In February and March 2014 Ukraine was literally overrun by a chain of events that eventually led to an incorporation of Crimea into Russian territory. A joint endeavor by Crimean and Russian authorities used the internal conflict in Ukraine to deprive the Ukrainian government of its control over Crimea, to hold a referendum, and to declare the independence of Crimea. Already on the day after the declaration of independence Russia formally recognized Crimea as an independent state, and the Crimean parliament requested Crimea to be admitted to Russia. Soon after that, the accession treaty was signed and within only a few more days all Russian constitutional requirements for an accession of Crimea to Russia were fulfilled.
All parties to the conflict refer to international law to justify their positions. The Crimean authorities and Russia claim a legal basis for a Russian intervention in Crimea and a right to secession while the majority of states rejects that claim. How, after all, do the actions towards Crimea’s secession have to be qualified under international law? To which extent has Russia violated international law and what is the current status of Crimea? In order to address these questions, this paper starts with a brief introduction into the background of the current escalation (I.) and then reviews the legal obligations between Ukraine and Russia regarding their territorial integrity and the prohibition of the use and threat of force (II.). Third, it discusses the legality of the Russian intervention in Crimea (III.), and, fourth, the Crimean secession from Ukraine (IV.). Answers to the questions raised will then be provided in the Conclusion (V.).