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By strength I don't mean just military strength. Strength has many components to it. Being willing to sacrifice many people for the cause, is unfortunately one of them. Having the international community on your side, being able to generate positive media coverage etc are also parts of it.

I believe these so called "rules" are mostly used internally, to justify your own policy to your people - to whip them into rage, or reassure them. This is why we have several contradictory rules, whose use is dictated by convenience. An elementary example: Russia has been using the "territorial integrity" clause for Chechnya, and is now using "national determination" clause for East Ukraine. The vast majority of Russia's population buy both and don't see a contradiction. Needless to say this is not working at all on Ukrainians - they are of course applying the rules they see fit to both situations.

So yes, you are right that people will fight what they perceive as illegitimate stuff more. But what they perceive as illegitimate depends on many factors (like what kind of propaganda they are listening to), and on logic to a much lesser extent.

If you're definition of strength includes that the reason for wanting the territory is legitimate, then strength determines everything, but legitimacy determines strength, so legitimacy is still relevant.

People will always try to define legitimacy in their favor, which does tend to make it vague, even though it would be better for everyone if it wasn't. But it's still not meaningless.
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Russia isn't just picking the rules, Russia is also twisting the facts. Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine are *not* a case of national determination, but Russian press is not very free and people inside Russia believe that it is because of the propaganda. Russians outside Russian territory don't generally think so much of Russian's claim to Ukraine, even using the same rules, because they have access to different facts.
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