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Russia's April 1 Claim That Ukraine Violated Its Own Territorial Integrity

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's ministry updated its Facebook page with what, in hindsight, seems to have been a warning: "Happy April 1, 2014! The jokes are over :) "
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's ministry updated its Facebook page with what, in hindsight, seems to have been a warning: "Happy April 1, 2014! The jokes are over :) "
Early on April 1, the Russian Foreign Ministry updated its Facebook page with what, in hindsight, seems to have been a warning.

"Happy April 1, 2014! The jokes are over :)," it said.

A few hours later, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing Ukraine of violating its own territorial integrity and claiming Russia had fully complied with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

The Budapest Memorandum, signed by the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom, guaranteed Ukrainian territorial integrity in exchange for Kyiv agreeing to eliminate its entire nuclear arsenal.

In what appeared to be a clear violation of the agreement, Moscow sent thousands of Russian soldiers into Crimea and then annexed the territory after the passage of a hastily arranged referendum on union with Russia.

But the Foreign Ministry statement -- an impressive feat of diplomatic contortion for even the most seasoned diplomat -- attempts to flip the prevailing logic on its head.

Here are its chief claims along with context:

-- The current government in Kyiv came to power in a coup and, due to its ultranationalist policies, it in essence "blew up" Ukrainian unity and "pushed" Crimea away.

The government in Kyiv came to power following a week in which nearly 100 people died in clashes with security forces associated with former President Viktor Yanukovych, who himself fled the capital -- first to eastern Ukraine and then to Russia. At the time, RFE/RL wrote about whether the transfer of power was "constitutional."

In claiming that Kyiv pushed Crimea out of its orbit, Moscow appears to be implying that a supposed ultranationalist threat forced Crimeans to break away. But despite Russian claims, Crimea's ethnic Russian majority never appeared to be under threat. And after Russian and pro-Russian forces seized Crimea's parliament, the de facto government in Crimea rejected visits from emissaries in Kyiv hoping to defuse the situation. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were also refused entry at the border.

-- The loss of Ukraine's territorial integrity is the result of "complex internal processes to which Russia and its obligations under the Budapest Memorandum have no relationship."

The Budapest Memorandum obligates signatories to "refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine."

In contravention of this agreement, thousands of armed Russian soldiers arrived in Crimea in late February and early March. Moscow, however, has still not acknowledged the incursion, claiming the troops, who were wearing uniforms without insignia, were locally armed "defense forces."

Also, Russia annexed Crimea.

-- Russia has respected the sovereignty of Ukraine, while the West clearly interfered during the Maidan protests.

Moscow has recognized neither the government in Kyiv nor the upcoming early presidential election. It also annexed Ukrainian territory.

Both Moscow and the West are invested in the future of Ukraine, and both have made efforts to sway the country toward their competing sides. Western powers prefer a path toward European integration, while Russia wants Ukraine to remain in its orbit.

To that end, Western leaders were supportive of antigovernment protesters in Kyiv after Yanukovych backed out of initialing an EU Association Agreement, but they also worked, at the invitation of the former president, toward finding a compromise between his government and the protesters.

Russia, for its part, offered Ukraine a $15 billion bailout late last year to stave off a coming default and also dampen protests in Kyiv. And last summer, when it appeared Ukraine was on the path to signing an Association Agreement, Moscow imposed trade barriers and threatened further sanctions if Kyiv went ahead with the deal.

-- Russia has not violated the concept of "negative security assurances," which guarantees a nuclear state will never threaten to use a nuclear weapon against a nonnuclear state.

The Budapest Memorandum does say that no nuclear party should threaten nuclear force against a nonnuclear state that has signed on to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. And indeed, Moscow has not threatened Ukraine with a nuclear attack.

But as mentioned above, the memorandum also precludes the use of force -- or threatened use -- with conventional weapons against Ukraine. This is critical to the agreement because by giving up its nuclear weapons, Kyiv became an inherently weaker military power with less ability to deter attack.

This inability to defend itself has been on stark display as Russia has sent troops into Ukrainian territory, annexed Crimea, and massed troops near Ukraine's eastern borders -- all in apparent violation of the Budapest Memorandum.

-- Glenn Kates