Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview with Dmitry Simes, host of the Great Game program on Channel One, tried to justify why the aggression against Ukraine cannot be considered a violation of international law:
“They [Americans] say on every corner that their task is to preserve the “world order based on rules”. What are the rules"? There are endless examples of these "rules", which depend on what situation suits the United States. <…>
Examples were given that no referendum was needed in Kosovo. They declared independence and that's it. There was a referendum in Crimea, but that doesn't mean anything. In Kosovo, the principle of self-determination of peoples prevails, and in Crimea, territorial integrity. At the same time, it completely ignores the fact that the UN has a provision that the territorial integrity of all states whose governments represent all the people living in a given territory must be respected. Which government in Kyiv has represented the interests of Crimea, Donbass and southeast Ukraine over the past eight years? I have no big doubts that this logic is deeply seated.”
Lavrov interprets UN documents in a rather peculiar way. The UN Charter says :
"All Members of the United Nations shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."
This is the only mention of the principle of territorial integrity in the Charter, and there are no reservations about whose interests the government of a particular country represents.
The Declaration on Principles of International Law, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1970, states :
“... Recalling the obligation of States to refrain in their international relations from military, political, economic or any other form of pressure directed against the political independence or territorial integrity of any State,
Considering it essential that all States refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations, <…>
Convinced, therefore, that any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of a State or country, or of its political independence, is inconsistent with the purposes and principles of the Charter...”
And here, in the section "The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples", a reservation appears, which, apparently, Lavrov had in mind. It is formulated like this:
“Nothing in the above paragraphs shall be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action that would lead to the dismemberment or partial or complete violation of the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent states observing in their actions the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, as this principle set forth above, and, consequently, having governments representing, without distinction of race, creed, or color, all the people living in a given territory.
What are these "points above"? Here they are:
“Each State has the duty to promote, by joint and individual action, the realization of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, in accordance with the provisions of the Charter, and to assist the United Nations in fulfilling the responsibilities entrusted to it by the Charter, with regard to the implementation of this principle, in order to:
a) promote friendly relations and cooperation between states and
b) put an immediate end to colonialism, with due respect for the freely expressed will of the peoples concerned, and bearing in mind that the subjection of peoples to foreign yoke, domination and exploitation is a violation of this principle, as well as a denial of fundamental human rights, and is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations.
The creation of a sovereign and independent state, the free accession to or association with an independent state, or the establishment of any other political status freely determined by a people, are forms of the exercise by that people of the right to self-determination.
Every State has the duty to refrain from any violent action depriving the peoples referred to above in the exposition of this principle of their right to self-determination, freedom and independence. In their measures against and resistance to such acts of violence, these peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, are entitled to seek and receive support in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter.
The territory of a colony or other non-self-governing territory shall have, under the Charter, a status separate and distinct from that of the territory of the State administering it; such separate and distinct status under the Charter shall exist until the people of the colony or non-self-governing territory in question have exercised their right to self-determination in accordance with the Charter, and in particular in accordance with its purposes and principles.”
That is, the principle of self-determination of peoples in the Declaration is considered exclusively in the context of the struggle against colonialism; the status of a colony or a non-self-governing territory is defined. It is easy to see that the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as part of Ukraine had nothing to do with this: the inhabitants of Crimea were full citizens of Ukraine, elections of the President of Ukraine and deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, as well as local authorities were held on the territory of the peninsula. But Lavrov needs to somehow justify the annexation of Crimea, and he finds a way:
“... if there had not been a coup d'état in Ukraine, then a lot of things would not have happened. President of Russia V.V. Putin has repeatedly stated that we had no plans to support the movement in Crimea in favor of reunification with Russia under legitimate, legitimately elected presidents. But a coup d'état took place, the opposition leaders fed by the Americans violated the obligation signed the day before with the President of Ukraine V.F. Yanukovych (settle the crisis peacefully, hold early elections). On the day of the coup, the first thing they did was to announce plans to abolish the status of the Russian language. YES. Yarosh demanded to expel the Russians from the Crimea. Militants were sent there, “trains of friendship”, they wanted to storm the building of the Supreme Council of Crimea. This sent a powerful signal, including to our society, which has always had special feelings towards other Slavic peoples, especially towards Ukrainian and Belarusian.”
There are no traces of Dmitry Yarosh’s statement about his intention to “expel the Russians from Crimea” on the network, except for the statement of the same Sergey Lavrov in 2017, but this is not particularly important. Yarosh did not hold any government posts; at the time of the annexation of Crimea, he was just the leader of a nationalist movement that did not enjoy much influence in the country; in the 2014 presidential election, he won 0.7% of the vote.
The question of the status of the Russian language did arise in the first days after the Revolution of Dignity; On February 23, 2014, the Verkhovna Rada voted to repeal the law "On the Fundamentals of the State Language Policy", which provided for the status of the Russian language as a regional language in 13 out of 27 administrative-territorial units of Ukraine. But acting president Oleksandr Turchynov said he would not sign the decision until a new language law was passed. President Petro Poroshenko, shortly after taking office, said in an interview with Le Figaro that he considered the decision of the deputies a mistake and did not approve of the change in the status of the Russian language; however, by that time, Crimea had already been annexed by Russia. Thus, the 2012 law remained in force until February 2018, when the Constitutional Court found it inconsistent with the Constitution.
As for the storming of the building of the Supreme Council of Crimea, on February 27, 2014, it was carried out not at all by Ukrainian security forces and not even by radicals from the Right Sector, but by “little green men” – Russian special forces illegally introduced into the territory of the peninsula in uniform without insignia.
Lavrov is right about one thing: no Ukrainian government since 2014 has truly represented the inhabitants of Crimea, except for those who left their homes and moved to other regions of the country. But this happened because Russia, which had annexed the peninsula, did not allow elections to the Ukrainian authorities to be held there. And the residents of the part of Donbass controlled by Ukraine, as well as all other regions of Ukraine, have successfully voted, and, therefore, Presidents Poroshenko and Zelensky, as well as deputies of the Verkhovna Rada of all convocations, represent them as well.