Russia Puts an End to the Sovereignty of Westphalia

Franco Vielma
Head of the Kherson Region Vladimir Saldo, Head of the Zaporozhye Region Evgeny Balitsky, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Head of the Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin and Head of the Lugansk People’s Republic Leonid Pasechnik Mikhail Metzel/TASSHead of the Kherson Region Vladimir Saldo, Head of the Zaporozhye Region Evgeny Balitsky, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Head of the Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin and Head of the Lugansk People’s Republic Leonid Pasechnik | © Mikhail Metzel/TASS

Through referendums held in recent days, the former Ukrainian regions of Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhie and Kherson, overwhelmingly approved their accession to the Russian Federation. The ratification was then formalized by the signature of President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has gained about 100,000 km2 and about 9 million citizens, 3 million of whom were already on Russian soil as refugees since February.

The historical edges about the Russian-speaking, Russian-ethnic or Russian-cultural majority in eastern Ukraine are intricate; for many of them, their territory was left in the wrong place on the border since 1991, when Ukraine was formed into the country we know today. But it has been the Maidan coup, the war against the Dombas and the systematic genocide at the hands of Kiev that definitely pushed the majority of the population in those territories to “leave” (or for them, “return”) into the arms of “Mother Russia”.

For Russia, accession is a fact and there is no amendment and no turning back. After eight years of Crimea’s accession and Kiev’s war against the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, any possibility of détente based on Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” is today by default ruled out.

Events since February through Russia’s Special Military Operation (SMO) in Ukraine have evolved enormously from their starting point to the present. High chances of an end to hostilities in the short term fizzled out during the first weeks of March when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) became involved in the fray, creating all the conditions for a long-term war. Kiev did not budge; Moscow, consequently, did not budge either.

Therefore, Moscow’s response in consolidating accession follows the same line of events that Kiev has been favoring for the past eight years.

The incorporation of the four new regions into Russia, from a purely normative angle, fully undermines the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine. The above quotation mark is not incidental, because the basic issue in Russia’s actions is precisely that, since before last February, such a concept of “integrity” in the case of Ukraine has been in question.

The claims that “the world is changing” because of the OEM in Ukraine are multidirectional, as is true in most cases. So much so that, from the Russian angle, this Operation will cease to be in foreign lands and will now be a framework for actions in what they now consider their territory. The change by decree of the nature of the events exemplifies the wake of other changes that these events introduce in the world order.

Specifically, these amendments go through the dismantling of Russia, of some key concepts that the West imposed and that humanity has endorsed.


With the annexation of the new territories, the map of Ukraine changes in a clear way (Photo: AFP / Getty Images)

The Charter of the United Nations remains, at least from a normative point of view, the highest international norm. Article 2, paragraph 4 of the Charter states that “the Members of the Organization 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 article, which defines part of the nature and purposes of the organization, refers to the concepts of territorial integrity and political independence in an inseparable way, as both are key to the definition of “sovereignty” as a political construct.

The Charter of the United Nations is the result of a historical process long before the Commonwealth of Nations. Its key concepts, such as sovereignty, self-determination, territorial integrity, comprise other antecedents. Its fundamental milestone is the so-called Peace of Westphalia and the concept of Westphalian sovereignty that emanated from it.

The Peace of Westphalia (named after the German city of the same name where it was celebrated) was a process in which the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück were endorsed and which ended the Thirty Years’ War in Germany and the Eighty Years’ War between the Netherlands and Spain, respectively. These treaties were signed in 1648 by the parties, creating an important precedent in European diplomacy.

The Peace of Westphalia (named after the German city of the same name where it was celebrated) was a process in which the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück were endorsed, ending the Thirty Years’ War in Germany and the Eighty Years’ War between the Netherlands and Spain, respectively. These treaties were signed in 1648 by the parties, creating an important precedent in European diplomacy.

The Peace of Westphalia took place 100 years after the end of the Middle Ages and the end of the City-States, when the emergence of the Nation-States as a modern concept took place. From this, the concept of Westphalian Sovereignty takes shape as it lays the foundations of “sovereignty” as we understand it today.

It thus becomes a foundational reference of contemporary law, based on the principle that each State retains the exclusive right to exercise sovereignty in its territory. Read that sentence well.

The world acquired modern borders and the principle of Westphalian Sovereignty evolved to the current categories and rules, in that scaffolding that we always call “international law”.

For Georg Jellinek, one of the bastions of 19th century law, “sovereignty is in its historical origin a political conception, which has only later been condensed into a legal one. This concept has not been discovered in the cabinet of wise men foreign to the world, but owes its existence to very deep forces, whose struggles form the content of whole centuries.” In other words, it is a historical construct marked by the realities of its political time.

Secondly, “sovereignty is not a quality inherent to the quality of a State, since it is a legal attribute that they grant and recognize each other,” says Heber Arbuet Viguali, Uruguayan professor.

“Sovereignty is a historical category that arises through the struggles of States to affirm their existence and, just as it is acquired and preserved, it can also be lost”.

The annexation to Russia of the eastern regions of Ukraine clearly contravenes the international order by de facto undoing the concepts of sovereignty and “territorial integrity” as normative issues.

But the substantive discussion is not precisely that. At least it is the part of the discussion to which the West would like to reduce us.


Russia entered a new era of its foreign policy, let’s call it “constructive destruction” of its relations with the West, which implies a rupture and modification of its ties not only with the Atlanticist countries, but also by default with those of the Eurasian Axis.

This turn to the world is explained by the existential threats against Russia by NATO’s expansion to its borders, which has been generated both by the accession of countries to NATO, as well as by other US initiatives, such as the “Star Wars” program of placing strategic missiles around Russia since the Reagan era.

From its status as a Soviet power and now as a Federation, Russia has seen the strategic distance it had agreed with the West threatened in several episodes of recent history. Specifically:

  • In 1987, the Soviets and Westerners signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty regulating the placement of medium-range strategic weapons in the vicinity of the powers. This treaty was key in nuclear deterrence and distance and cemented peace for decades. In 2019 the United States unilaterally withdrew from the treaty, undermining the possibility of having to discuss with Russia the placement of such weaponry in any NATO country.
  • In 1997, the “Founding Act on Mutual Security and Cooperation Relations between NATO and Russia” was signed. An agreement considered at the time as “no winners and no losers”. This document was the matrix agreement on military borders and strategic distances between Russia and the West, which in the light of the facts, was dismantled by the West with the incorporation of new countries into the Atlantic Alliance, especially the Baltic countries bordering Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 2004.
  • In 1994, the Budapest Memorandum was signed. In this agreement, Ukraine renounced the nuclear arsenal inherited from the Soviet Union. This agreement was also signed by Westerners. However, the current Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenski raised the possibility of “burning it” and Ukraine unilaterally exiting the document, considering the acquisition of nuclear weapons. It should be added that this took place in the midst of Ukraine’s NATO membership application process.
  • The “rules-based order” that the West clearly imposed has been transgressed by them over the years, not only by violating international law and deliberately breaching binding agreements. In reality, the creation of a military encirclement against Russia is a clear threat to Russia’s existence and its status as a nuclear power.

Does it make sense for the Russians to continue to stick to a dead text? What is the framework of correspondence to which the Russians must adhere in order to remain in the lane of the international norm if their counterpart has unraveled it?

Returning to Ukraine, for the Russians, after the Maidan (or Euromaidan) coup in 2014, an inflection in that country’s politics occurred. Its internal power structure was delimited to the designs of a neo-Nazi wing of the right wing, but more seriously, the country began to be subject to control in its foreign policy by the Atlanticists.

The level of NATO involvement was extremely clear in the war against the Dombash region, which has been the war of a state against a civilian population and the most dangerous war in Eastern Europe since the Balkan wars. In other words, for the Russians, since 2014 there was a total absence of international law and Ukraine, far from receiving any sanctions, on the contrary received Western military support albeit on very small scales. The Russians themselves are evidence of the violation of the “rules” by being subject to sanctions since 2014, outside the margin of the UN Security Council, which is the only body in the world empowered to do so.

These events were progressive to an accession of Ukraine to NATO, which in practical terms implies confining the Slavic country to being a large military base, an aircraft carrier of the West’s deployment to Russia’s borders and to the vicinity of Moscow, while Russia was weakened by the coercive economic measures that the West imposed in 2014.

By this accumulation, for the Russians the Kiev government lost the use of its powers as a sovereign state in clear ways, i.e. they turn to the root interpretation of Westphalian Sovereignty, giving it as non-existent in the present tense.

For the Russians, Ukraine ceased to exercise its powers as an exclusive actor in the exercise of its political power, foreign policy and security by pretending to concession or surrender its territory to de facto powers of foreign origin.

Sovereignty, to take up Jellinek according to Viguali, is inherent in a country’s own freedom to exercise it through self-determination. “If a sovereign State loses this attribute, since it cannot conduct its foreign relations, it will cease to be an actor in international politics and a subject of international law, because it will no longer be independent,” Viguali adds.

Sovereignty can be lost de facto, when another State or superior power conditions and places under the political dominion of the previously sovereign State, or it can be lost legally when the latter, by a sovereign decision, renounces its sovereignty, becomes part of a larger whole and also renounces its own existential rights.

In factual terms and from the Russian angle, Ukraine lost the powers of self-determination in a dizzying manner since 2014, with the danger that the said country, without a formal accession to NATO, in fact was already replete with NATO infrastructure and armaments since before February this year.

Sovereignty is an exercise of power, and as Michel Foucault proposes, power is not a property, it is a strategy, power is not something that is possessed but something that is exercised.

Since the advent of the OEM, Russia intervened in eastern Ukraine and approached Kiev in a forceful manner and urging a surrender of its top commanders in the short term. Ukraine’s own military composition suggested that its resistance would only be possible for a few weeks. But NATO’s role became key, enabling a long-term war.

Basically, Ukraine became a battleground for NATO countries in a war against Russia. If we stick to the law, the so-called “military assistance” to Ukraine exists purely in informal terms. There is not a single document on collective security and military collaboration that justifies NATO keeping weapons, trainers and military funding in Ukraine. NATO’s involvement is pure informality, but in fact it has an undisputed impact on the demolition of Ukraine, the lengthening of the war, the increase of human and material costs, and the attrition of Russia, which is NATO’s ultimate goal.

The mere fact that Russia has to deal with a negotiation on Ukraine with non-Ukrainian, or rather Western, leaders makes it clear that the Slavic country does not exercise its sovereignty. This war could end if only Putin agrees with Biden to propose terms on Ukraine’s fate.

In sum and according to the facts, it was not first of all Russia that subjugated Ukraine’s sovereignty not exercised by Ukrainians, it was the West through the step-by-step breaking to its benefit of the “rules-based order” and through the proven capture of Ukraine to its designs, since 2014 and in the present.

Eastern Ukraine becomes a “captive space”, the development of the separatist war of the self-proclaimed republics in Dombas was nothing but the result of the dilution of the basic components of a consolidated state. Ukraine from itself lost the attribute of “integrality”.

By default and by the accumulated background, Ukraine loses key components of political independence and territorial integrity. According to Viguali, Ukraine did not assert its existence and thus lost it. There is no such “Ukrainian sovereignty” to which the Russians had to abide and, moreover, not by the use of force but by threat, Ukraine violated Article 2, paragraph 4 of the UN Charter; the same article that Russia is violating now.

Russia decides to destroy Westphalia to assert its existential sovereign rights, as the Westphalian order was already broken by other actors (without dealing with consequences) to threaten Russia’s rights. The end of Westphalian Sovereignty, at least in Ukraine and by Russian hand, is the zenith of an accumulated cracking.

This conflict that began in 2014 has evolved to higher categories, even creating a de facto amendment to the international order. It is no exaggeration when Putin asserts that these events are changing the world. This sentence is tacit that a pluripolar or pluricentric world can only propose a disruptive model of international relations leaving behind the “rules-based order” that the West imposed, but which they only abide by if it is to their benefit. The order must change in favor of a new model of relations, tailor-made for the aspirations of the Global South.

The role of the emerging powers will become crucial in the construction of a new political scaffolding, but only after the difficult reconfiguration of the world, if humanity survives the Third World War that the United States and its Atlanticist partners are manufacturing right now in a desperate race to stop the end of their inexorable hegemony.

Translation by Internationalist 360°

Signing of Treaties on Accession of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and Zaporozhye and Kherson Regions to Russia