International Law Studies


The article considers how and why Russia has used international legal arguments concerning self-determination in relation to its intervention in Ukraine. Of what use is legal rhetoric in the midst of politico-military conflict? The article reviews the laws of self-determination and territorial integrity and considers Russia’s changing arguments concerning these concepts over the cases of Kosovo, South Ossetia, and Ukraine. Inasmuch as international law is the vocabulary and the grammar of modern diplomacy, States may use legal rhetoric with multiple audiences in mind. While the shifts in Russia’s arguments may be due to strategic needs in specific conflicts, the legal interpretations of powerful States can frame the expectations and potential future actions of other States. Consequently, the strategic use of legal rhetoric may (perhaps inadvertently) affect the substance of international law.