Crimea is a peninsula in the northern part of the Black Sea in Eastern Europe. It is located south of the Ukrainian region of Kherson and west of the Russian region of Kuban. The majority of the population of Crimea have always been Russian. According to the population census in 2001, more than 60 percent of the population of Crimea were Russian. In February and March 2014, Ukraine was literally overrun by a chain of events that eventually led to a secession of Crimea to Russia. With the beginning and expansion of the political crisis in Ukraine in 2013, anti-Ukrainian political forces began to step up in Crimea, opposing the possible integration of Ukraine into the European Union. During the revolution in Ukraine, the central government lost control of Crimea. It was followed by many events such as Crimean status referendum, Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Crimea andin the end the accession of Crimea to Russia. All this led to disagreements and a conflict between Russia and Ukraine. 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 much, after all, is legal the secession of Crimea according to international law and what is the current status of Crimea? In order to answer these questions, this paper starts with a Historical Background, it continues with The Escalation of the Political Situation in Ukraine, The Crimean Political Crisis and Crimean Status Referendum. Then it discusses the Legality of the Crimean Secession from Ukraine. Answers to the questions raised will be provided in the Conclusion. 2. Historical background Crimea became part of the Russian Empire in 1783, when the Crimean Khanate was annexed, then became part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. On 18 October 1921 multi-ethnic Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) was formed in the RSFSR. After the Second World War and the subsequent deportation of all of the indigenous Crimean Tatars, the Crimean ASSR was stripped of its autonomy in 1946 and was downgraded to the status of an oblast of the Russian SFSR.In April 1954 the Crimean Oblast was transferred from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR by decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. In 1989, the deportation of Crimean Tatars was recognized as illegal and criminal by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Crimean Tatars were allowed to settle in Crimea. The mass return of the Crimean-Tatar people to their historical homeland began. In November 1990, the issue of restoring the Crimean ASSR was raised. On 20 January 1991 in the Crimean oblast was held a referendum on the issue of restoration of the Crimean Autonomy. The 93.26% of citizens who took part in the referendum voted for the restoration of the Crimean ASSR. On 12 February 1991 the Crimean ASSR was restored, but for less than a year as part of Soviet Ukraine as the dissolution of the Soviet Union was well underway. On 1 December 1991 in the all-Ukrainian referendum, 54% of the inhabitants of Crimea supported the independence of Ukraine. However, the article 3 of the USSR Law “On the issue related to the secession of a union republic from the USSR” was violated, according to which in the Crimean ASSR were to hold a separate referendum on its stay in the USSR or in the seceding republic – the Ukrainian SSR. Then recently independent Ukraine supported the autonomous status of Crimea, and the Supreme Council of Crimea confirmed the “sovereignty” of the peninsula as part of Ukraine. In 1992-1994, pro-Russian political forces attempted to secede Crimea from Ukraine. These actions were suppressed by Kiev, but the autonomy of the Crimea was preserved. In September 1994, the Supreme Council of Ukraine renamed the Crimean ASSR (the Republic of Crimea) to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and in March 1995 unilaterally abolished the constitution of the Republic of Crimea in 1992.In 1994, the highest success of the Crimean pro-Russian leadership was achieved. In fact, with the elections in the early 1990s, the slogan of the return of Crimea to Russia was implemented. However, after the triumphant victory in the elections, the pro-Russian leadership of Crimea faced the lack of a financial, economic, administrative base for real autonomy. As a result, in 1995, the Ukrainian authorities achieved a change in the constitution of Crimea and the abolition of the post of the president of the republic, Russia’s official response to these events was absent.The possibility of a new conflict in the Crimea in connection with a new redistribution of the world was considered high already in the early 2000s. The Russian-speaking majority of the population and the policy of the Ukrainian elites allowed researchers in 2010 to assume that a political split in Ukraine could lead to a Crimean referendum on joining Russia. 3. The Escalation of the Political Situation in Ukraine Ukrainian crisis started with the Euromaidan. Euromaidan was a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine, which began on the night of 21 November 2013 with public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev. The protests were sparked by the Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend the signing of an association agreement with the European Union, instead choosing closer ties to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. The aim of the protests soon widened, with calls for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych and his government. Yanukovych won the 2010 presidential election with strong support from voters in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and southern and eastern Ukraine. The Crimean autonomous government strongly supported Yanukovych and condemned the protests, saying they were “threatening political stability in the country”. The Crimean autonomous parliament said that it supported the government’s decision to suspend negotiations on the pending association agreement and urged Crimeans to “strengthen friendly ties with Russian regions”. The Euromaidan protests came to a head in late February 2014, and Yanukovych and many of his ministers fled the capital on 22 February. After his flight, opposition parties and defectors from the Party of Regions put together a parliamentary quorum in the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian parliament), and voted on 22 February to remove Yanukovych from his post on the grounds that he was unable to fulfil his duties, although this legislative removal lacked the required three-quarter vote of sitting Rada members according to the constitution in effect at the time, which the Rada also voted to suspend. The events of Ukrainian revolution 2014 were followed by a series of changes in Ukraine’s sociopolitical system, including the formation of a new interim government, the restoration of the previous constitution, and a call to hold impromptu presidential elections within months. The 57% of people in the government-controlled east regard the change in power as an “illegal armed coup”. Opposition to the revolution in some eastern and southern regions escalated into Crimean Secession from Ukraine to the Russian Federation. 4. The Crimean Political Crisis (20 February – 19 March 2014) The Crimean political crisis began with the protests of the inhabitants of Crimea against the actions of opposition forces that came to power in Ukraine as a result of the events of February 2014. On the night of February 20-21, the Presidium of the Supreme Council of Crimea tried to convene an extraordinary session of the parliament on February 21 to discuss the issue “On the socio-political situation in Ukraine.” When the supporters of Euromaidan tried to hold a picket against a possible decision on the separation of Crimea from Ukraine, they were prevented by about a hundred young people who called themselves activists of the “People’s Liberation Movement”. Since that day, pro-Russian Crimean residents who opposedEuromaidan started an unlimited protest outside the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,demanding the secession of Crimea from Ukraine and the creation of an independent state. On the night February 22-23, by order of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a special operation was conducted to evacuate President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and his family members to a safe place in Crimea. In the morning of February 23, Putin, in his own words, set the task for the heads of the involved power agencies to “start work on the return of Crimea to Russia” in order to protect the local population from nationalists. On 27 February, Russian Special Forces seized the building of the Supreme Council of Crimea and the building of the Council of Ministers in Simferopol. Russian flags were raised over these buildings, and barricades were erected outside them. Whilst the “little green men” (masked soldiers in unmarked green army uniforms and carrying modern Russian military weapons and equipment) were occupying the Crimean parliament building, the parliament held an emergency session. It voted to terminate the Crimean government, and replace Prime Minister AnatoliyMohyliov with Sergey Aksyonov. Aksyonov belonged to the Russian Unity party, which received 4% of the vote in the last election. According to the statements of the Crimean (and later Russian) authorities, Aksenov’s appointment as prime minister was agreed with Viktor Yanukovych, whom they still considered to be the legally elected president of Ukraine and through whom they managed to ask Russia for assistance. The Parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea also decided to hold a referendum in Crimea on “Issues of improving the status and authority of the region”, which was supposed to raise the issue: “The Autonomous Republic of Crimea has state independence and is part of Ukraine on the basis of treaties and agreements (for or against).” The Presidium of the Parliament stated that in Ukraine there was “an unconstitutional seizure of power by radical nationalists with the support of armed bandit formations,” and in this situation the Supreme Council “takes full responsibility for the fate of Crimea”. On 1 March 2014, Aksyonov declared Crimea’s new de facto authorities would exercise control of all Ukrainian armed forces on the peninsula. He also asked Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had been Yanukovych’s primary international backer and guarantor, for “assistance in ensuring peace and public order” in Crimea. Putin promptly received authorization from the Federation Council of Russia for a Russian military intervention in Ukraine “until normalization of a socio-political environment in the country”. Putin’s swift maneuver prompted protests of intelligentsia and demonstrations in Moscow against a Russian military campaign in Crimea. By 2 March, Russian troops moving from the country’s naval base in Sevastopol and reinforced by troops, armour, and helicopters from mainland Russia exercised complete control over the Crimean Peninsula. As late as 17 April, Russian foreign minister Lavrov said that there were no spare armed forces in the territory of Crimea. Russian officials eventually admitted to their troops’ presence. On 17 April 2014, Putin acknowledged the Russian military backed Crimean separatist militias, stating that Russia’s intervention was necessary “to ensure proper conditions for the people of Crimea to be able to freely express their will”. Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu said the country’s military actions in Crimea were undertaken by forces of the Black Sea Fleet and were justified by “threat to lives of Crimean civilians” and danger of “takeover of Russian military infrastructure by extremists”. Ukraine complained that by increasing its troop presence in Crimea, Russia violated the agreement under which it headquartered its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol and violated the country’s sovereignty. The United States and United Kingdom also accused Russia of breaking the terms of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, by which Russia, the US, and the UK had reaffirmed their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. The Russian government said the Budapest Memorandum did not apply due to “complicated internal processes” in Crimea. 5. Crimean Status Referendum The referendum on the status of Crimea was held on March 16, 2014. The referendum asked local populations whether they wanted to join Russia as a federal subject, or if they wanted to restore the 1992 Crimean constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine. The approved list of issues did not provide the possibility of preserving the former status of Crimea. At the same time, according to a telephone survey conducted by GfK Ukraine in the period from 12 to 14 March 2014, 67% of the Crimean respondents were satisfied with the presence of only two alternatives in the bulletin. Historically, the Crimean parliament has on multiple occasions attempted to trigger this referendum, every one of which was stopped by the larger Ukrainian government. The 1992 constitution accords greater powers to the Crimean parliament including full sovereign powers to establish relations with other states; therefore, many Western and Ukrainian commentators argued that both provided referendum choices would result in de facto separation from Ukraine. The official result from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea was a 96.77 % vote for integration of the region into the Russian Federation with an 83.1 % voter turnout. Following the referendum, The Supreme Council of Crimea and Sevastopol City Council adopted a Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Crimea from Ukraine and requested to join the Russian Federation. On the same day, Russia recognized the Republic of Crimea as a sovereign state. On March 18, the Agreement on the accession of the Republic of Crimea to the Russian Federation was signed. 6. The Legality of the Crimean Secession from Ukraine The Crimean status referendum was regarded asillegitimate by most members of the European Union, the United States and Canada because of the events surrounding it including the plebiscite being held while the peninsula was host to Russian soldiers. Thirteen members of the United Nations Security Council voted in favor of a resolution declaring the referendum invalid, but Russia vetoed it and China abstained. In addition, Ukraine and many world leaders consider it to be a violation of international law and Russian-signed agreements safeguarding territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Agreement on Establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1991, Helsinki Accords, Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of 1994, Black Sea Fleet Status of Forces Agreement 1997 and Treaty on friendship, cooperation and partnership between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. It led to the other members of the then G8 suspending Russia from the group, then introducing the first round of sanctions against the country. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum was concluded to provide Ukraine security assurances for acceding to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a non-nuclear-weapon state. For giving up Soviet nuclear weapons, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia committed to “respect the Independence and Sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine”. The 1997 Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership between Ukraine and Russia again affirmed the inviolability of the borders between both states and provided that both parties. Another relevant treaty for the legal obligations between Russia and Ukraine is the Black Sea Fleet Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that both states settled upon in 1997. According to this treaty The Black Sea Fleet SOFA allows Russian military to be present in Crimea, but restricts operations to a confined agreed-upon scale and does not allow a general public presence of Russian troops in Crimea. A United Nations General Assembly resolution was later adopted, by a vote of 100 in favor vs. 11 against with 58 abstentions, which declared the referendum invalid and affirmed Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The Venice Commission declared that the referendum was illegal under both Ukrainian and Crimean Constitutions, and violated international standards and norms. Moreover, the Venice Commission opined, any referendum on the status of a territory should have been preceded by serious negotiations among all stakeholders, and that such negotiations did not take place. According to article 73 of the 1996 Constitution of Ukraine and article 3 of the 2012 Ukrainian law “On all-Ukrainian referendum”, territorial changes can only be approved via a referendum where all the citizens of Ukraine are allowed to vote, including those that do not reside in Crimea. The Central Election Commission of Ukraine also stated that there are no judicial possibilities, according to the legislation of Ukraine, to initiate such changes. According to the Constitution of Russia, the admission of new federal subjects is governed by federal constitutional law (art. 65.2). Such a law was adopted in 2001, and it postulates that admission of a foreign state or its part into Russia shall be based on a mutual accord between the Russian Federation and the relevant state and shall take place pursuant to an international treaty between the two countries; moreover, it must be initiated by the state in question, not by its subdivision or by Russia. International Criminal Court stated that the situation on the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol is equivalent to the international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. At the same time, the Hague lawyers emphasized that although the secession of Crimea to the Russian Federation happened peacefully, it does not matter: in order for the situation to be called an “armed conflict” from a legal point of view, it is not necessary for the countries to actually fight. Russian Justifications for the Use of Force and Intervention in Crimea: The Crimean government as well as Russia refer to the right to self-determination of peoples as a foundation for Crimea’s secession from Ukraine. The right to self-determination is a fundamental principle of international law and is incorporated in Article 1 (2) UN Charter. This declaration proclaims that “all peoples have the right freely to determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter”. Despite this strong formulation of the principle, it is commonly understood that the concept of self-determination may not be used to disaggregate the territory of existing nation-states. This is also clearly expressed in the Friendly Relations Declaration, which states that the principle of self-determination may not be “construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States” as long as states respect the principle of equal rights and self-determination in relation to minority groups. In addition, the right to self-determination requires the conditions of mass violation of human rights such as genocide and lack of internal self-determination, which did not happen in Crimea. Another argument of Russia, as well as the most substantial legal issue is brought up by the concept of intervention by invitation. The Russian authorities proclaimed that after Yanukovych had fled the country he had issued a letter in which he invited Russia to intervene on Ukraine territory as a countermeasure against what Russia perceives as the takeover by nationalist and anti-Semite Maidan protesters. Later Yanukovych has confirmedit. However, it was not legal to consider an ousted leader after new government had been formed and the body to call foreign help was the Parliament, this means was not proper to the issue. 7. Conclusion The secession of Crimea was a short process that started with Euromaidan demonstrations. The help of Russian intervention followed it. As a result, there were events suchas Crimean status referendum, Declaration of Independence and Agreement on the accession of Crimea to the Russian Federation.According to the information given above in this paper, Russia’s justifications are not those that would clearly legalize the secession of Crimea, Russian use of force, namely, UNSC authorization and traditional self-defense. Instead, the justifications proffered: are an invitation to use force, force to aid self-determination, and the protection of nationals.Russia used military force to take control of the peninsula and to force Ukrainian troops not to intervene in the process of secession. Russia also violated the bilateral, regional and international agreements. Furthermore, Russia had intended to justify annexation based on the right to self-determination, self-defense, protection of nationals abroadand intervention by invitation, however the right to self-determination requires the conditions of mass violation of human rights such as genocide and lack of internal self-determination, which did not have a place to be. In addition, the intervention by invitation could not be legal.Moreover, during the secession of Crimea, the Constitutions of Russia and Ukraine were violated. Only a small number of states has recognized Crimea’s accession to Russia so far, while the majority of states opposes Crimea’s integration into Russia. Under the international law, Crimea can’t be an independent state, since the narrow legal requirements for a right to secession were not fulfilled.Nevertheless, even if more international sanctions were imposed on Russia, a reintegration of Crimea into Ukraine is currently more than unlikely. It seems after all that the minimum resistance of non-recognition might determine the relations between Russia and almost the rest of the world for a not so minimal period of time.