Ukraine and the west: an international legal primer | Brussels blog:
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Even though Ukraine is not a member of Nato – and therefore is not covered by the alliance’s mutual defence treaty – the west has signed a series of bilateral agreements with Kiev over the last 20 years in which it has agreed to help protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Given the rapidly escalating events inside Ukraine, such international agreements may seem a mere legal nicety. But many in Ukraine believed the pacts provided the country with a measure of security, and they will still help guide the west’s response to Russian activities.
Perhaps just as importantly, leaders in other capitals in the region who either have or are contemplating similar agreements with the west – be they association agreements with the EU or partnership action plans with Nato – are surely watching to see if these pacts are worth the paper they’re written on.
In the White House’s statement after President Barack Obama’s phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday, Washington referred to several of those agreements, starting with the so-called “Budapest Memorandum”. Here’s a quick primer on the international texts that govern the west’s – and, in many cases, Russia’s – relations with Ukraine.
The Budapest Memorandum, 1994
This is the colloquial name for the “Memorandum on Security Assurances”, which was signed in Budapest by the US, Britain and Russia in December 1994 after Ukraine gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons and signed onto the Non-proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state.
Unlike many international agreements, the Budapest Memorandum is relatively short and sweet at a mere six paragraphs, signed by the then-leaders of the four participating countries – Boris Yeltsin for Russia, Bill Clinton for the US, John Major for Britain, and Leonid Kuchma for Ukraine. The key paragraph is number two:
2. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
It’s worth noting the reference to the UN charter. On his way into today’s emergency meeting of Nato’s decision-making North Atlantic Council on Sunday afternoon, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the alliance’s secretary general, asserted that Russia had already violated the charter through its military activities.
Nato-Ukraine Charter on a Distinctive Partnership, 1997
This is the bilateral agreement that governs relations between Ukraine and Nato, which was signed as a way to deepen relations between Kiev and the alliance beyond the original “partnership for peace” programme inked after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Although it clearly avoids any reference to any mutual defence assurances, its language builds on the Budapest Memorandum by essentially committing all Nato allies to the same kind of declarative support for Ukraine’s sovereignty. The key paragraph here is number 14:
NATO Allies will continue to support Ukrainian sovereignty and independence, territorial integrity, democratic development, economic prosperity and its status as a non-nuclear weapon state,and the principle of inviolability of frontiers, as key factors of stability and security in Central and Eastern Europe and in the continent as a whole.
The Helsinki Final Act, 1975
This is more widely known as the Helsinki Accords, which to many may sound like an artifact of the Cold War – but it was explicitly mentioned by the White House at the weekend. Although it is more a set of principles than a formal treaty, it governs the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which both Russia and Ukraine are members.
Like the Budapest Memorandum and the Nato-Ukraine charter, its most important sections require signatories to respect the sovereignty of other members; the inviolability of their frontiers; and, importantly for recent events, refrain from “the threat or the use of force”:
The participating States will refrain in their mutual relations, as well as in their international relations in general, 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 and with the present Declaration. No consideration may be invoked to serve to warrant resort to the threat or use of force in contravention of this principle.Accordingly, the participating States will refrain from any acts constituting a threat of force or direct or indirect use of force against another participating State.
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