Ukraine's flag flies above the nation's capital Kyiv (file image)
Ukraine's flag flies above the nation's capital Kyiv beside The Motherland Monument. Image by AP PHOTO

Ukraine sovereignty claim ignores 30 years of independence

Meghan Williams March 18, 2022

Ukraine is not a sovereign state and is part of Russia.


False. Ukraine declared independence in 1991 and fulfils the criteria for statehood under international law.

A video posted on Facebook claims Ukraine is not a sovereign state and is actually part of Russia.

The claim is false. Ukraine officially declared itself an independent state in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, marking the end of the Cold War.

International law experts have told AAP FactCheck Ukraine has fulfilled the criteria for statehood and is internationally recognised as an independent and sovereign state that is not a part of Russia.

Former SAS soldier Riccardo Bosi, who unsuccessfully contested the 2019 federal election and the 2020 Eden Monaro by-election, features in a video (archived here) posted on a pro-Russia Facebook page on March 4 about the war in Ukraine.

In the video, Mr Bosi says: “The Ukraine is not a sovereign state. It does not have internationally recognised sovereign borders. It’s still part of Russia … This is like Russia invading Russia,” (video mark 20 sec).

Rowan Nicholson, an international law lecturer at Flinders University and author of Statehood and the State-Like in International Law, told AAP FactCheck the claim is “nonsense”. Anna Hood, an international law lecturer at the University of Auckland, agrees the claim is false.

The people of Ukraine voted for independence in December 1991 as the Soviet Union dissolved, at which point even Russia recognised its independence.

Dr Nicholson and Dr Hood said Ukraine fulfilled the criteria for sovereign statehood under international law soon after it declared independence. The four criteria are: a permanent population; a defined territory; a government; and the ability to enter legal relations with other states.

The criteria is derived from the 1933 Montevideo Convention, an international treaty that established the definition and rights of statehood. Dr Hood said the criteria had become so well-accepted it is regarded as customary international  law.

“This means that they bind all states in the international community (not just the states that have signed the Montevideo Convention),” Dr Hood told AAP FactCheck in an email.

Both experts also agree Ukraine is internationally recognised as a sovereign state. While there is no formal process for achieving international recognition as a state, Dr Hood said being accepted into bodies such as the United Nations, of which Ukraine is a member, as well as other international organisations was a “very good indication” the global community accepts a state’s sovereignty.

Similarly, she said only states could take cases to the International Court of Justice. Ukraine is signed up to the court and currently has a case being heard against Russia.

Dr Nicholson said Russia had officially acknowledged Ukraine as a sovereign state. “For example, Russia exchanges ambassadors with Ukraine,” he told AAP FactCheck in a phone interview.

While Ukraine is internationally recognised, some of its borders are in dispute, with Russian President Vladimir Putin suggesting parts of Ukraine have been Russian since “time immemorial”. However, Dr Nicholson said having disputed borders does not undermine a state’s sovereignty.

“It is quite normal for sovereign states to have disputed borders,” he said.

“India has a disputed border with Pakistan. China has some disputed borders. Israel has very indeterminate borders. They’re still countries.”

A related claim that a former UN secretary general said Ukraine was not an independent country was recently debunked by Snopes.

The Verdict

The claim Ukraine is not a sovereign state and is part of Russia is false, with international law experts calling it “nonsense”. Ukraine has fulfilled the criteria for sovereign statehood under international law since it declared independence in 1991.

Experts have told AAP FactCheck Ukraine’s membership of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice and other global organisations show it is internationally recognised as a sovereign state and having disputed borders doesn’t affect a nation’s status.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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