In a statement on 4 March 2014, Foreign Minister William Hague deceived the House of Commons about the legitimacy of the new regime in Ukraine.
He led the House to believe that the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, had removed President Yanukovich from power on 22 February in accordance with the Ukrainian constitution.
"It is wrong to question the legitimacy of the new authorities", he said.
It is simply untrue that the Rada followed the procedure laid down in the Ukrainian constitution to impeach and remove a president from power.
Article 108 of the constitution specifies four circumstances in which a president may cease to exercise power before the end of his term. Those are:
- inability to exercise his or her powers for reasons of health;
- removal from office by the procedure of impeachment;
The procedure for removal from office by impeachment is laid down in Article 111. It is not unlike that required for the impeachment and removal from power of a US president, which could take months.
Thus, Article 111 obliges the Rada to establish a special investigatory commission to formulate charges against the president, seek evidence to justify the charges and come to conclusions about the president's guilt for the Rada to consider. To find the president guilty, at least two-thirds of Rada members must assent.
Prior to a final vote to remove the president from power, the procedure requires
- the Constitutional Court of Ukraine to review the case and certify that the constitutional procedure of investigation and consideration has been followed, and
- the Supreme Court of Ukraine to certify that the acts of which the President is accused are worthy of impeachment.
To remove the president from power, at least three-quarters of Rada members must assent.
The Rada didn't follow this procedure at all. No investigatory commission was established and the Courts were not involved. On 22 February, the Rada simply passed a bill removing President Yanukovych from office.
Furthermore, the bill wasn't even supported by three-quarters of Rada members as required by Article 111 - it was supported by 328 members, when it required 338 (since the Rada has 450 members).
Nevertheless, justifying UK support for the new regime in Kiev in the House of Commons on 4 March, William Hague said:
"Former President Yanukovych left his post and then left the country, and the decisions on replacing him with an acting President were made by the Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament, by the very large majorities required under the constitution, including with the support of members of former President Yanukovych's party, the Party of Regions, so it is wrong to question the legitimacy of the new authorities."
That gives the impression that the procedure prescribed in the Ukrainian constitution for the removal of a president from office had been followed, when in fact it hadn't and therefore the new authorities in Kiev are illegitimate.
President Putin questioned the legitimacy of the authorities in Kiev at his press conference on 4 March, just before William Hague spoke in the House of Commons:
"Are the current authorities legitimate? The Parliament is partially, but all the others are not. The current Acting President is definitely not legitimate. There is only one legitimate President, from a legal standpoint. Clearly, he has no power. However, as I have already said, and will repeat: Yanukovych is the only undoubtedly legitimate President.
"There are three ways of removing a President under Ukrainian law: one is his death, the other is when he personally steps down, and the third is impeachment. The latter is a well-deliberated constitutional norm. It has to involve the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the Rada. This is a complicated and lengthy procedure. It was not carried out. Therefore, from a legal perspective this is an undisputed fact."
There is a fourth way - ill health - but, aside from that, Putin is undoubtedly correct.
David Morrison has written widely on the deception perpetrated by the British government to induce the British public to support military action against Iraq.
He is the author with Peter Oborne of A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran published in April 2013. More of his writing is available at david-morrison.org.uk