State Integrity and Self-Determination in a World of Problematic Sovereignty




sovereignty; territorial integrity; self-determination; unrecognized states; separatism; ethnopolitical conflicts


This article analyses the phenomenon of states with problematic sovereignty, which has arisen in recent decades, primarily in the former Yugoslavia and the USSR (but not only). The existing model of the world order, in which only UN member countries are recognised as participants in international relations, does not reflect a real picture of the world. At the beginning of the study, the authors examine theoretical approaches (A. Yannis. A. Tsutsiev, A. Sebentsov, V. Kolosov) to typologising entities with problematic sovereignty and territorial principles of national self-determination (i. e. the realisation of the right to self-determination) as well as re-conceptualising sovereignty approaches (J. Agnew and N. Dobronravin). Next, the authors describe how these topics are embedded in the logic of the developing crisis of relations between Russia and the West and lead to a diplomacy of double standards. It is especially emphasised that at different periods and depending on the political state of affairs, both sides in the present-day confrontation supported separatist projects and the preservation of territorial integrity and state unity. This results from contradictions in the system of international law, vague criteria for recognising newly formed independent states, and attempts to use conflicts instrumentally to realise strategic interests. According to the authors, a way out of this impasse could be an agreement between the West and Russia on some general rules of the game, including clearer criteria for the recognition of new states, the legality/illegality of secession, and the preservation of territorial integrity, as well as possible procedures for transition to a new status. However, this is unlikely to happen without reaching a comprehensive compromise or modus vivendi between the main stakeholders. The result of the article is a demonstration on the theoretical and applied levels that in the modern system of international relations, the concept of “territoriality” has become more complicated as a basic characteristic of the state. It now requires new legal and diplomatic approaches to resolve the contradiction between the principles of territorial integrity and the right of nations to self-determination. These new approaches should be developed by the expert community in the course of an unbiased analysis of the contemporary architecture of international relations.

Author Biographies

Sergey Markedonov

PhD (History), Leading Researcher, Centre for Euro-Atlantic Security, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University).

76, Vernadsky Ave., 119454, Moscow, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0003-2298-9684

Igor Okunev

PhD (Political Sciences), Leading Researcher, Director, Centre for Spatial Analysis in International Relations, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University).

76, Vernadsky Ave., 119454, Moscow, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0003-3292-9829


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How to Cite

Markedonov, S., & Okunev, I. (2020). State Integrity and Self-Determination in a World of Problematic Sovereignty. Quaestio Rossica, 8(4), 1422–1436.