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Oleksiy Melnyk  29 października 2021

Crimea still under occupation. Has the West forgotten about Russia’s violations?

Oleksiy Melnyk  29 października 2021
przeczytanie zajmie 6 min
Crimea still under occupation. Has the West forgotten about Russia’s violations? Crimean Platform

Violations of human rights, impediments to the freedom of navigation, militarization of Crimea, Russia’s non-compliance with its obligations as an occupying power have become almost a daily routine. The inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform seems to be a good start for the very ambitious, lengthy and difficult endeavour of keeping the Crimea issue on the international agenda high. It is too early to measure any progress of the Platform or to make ultimate judgements about its prospects yet. However, there are some reasons to believe in the Platform’s potential success as well as for optimism to be cautious.

Impressive start

On August 23, 2021, Ukraine launched a new international initiative on the de-occupation and long-term reintegration of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula illegally annexed by the Russian Federation in 2014. The inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform took place on the eve of Ukraine’s Independence Day and was attended by senior officials from 46 countries (including 14 heads of states and governments) and international organisations, namely NATO, the EU, Council of Europe and GUAM. Among distinctive partners of the Platform was the Ukrainian World Congress, the international coordinating body of 20-million Ukrainian diaspora in more, than 60 countries. The summit also hosted numerous domestic and international guests, who took part in the thematic panels.

The summit was largely judged as an achievement of Ukrainian diplomacy. At the same time, the summit’s genuine purpose as well as the dominant tone of both official addresses and the following expert discussions, were not congratulatory ones. Welcome remarks were brief but supplemented by extensive analysis of the consequences of Russia’s ongoing occupation of Crimea: violations of international law and order, human rights violations, the militarization of the region, socio-economic and environmental deterioration etc.

The existing international institutional and legal mechanisms failed to prevent or stop the Russian military aggression against Ukraine in 2014. A three-week period was perhaps too short to react effectively, let alone the initial shock and confusion by the Russian blitzkrieg in Crimea. However, seven years of international efforts to reverse the problem hardly brought a date of the Crimea de-occupation any closer. Moreover, the “Crimean files” gradually shifted down from an urgent to a long-term priority. Violations of human rights, impediments to the freedom of navigation, militarization of Crimea, Russia’s non-compliance with its obligations as an occupying power have become almost a daily routine. Therefore, keeping the Crimea issue on the international agenda high was one of the summit’s main objectives (partly achieved) and is the Platform’s task to be advanced.

The ultimate goal of the Crimea Platform is “to put an end to the occupation of Crimea and contribute to the European and global security”. This brief statement from the Crimea Platform’s Web page comprehends the primary objective of the initiative as well as indicates a link between the ongoing occupation of Crimea and its destabilising effect on regional and global security.

The remarkable level of international representation (despite the last days of the holiday season and the Afghan crisis) showed that the “Crimea issue” was not simply a matter of the Russia-Ukraine territorial dispute.

Not a full success … yet

The Joint Declaration of the International Crimea Platform and strong statements of the official participants reassured the organisers that the annexation of Crimea had not become a fait accompli despite Moscow’s desire and efforts to make it happen. The Declaration also lays down a kind of road map for joint actions aimed at the ultimate goal of the Platform of “peacefully ending the Russian Federation’s temporary occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol and to restore control of Ukraine over this territory in full accordance with international law”.

The Russian angry reaction to the Platform may serve as an additional confirmation of the event’s significance and indicate the true potential of the Ukrainian initiative. On one hand, such an assumption made Ukrainian officials pleased, but, on the other hand, Russia’s policy of denial critically undermines the prospects of a “peaceful de-occupation” in a predictable future.

Most of the declared actions are to be performed on national and international levels and are actually to be done against and without Russia. Indeed, such measures as implementing the non-recognition policy and further political, diplomatic and economic pressure on Russia have been in place for years already with no visible changes in the Russian aggressive policies. The Declaration reiterates an extensive list of the problems created by the occupation as well as clearly points out their source.

The very last paragraph of the Declaration calls on Russia “to engage constructively in the activities of the International Crimea Platform aimed at ending the temporary occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.” Obviously, it is hard to imagine the current regime in Kremlin voluntary accepting this invitation or Russia’s positive response on demand “to comply with its obligations as an occupying power … and to provide full and unimpeded access to Crimea for established regional and international monitoring mechanisms, in particular, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, as provided for in their existing mandates, which cover the entire territory of Ukraine, including Crimea…” Nevertheless, additional confirmation of the commitments to preserve the current restrictive measures is a strong and essential signal to the Kremlin.

The Declaration by definition and primarily is about signals and intentions, and the Crimea Platform is a forum, not an executive body. Their outcomes are to be materialised in political and legal decisions on the national and the international levels. However, the Crimea Platform created a new capability for adding more substance to the customary political declarations by a distribution of information on the situation in Crimea worldwide continuously and by making Crimea occupation a “big issue” periodically in addition to other events where Crimea is discussed.

A number of speakers at the event called for strategic patience in reversing Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Despite an anonymous commitment to politico-diplomatic, i.e. non-military solution of the problem, there is a great degree of differences in “patience” among the participants. The stakeholders, who are apparently united by the common idea of restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity, still have different interests and values at stake. Some European leaders that position themselves as partners of Ukraine, still face a tough decision how to combine pragmatic interests and democratic values and principles.

For instance, it was quite symbolic that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who paid a brief visit to Kyiv on the way back to Berlin after her farewell trip to Moscow on August 22, had decided not to attend the summit. The United Nations, the organisation with the key task to support peace and security, was another noticeable absentee of the Crimea Platform summit and as a signatory to the Joint Declaration.

Forum’s significant potential

Despite all big and minor shortcomings, there is a number of reasons to believe in the Platform’s potential to meet the expectations of its initiators and supporters. First, it is remarkable that the initiative of launching the International Crimean Platform was put into effect within about one year after its official announcement. Without any doubt about the great job done by the organisers, many international participants had also strong incentives to accept an invitation from the Ukrainian Government, based on their national, professional and moral interests. It is a matter of long-term priorities and democratic values…, it not a matter of political decision, it is our legal requirement, – as was declared by Paweł Jabłoński, Undersecretary of State, MFA of Poland.

Many Ukrainian stakeholders, especially those with strong personal links to Crimea (being IDPs themselves) are ready to take a lead, cooperate and maintain positive momentum. Even with their accord on a “strategic patience” approach, they will not let the Ukrainian government use that as an excuse for inactivity and timidity.

Second, it was not only an event-oriented project but also a process of establishing a global structure of official institutions and civil society representatives. The Platform provides several levels of involving governments, parliaments and civil society in joint actions, communication and coordination activities. There is also a new permanent structure – the Office of the Crimea Platform with regional and international representations especially designed and tasked as the Platform’s centre of coordination.

A number of actions in support of the initiative took place well before the inaugural summit. For example, parliamentary support groups were established in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and in the national parliaments of Lithuania and Latvia. Another remarkable initiative, the Southern Development Strategy Forum, took place on a local level in June 2021. Its purpose perfectly fits in Joint Declaration’s aim to support “economic, infrastructure and environmental projects that would contribute to the further development of Ukraine’s regions adjacent to the temporarily occupied Crimean peninsula”.

Also, the Crimea Platform Expert Network (informally existing since 2014) formalised its relations with the MFA on the eve of the summit. The Crimea Platform Expert Network deserves special attention as an invaluable asset for informational and analytical support for official policymaking and implementation. The Network includes Ukrainian and foreign experts, journalists, scholars, and human rights activists – in total, more than 200 like-minded individuals and dozens of non-government organisations and think-tanks. Most of them have joined the Network with years of relative experience in different areas, readily available databases, best practices, policy recommendations, own well-established international networks, as well as independent sources of information and funding. Several Task Forces cover the whole spectrum of problems: non-recognition policy, monitoring and analysis of sanctions’ effectiveness and evasions; human rights and international humanitarian law; security in the wider Black Sea region and freedom of navigation; economic, social and environmental consequences of the occupation; culture and heritage.

Last but not least, is a mood of enthusiasm and realism demonstrated by the summit participants. Being united around the idea of “inevitability of de-occupation” and aware of the uncertainty of timing, they focused on very practical steps for mitigating negative consequences of the occupation now and strategic actions for bringing Russia to a negotiation table before long.

***

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his speech on the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence was probably a bit ahead of time to mention the Crimea Platform as one of the important milestones in the newest national history. It is more realistic to say that the Crimea Platform has a strong potential for creating such a milestone in future. This long-term task requires commitment, determination, courage and resources of a different kind.

Polish version available here.

Publication (excluding figures and illustrations) is available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 InternationalAny use of the work is allowed, provided that the licensing information, about rights holders and about the contest "Public Diplomacy 2021" (below) is mentioned.

Public task financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within the grant competition “Public Diplomacy 2021”. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of the official positions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.