Crimea: West still plays ‘occupied’ card five years after vote

Crimea: West still plays ‘occupied’ card five years after vote
Participants and visitors of festival ‘Crimean Spring’ celebrate the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s annexation by Russia in Manege Square near the Kremlin in Moscow. Picture: EPA

The subject of Crimea has been on the radar of politicians and mass-media ever since it rejoined Russia on March 18, 2014, as a result of a freely-expressed will of its people. The most common and false cliché about that development used in some Western capitals — notably in Washington and London — has been an allegation that Russia “annexed and occupied” Crimea. On the one hand, it is so obviously a misleading statement that its only practical use could be in the context of the current propaganda war against Russia — which is at least understandable, even if deliberately ill-intentioned. It is, however, a completely different matter when such propaganda is used as a basis for serious political analysis, making it self-serving and a dangerous miscalculation.

Let’s face the facts. Five years ago, on March 16, 2014, a referendum was held in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol situated on the peninsula, which was attended by 83.1% of voters in Crimea and 89.5% of voters in Sevastopol. 96.77% of the voters in Crimea and 95.6% in Sevastopol voted in favour of reunification with Russia. The backdrop for that distinctively peaceful manifestation of popular intent was tragic.

Following the armed coup d’état in Kiev in February 2014, the situation in Ukraine was greatly destabilised — clashes began at the building of the Ukrainian parliament. State institutions, constitution, law enforcement agencies didn’t mean anything any longer. Given a wave of radical nationalism which enveloped the country, events in Ukraine got a strongly destructive character.

In this situation, the Crimean parliament appealed to the Ukrainian parliament to stop the forced displacement of power in the regions and to protect the Crimean autonomy, but all efforts were in vain. The deaths of the Crimeans in a series of tragic events in Kiev provoked a radical turn in the minds, leading to a so-called Crimean Spring. The public sentiment became a determining factor in making decisions on what to do next, because lives of the people of the peninsula were at threat.

No one could doubt that the Republic would resist any radicals trying to dictate their will in Crimea. The decision to hold the referendum was taken in stages, maturing in people’s mind gradually. To understand it in a proper way one should bear in mind that “Russian sentiment” is endemic for Crimea. The peninsula has always been a part of Russia, and only in 1954 due to a capricious decision of the Secretary General of the Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev the region was administratively transferred from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. The decision never went down well with the people in Crimea, nor was it applauded in Russia itself. But, nobody cared since the administrative boundaries in the Soviet Union didn’t matter much.

That changed in 1991 with the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Crimean people wanted to be where they belonged — in Russia — and organised the first referendum on January 20, 1991. This had results of 93.26% in favour of autonomy from Ukraine and consequently of rejoining Russia. The second attempt to proclaim state independence was made in May, 1992. At that time their wish was blatantly disregarded both by the newly independent Kiev authorities and, unfortunately, by the Russian government of president Boris Yeltsin.

It is no surprise a people’s meeting in Sevastopol in February 2014 showed unanimous rejection of the Ukrainian parliament’s decision on the change of power and underlined a firm demand to protect the rights and interests of the autonomy of Crimea. After all the people of Crimea had spoken on March 16, 2014. The Crimean government filed a request for reunification with Russia, and on March 18, 2014 an interstate treaty on the accession of the Republic of Crimea to the Russian Federation was concluded. The new entities — the Republic of Crimea and federal city of Sevastopol — were formed within the boundaries that existed at the date of accession of the peninsula to the Russian Federation. Maritime demarcation of the Black Sea and Azov Sea was carried out on the basis of norms and principles of international law.

Five years after the vote the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol are fully integrated into political, legislative and economic life of Russia, demonstrating one of the highest rates of economic growth in the country.

Positive dynamics is observed in all main sectors, especially in industrial and agricultural spheres, as well as tourism.

Implementation of the Federal special programme of social and economic development until 2022 with a budget of about 1 trillion rubles (€1.366 billion) has already resulted in a pronounced upgrade of the living standards of the population of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol by boosting dynamic economic growth, building a network of motorways and ports, ensuring transport communication with mainland Russia, as well as harmonising inter-ethnic relations. Unfortunately, the so-called “anti-Crimean” restrictions, introduced by a number of countries, are hitting primarily the ordinary residents of the peninsula.

The visa refusals, as well as the non-recognition of higher education documents, can be actually seen as the segregation policy that “punishes” the population of the peninsula for its choice in favour of Russia.

The politically motivated nature of the information campaign launched against our country concerning the alleged human rights problems in Crimea is obvious. The interests of all national minorities are safeguarded in Crimea. The multinational population of Crimea fully enjoys its rights to freedom of speech and assembly and mother-tongue education. By the decree of the Russian president all three major languages — Russian, Ukrainian, and Tatar — are established as equal state languages of Crimea. Fabricated stories about the alleged suppression of the Crimean Tatars and violation of their rights are a nothing more than outright distortion of the realities of life of these people. Relevant measures for socio-economic support have been taken and are functioning effectively; political rehabilitation programs are being implemented. In general, the standard

of living and the quality of life of the Crimeans have significantly increased in comparison with the “Ukrainian period”.

The results of March 2018 Russian presidential elections in Crimea confirm the expression of its people’s will in 2014. The high turnout (71.43% of electoral list) and Vladimir Putin’s landslide victory (92.2% or 986.700 of votes) vividly demonstrate the stability and mass support by Crimean residents for the course of the federal Centre. You don’t have to be a legal scholar or political wizard to recognise the simple fact — five years ago Crimea and its people made their choice exercising the right to self-determination embodied in the UN Charter by means of a free and peaceful vote in conformity with all international standards.

This article is the personal view of Yuriy Filatov, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation in Ireland

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