Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military intervention in eastern Ukraine, as
well as Moscow’s claims around these acts, challenge the post-Cold War territorial
settlement and its underlying international legal principles. Unlike previous
controversies over western-led interventions, a major power has used force to
expand its territorial sphere. Russia’s actions contradict its traditional focus on UN
Charter principles and sovereignty in the wider international system. This article
questions whether Russia has a serious agenda to gain support for revised understandings
of international law, at least as applied to what it views as a Commonwealth
of Independent States (CIS) region of entitlements. Or is Russia driven
more by realpolitik, whereby legal discourse contributes to a strategic effort to force
changes in the European territorial order, in the first instance in its direct neighbourhood?
These uncertainties are contrasted to Russia’s single-minded narrative
on the threat of regime change. Moscow uses the spectre of ‘colour revolutions’
to influence a variety of states in the wider international system. Overall, so far
Russia has failed to shift legal understandings in its favour over Crimea/Ukraine.
Yet it continues to view the CIS states as only partly sovereign, as located in a zone
of exception. Moscow seems intent on changing the European security and territorial
order in its favour, regardless of the language of legal principles it deploys
in its wider international diplomacy.