Nation states are the most stable pillars of international polity and structure. This consistency complicates the matter of the separation of a sovereign nation and the legalities behind this. Such situations occur very rarely, and are often considered to be very arbitrary. Two controversial cases of separation were seen in the 21st century: Kosovo and Crimea.
Kosovo officially became an independent state on 17th February 2008, after a declaration of independence was adopted. This came after nearly a decade of repression from the Serbs. The Kosovo Albanians faced horrific crimes due to the difference in ethnicity. After much struggle and a foreign intervention from NATO, Kosovo gained their freedom.
Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation following a controversial and discredited referendum on 16th March 2014. It is alleged by many Western powers that the referendum results were falsified and the referendum itself took place under duress, but no proof or evidence has been provided for the same. To justify the Russian military intervention in the inherently local Euromaidan Revolution and the events after that, President Vladimir Putin gave a 45-minute long speech in the Moscow Kremlin. There, he addressed the topic of the referendum, the illegitimacy of the sitting Ukrainian government and most importantly, the Kosovo precedent.
Russia has used the independence of Kosovo as a legal and diplomatic precedent justifying their actions in Crimea. Although at first glance the two cases may seem similar, the similarities are vastly superficial. In the following part of the article, we shall see how fundamentally wrong their argument is.
Firstly, the Kosovo people faced harsh repression and ethnic cleansing from the sovereign state they broke away from and announced independence. On the other hand, the Crimean people faced no such situations as many international investigations have said so. As a matter of fact, Crimean indigenous people; the Crimean Tattars; had historically faced a genocide at the hand of USSR and Josef Stalin, the parent nation and ideology of the present-day Russian Federation.
Secondly, Kosovo had long shown their interest in independence from Serbian-Yugoslav hegemony. In fact, in a referendum in 1991, a whooping 99% of the people supported an independent nation for Kosovo. On the contrary, before 22nd February 2014 (the day when Ukrainian President Yanukovych left for Russia, creating a power vacuum), no political party or entity explicitly advocated accession of Crimea to Russia.
Next, the Russian armed intervention in Crimea (the so-called Russo-Ukrainian War) was illegitimate and arbitrary. Their justification was the alleged humanitarian crisis faced by the Russian minority in Crimea, but this was debunked by many further investigations. Whereas, in Kosovo, the NATO-led Kosovo Force intervened in the internal matters to prevent any further crimes against the humanity on the name of ethnicity.
Also, the Russian intervention in Crimea and the subsequent annexation goes against the jus cogens principle of no use of force and non-intervention as is mentioned under the Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.
For a secession of an area to be legal, the International Court of Justice verdict on the question of Quebec and 2 SCR 217 verdict of the Supreme Court of Canada lays down five necessary conditions. Unfortunately for Russia and for Putin, the case of Crimea meets none. Just for perspective, the Kosovo Declaration of Independence meets three of the five mentioned conditions. Thus, the Crimean referendum and secession is proved to be an illegal secession.
Even after such situations, we must understand that nation-states and their sovereignty cannot be undermined. Using flawed precedents under different conditions to justify such heinous actions is quite an embarrassment for an administration on the international forum. To conclude, nation-states are still the pillars of the international structure, and the aforementioned logic and legalities must be kept in mind before taking any decisions.