily do. The referendums are seen by the most of the world as not having legal power.

Here is a good comment from another answer to cite:

Around about ~600,000 ethnic Russians live in the City of New York. Russia declares that it has annexed the City of New York to protect the interests of those Russians, naming it the New York oblast. Once annexed, the Russian government can never un-annex that territory? Interesting.

This may be seen as "unconstitutional" from inside the current Russian legal framework, who cares. It is always possible to say that current decisions were made by authoritarian government that also influenced the constitutional law court so the decisions so are all void.

0
-1

UPDATE:

This question is part of a calculated disinformation campaign of Russia. The Hungarian media has just covered it today: https://444.hu/2022/10/08/racz-andras-moszkva-elhitetne-hogy-az-annexiok-utan-nincs-visszaut-ukrajna-es-a-nyugat-lehivja-az-orosz-bloffot


Russia is not a country operating under the guiding principle of the law; there is merely the rule of the ruler in guise of law. It doesn’t matter what the formal provisions of “law” say because the ruler will have its minions formally change it as the ruler seems necessary hence the question cannot be answered as a matter of Russian law. It can be answered as a matter of reasonable corroboration: Putin will have to accept it and that’s what he will do.

It can be, however, answered as a matter of international law: Nothing happened here other than genocide, on about six different categories of it, and war crimes. There is no “annexion” only in public discourse; an annexion is complete when the international community unanimously acknowledges it except if an international court declares that the anexion occurred in substantial violation of international law therefor it is null and void, and merely a matter of the status quo. ECtHR was a step quicker to make a ruling on war crimes before Russia could have left the European Council and relieve Russia from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, hence that is the matter of law.

The annexion will never be lawful, and in with almost certainty, a formal “peace treaty” of Ukraine could be challenged by those with standing (like those having to lose their Ukrainian citizenship).

So understand: There will never be a lawful situation where Russia, oh poor Russia, won’t be able to stop because its “law” says so. The ECtHR’s decision is the final decisional law.

TL;DR

Just because Russia’s mouth is puppeted by its leader doesn’t mean it has any legal force. This question poses as it would be a reasonable possibility that the army could not, but had to proceed despite the administrations and its rulers decision to stop the war. The ruler of Russia can have any formal provisions of “law” and “constitution” changed so informally it is a matter of decree. That will be subject of whatever become necessary.

1
  • You can dislike this answer all you want. The fact is Russia already wrote the 4 Ukrainian counties in its formal “constitution”. That’s how big of a deal it is for Putin to have something included in that toilet paper. And that’s precisely how much effort it’s going to take when it will take it out of it. Oct 7, 2022 at 1:28
-2

Acording to article 67 this will violate the constitution.

  1. The territory of the Russian Federation includes the territories of its subjects, internal waters and territorial sea, and the airspace above them. Federal territories may be established on the territory of the Russian Federation in accordance with federal law. The organization of public power in federal territories is established by the specified federal law <*>.

  2. The Russian Federation has sovereign rights and exercises jurisdiction on the continental shelf and in the exclusive economic zone of the Russian Federation in accordance with the procedure determined by federal law and the norms of international law.

2.1. The Russian Federation ensures the protection of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Actions (with the exception of delimitation, demarcation, redemarkation of the state border of the Russian Federation with neighboring states) aimed at alienating part of the territory of the Russian Federation, as well as calls for such actions are not allowed <*>.

  1. The borders between the subjects of the Russian Federation may be changed with their mutual consent.

There is priority of Russian law which means, that decisions of interstate bodies adopted on the basis of the provisions of international treaties of the Russian Federation in their interpretation, contrary to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, are not subject to execution in the Russian Federation. So in this context it plays no role for Russia what any international organisation think about it.

So the only posibility would be a pro Western coup similar to 1917 or 1991.

The decision of the constitutional court about DPR can be read here. It´s about 22 pages long and in russian, so I jus give the translation of the most important part which can be also read in many russian media:

Recognize the international Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Donetsk People's Republic, which has not entered into force, on the admission of the Donetsk People's Republic to the Russian Federation and the formation of a new subject within the Russian Federation in accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation. This resolution is immediately sent to the President of the Russian Federation

And there are similar statements by the court for the other 3 regions.

Also since the question is about parts and not explecitly whole regions, acording to section 2.1 it is posible to give away for example some smal uninhabited areas away as a result of delimitation, demarcation or redemarkation of borders. But for such actions some negotiations about new border are necesary and at the moment Zelenski has officially refused any negotiations with Russia.

Also as mentioned in the example by @Zeus for example NATO can ivade Russia and instal a new governent which would do everything the West wants including giving teritory to Ukraine.

22
  • 5
    Well, historically (and hence under a predecessor constitution) Russia "unannexed" Alaska Oct 3, 2022 at 12:58
  • 2
    Don't they have provisions for changing the constitution, then?
    – ilkkachu
    Oct 3, 2022 at 15:54
  • 6
    You'e discounted the last line of section 2. Since the annexation of eastern Ukraine violates international norms, the Russian government can simply void it as an unconstitutional act. More likely, though, they will simply leave the matter hanging: if/when they are driven out of Ukraine they will (by turns) (a) raise the point as a domestic political issue or (b) studiously ignore the act as a political inconvenience. Oct 3, 2022 at 16:55
  • 9
    Problematic for this regime, but not for the next. Courts reverse their rulings fairly often Oct 3, 2022 at 17:23
  • 11
    Don't the exceptions in section 2.1 explicitly allow Russia to cede territory back to Ukraine, as part of a "redemarkation of the state border of the Russian Federation with neighboring states"?
    – Ajedi32
    Oct 3, 2022 at 17:33

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .