24 March

Crimea: decades of Ukrainian annexation and anti-humane sanctions

Article by Georghiy Muradov, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Crimea - Permanent Representative of the Republic of Crimea to the President of the Russian Federation

This year marks the sixth anniversary of reunification of Crimea with Russia.

The results of the Pan-Crimean referendum held in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol on 16 March 2014 in accordance with norms of international law, Crimean and Ukrainian Constitutions (Article 138, para. 2 of the latter) and the UN Charter via free and democratic expression of the will by residents of Crimea was undoubtedly an act of restoration of historical justice.

Six years on, we are getting further convinced that it was right to make such decision as there was no alternative left in the unfolding situation fraught with imminent war and ethnic purges in Crimea. Today, watching developments in the neighbouring country, Ukraine, where bloody civil war goes on, we clearly see what could have happened in Crimea and Sevastopol.

Then, six years ago, major cities of the peninsula – Simferopol, Sevastopol, Yalta and others – saw long queues gathering in front of polling stations where ballot was cast on entering Russia. 97 per cent of Crimean citizens voted in favour of reuniting with Russia.

Fr om the very beginning it was an expression of genuine patriotism by Crimeans. You would ask – what kind of patriotism? And I would answer – the Russian one. Throughout decades of artificial political separation fr om Russia, and de facto Ukrainian annexation, residents of the peninsula considered Russia their mainland, and themselves Russians.

And here is the answer to a second question – since when had this territory become Ukrainian? Catherine the Great’s Manifesto of 8 April 1783 “On Accession of Crimea to the Russian Empire” was the last international legal act on Crimea that can be considered legitimate and of legal purity. And since then, up to 1954, Crimea did remain Russian.

Crimea became “Ukrainian” bypassing legal procedures and only by virtue of a generous present made by the Communist ruler of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 to commemorate 300 years of Ukraine’s unification with Russia.

That decision was unlawful even from the point of view of Soviet law. Leaving aside the issue of obtaining consent of the Russian Federation wh ere the Crimea region of Russia historically belonged. Crimeans themselves did not participate in taking that decision either.

Today it is important to remind the reader of the following: throughout all these years a part of Russian territory was a constituent entity of Ukrainian SSR and then, from 1991, of an independent Ukraine on absolutely illegal basis. Prior to 1991 consequences of Ukrainian annexation had not been that obvious due to the existence of the common Soviet Union, which Ukraine was part of. But it shall not render unnoticeable the fact of theft of Crimea from the Russian Federation wh ere it belonged!

I would outline the following fact that is not widely known to the international public opinion – the referendum in the spring of 2014 was by no means the first one when Crimeans resolutely refused to be Ukrainians.

The first one was the referendum of January 1991, when Crimea declared that it categorically refused to be part of Ukraine but wanted to become a participant of the future renovated USSR. Several months after, in September 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the Crimean ASSR adopted the “Declaration on State Sovereignty of Crimea” proclaiming Crimea a party to the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR, i.e. constituent entity of the USSR, and in February 1992 a new name for the republic was adopted – the Republic of Crimea. The Republican movement of Crimea collected 247 thousand signatures for holding a referendum on independence of Crimea (the law required collecting 180 thousand signatures). On 21 May 1992 the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation ruled the act of 1954 on transferring the Crimea region and Sevastopol from Russia to Ukraine unconstitutional.

And in January 1994 Crimea adopted a course towards unification with its historical motherland. In 1995, in response to actions by the Crimean leadership, Ukrainian authorities passed the law “On Annulment of the Constitution and Certain Laws of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea” ousting then Crimean President Yury Meshkov from his post and depriving the peninsula of its sovereignty. Moreover, Ukraine introduced almost 60 thousand troops to the peninsula. The building of Crimean Parliament was captured with Ukrainian machine gunners sitting on each floor. This violent act de facto abolished the Republic of Crimea that existed then. On 17 March 1995 Ukrainian authorities unlawfully abrogated the Constitution of Crimea – against the will of Crimeans and residents of Sevastopol.

During the 19 years that followed Crimea was hostage to Russian-Ukrainian relations. Residents of Crimea and Sevastopol were forcefully ukrainised. After the coup d'état in Kiev in the winter of 2014 people of Crimea, and its Russian population in particular, clearly realised what repercussions those dramatic events may have. Crimeans remember well how enraged Ukrainian nationalists and followers of SS collaborationist Stepan Bandera were beating them and setting fire on buses with the region’s residents passing through the territory of Ukraine. Statements made from the rostrum of Maidan in Kiev by Oleg Tyahnybok, leader of “Svoboda” party, on the need to ban the Russian language throughout the territory of Ukraine and even introduce criminal penalty for its use were not triggered by exaltation during the rally. Right afterwards the Verkhovna Rada put as first item on its agenda the issue of revoking the law on regional languages, counting Russian among them. And later it was indeed abolished. Crimea and Donbass, both exclusively Russian-speaking, perceived this step by the new Ukrainian authorities as hostile. Then threats followed to send trainloads of armed Ukrainian nationalists to Crimea.

Such was the background that determined the reaction by Crimeans at the referendum in March 2014. I would stress that the Republic of Crimea held a legitimate referendum in line with the Constitution of the Crimean autonomy. I would recall that Crimea had been an autonomous republic within Ukraine and not a region of a unitary state.

International law provides that the principle of self-determination is unequivocally applied in similar situations – when a country is facing threats of imminent ethnic purges against a certain community, especially if it has the status of an autonomous entity as it was the case with Crimea. Therefore, Crimea acted in full conformity with the principle of the right to self-determination and self-rescue.

So, the issue was not about legitimacy but rather of political aims of those citing infringement of international law in the Crimean case.

And now on the sanctions – introduced, by the way, bypassing the UN Security Council and, therefore, illegitimate.

By their actions to impose blockade Ukraine and Western countries tried to bring residents of Crimea and Sevastopol to the verge of humanitarian disaster and turn the Crimean peninsula into an uninhabited desert. Enormous resources, ranging at 1.3 trillion roubles, according to various estimates, were required to remedy the consequences of the blockade. Direct terrorist attacks followed. For instance, when in the winter of 2015 Ukrainian terrorists blew up electric power lines, Crimea was on the brink of freezing for more than a month. Hundreds of ill people were then being treated in hospitals and on operating tables. Their lives were compromised by terrorists.

Illegitimate sanctions became a factor contributing to humanitarian blockade of Crimea and resulted in massive violation of human rights in the region by Ukraine and Western countries. They deprived the population of the peninsula of access to heating, electricity, water and utilities, restricted, in violation of existing conventions, freedom of movement of citizens, freedom of communication with families and relatives of Crimean diaspora communities, impeded cooperation in education and other fields and, in the end, infringed on its right to development. It is demonstrated, for instance, by data published in 2017 by Idriss Jazairy, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. However, his report, as well as the one prepared by Swiss diplomat Gerard Stoudmann, Special Envoy of the Council of Europe Secretary General, who personally visited Crimea in 2016, are for some reason artificially silenced in the West.

Travel by citizens of Western countries to Crimea is being hindered. Their vessels and airplanes are being barred from using Crimean ports and airports. Residents of the peninsula are not allowed to enter Western countries, even to visit their relatives and families. Basically, a total criminal blockade of Crimea has been declared.

Together with the majority of reasonable people in the world I am convinced that sanctions policy is both confrontational and dangerous. Putting an end to this flagrant mass violation of human rights and lifting total sanctions introduced against the residents of Crimea are required, first and foremost, to ensure international security and stability on the European continent and re-establish constructive relations with Russia. Such Western policy has led to nothing but mounting tensions and emergence of military threat from virtually nothing. Many of our Western partners, as we have seen, are looking for ways to break the deadlock.

A trend is already visible in Europe of political parties and public movements that favour an end to confrontation with Russia gaining support. But political will and desire are required to implement such policies. Crimea and Russia are still counting on them.