Never gonna give you up: Kremlin says Russian regions have no right to independence votes, as constitution bans breakup of country

A referendum that saw the disputed Crimean peninsula join Russia was legitimate and legal under Ukrainian law, the Kremlin has claimed. However, regions looking for a break from Moscow are now banned from holding equivalent votes.

Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, rejected a suggestion that the 2014 vote over the future of the territory, which Ukraine still claims as its own, had been unlawful. “This referendum was legal in essence, from the point of view of international law and from the point of view of the laws of Ukraine,” he insisted. Peskov said the peninsula had a special status in the country’s constitution and “was not prohibited” from holding the poll without the approval of authorities in Kiev.

Ukraine continues to insist that the referendum was held illegally and, later that year, the UN General Assembly passed a motion in which it insisted Crimea was still formally a part of the country. The body urged members not to recognize Russia’s sovereignty in the region.

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However, while defending the 2014 poll, Peskov argued that equivalent votes would be banned in any Russian subjects or territories that sought to break away from the country.

“Everything is written in black and white regarding the territorial integrity of Russia,” he said, adding that any such vote “would be a violation of the Basic Law of the Russian Federation.”

New provisions in the country’s constitution, adopted after a national vote last year, ban the ‘alienation’ of any part of Russia’s territory. In July, lawmakers introduced a bill that would see those calling for the breakup of the country punished by up to ten years behind bars.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on State Building and Legislation, said at the time that it was a crucial step “amid the events happening in the world and the existing global threats.” He added that “the amendments to the key law confirm the principle of protecting Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

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