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The Crimea Platform as a new approach to a seven-year-old problem

The Crimea Platform Initiative provides new hope to keep Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea on the international agenda. However, its ultimate aim of de-occupation via diplomatic means faces many serious challenges.

August 24, 2021 - Adam Reichardt - Articles and Commentary

Leaders attending the Crimea Platform Summit. Photo: Presidential Administration of Ukraine flickr.com

On August 23rd 2021, Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, launched the Crimea Platform Initiative – a new international format which aims at reviving attention to the issue of Russia’s occupation of Crimea on the international agenda and to “ultimately restore Ukraine’s sovereignty over the peninsula”. The event took place on the eve of celebrations of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence. The summit was attended by delegations from 42 countries and four international organisations, including 14 heads of states and governments largely from Central and Eastern European Countries. During remarks by heads of states and delegations attending the summit, “Crimea is Ukraine” was strongly emphasised and repeated by the attendees. It is an important declaration of support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Crimea Platform Initiative, which was initially announced in August 2020, has five key priorities according to materials prepared by the Ukrainian foreign ministry: to consolidate the international non-recognition policy on Crimea; to raise effectiveness and strengthen sanctions against Russia; to protect human rights and international humanitarian law; to ensure security in the Azov-Black Sea region; and to overcome environmental and economic consequences of the occupation. The work of the platform will take place on three levels: intergovernmental; parliamentary; and expert.

It has been seven years since Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine at the height of the Revolution of Dignity and right before launching its war in Donbas in Eastern Ukraine. The move sent shockwaves throughout the country and the region and it represented the first time borders were forcefully moved since the Second World War. Only a handful of states have recognised the annexation.

When asked why are they launching the Crimea Platform now, Ukrainian officials have expressed a need for a new approach. Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian government came to the conclusion that other platforms such as the United Nations, the OSCE or Council of Europe have been thus far unsuccessful in forcing Russia to take any responsibility for its aggressive behaviour, not to mention any reversal of the illegal takeover. This is largely due to the fact that Russia is a member of those organisations and works diligently to stop any such efforts.

According to the official declaration of the summit, the signatory countries call on the Russian Federation “to engage constructively in the activities of the International Crimea Platform aimed at ending the temporary occupation”. A special emphasis was placed on diplomatic means and efforts. Clearly, the issue of de-occupying and reintegrating Crimea back into Ukraine is not one that will be easily resolved. Yet, the declaration represents a strong international gesture to Ukraine and a reaffirmation for that country’s territorial integrity and a rules-based order.

Serious challenges still remain. Obviously, the most worrisome and urgent is related to the human rights situation in Crimea. According to one human rights group “at least 111 people are victims of politically-motivated persecution in Russia and occupied Crimea. 84 of them are Crimean Tatars”.

Moreover, the swift and ongoing Russification of Crimea will make any re-integration initiatives extremely difficult for Ukraine. According to estimates provided during discussions held in Kyiv, the total population has decreased by nearly 80,000 people (most of whom have fled to mainland Ukraine). And while accurate statistics on the number of Russians who relocated to Crimea after annexation is difficult, the Black Sea Institute of Strategic Studies approximated that 650,000 Russians have moved to the peninsula.

The forced passportisation of those who stayed behind is another obstacle. A recent decree by Russian President Vladimir Putin dictates that foreign citizens (read: not Russian citizens) and legal entities, as well as stateless persons have no right to own property in Crimea. This is leading to what Olena Yermakova describes as a “silent colonisation” in the most recent issue of New Eastern Europe. Connected to this is Russia’s militarisation of the peninsula. Satellite imagery reveals new military bases and facilities have popped up around the peninsula since 2014, causing alarm that a new Russian forward base not only threatens security but further destabilises the region.

Nevertheless, the August 23rd summit and declaration are significant. As Zelenskyy said during his press conference: “for the first time, the Russian Federation is recognised as an occupying power on the international level”. The fact that delegations from 42 states and four international organisations signed the declaration is a clear signal that the international community will never recognise the annexation and that no lifting of sanctions will take place until the peninsula is returned to Ukrainian control. Meanwhile, the response from Russia can be predicted. Just days ahead of the summit, the Russian Federation added 73 more Ukrainian officials to its sanctions list, including Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba and the deputy foreign minister Emine Dzheppar who is Crimean Tatar and hails from the peninsula.

On August 24th Ukraine celebrates its 30th anniversary of independence – when Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union in a national referendum. Certainly, these past 30 years have not been easy for Ukraine and it continues to be a struggle, against all odds.

Tragically, not all Ukrainians will be able to celebrate their independence. For those who remain in Crimea or war-torn Donbas (or even in mainland Ukraine as IDPs), these events are stark reminders that the fight for Ukrainian independence continues. As little consolation as it is, the launch of the Crimea Platform Initiative does add new hope that perhaps it will not take another 30 years before all Ukrainians can celebrate their independence.

Adam Reichardt is the editor in chief of New Eastern Europe. He attended the Crimea Platform Summit as part of a special press tour organised by Internews Ukraine.

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