Crimea could become a bright international tourist attraction but Russian occupation in 2014 turned it into a grey zone. A postcard depicting Yalta, Crimea, early 20th century.
Edited by: Michael Garrood
Ukraine has launched an international platform to unite and coordinate interstate efforts for the de-occupation of Crimea. Called the Crimean Platform, its first summit is planned for 23 August 2021, the eve of Ukraine’s 30th anniversary of independence. The president of Ukraine has invited over 100 foreign heads of state and government to attend.
The platform has gained real significance after the first countries confirmed their participation and preparation for the summit commenced with a presidential decree. Meanwhile, Russia has intensified its efforts to discredit the platform or prevent international partners from taking part.
This proves that the platform can create more problems for the Russian occupational regime, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says: “I can also honestly tell you that the more positive the reaction of our partners, the greater the efforts of the Russian Federation to discredit the Crimean Platform and prevent certain states from participating at the summit. They are already stooping so low as to directly send signals to the heads of certain states and governments — that if you go to the Crimean Platform summit, you will have this, this and this in response from us. Russia’s two goals are to discredit the idea itself and prevent the participation of leaders at the summit.”
Here is a little on the model of the platform, its planned activity, and possible impact.
At the 75th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2020, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky called on member states to join the creation of the Crimean Platform. Recently, he sent them official invitations to the first summit. On 4 March 2021, an organizational committee was created for the preparation of the summit of the Crimean Platform. Also, the National Security and Defense Council promised to agree within two weeks on a strategy for the de-occupation of the peninsula.
The new Ukrainian policy on Crimea was developed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba and his new deputy, ethnic Crimean Tatar Emine Dzheppar, and supported by president Zelenskyy.
Until now, the consequences of the Russian occupation of Crimea, such as the militarization of the peninsula, human rights violations, environmental degradation, and stifling of trade in the Black and Azov Seas, have been addressed on an ad hoc basis.
Sanctions were imposed in response to various violations while relevant cases were submitted to the international courts and condemned by UN resolutions. The next step is to form a more proactive and consolidated position that will raise the cost of occupation for Russia and subsequently leave it no choice but to vacate the peninsula peacefully, according to Dzheppar.
Painful sanctions for Russia and Ukrainian strategy towards peaceful deoccupation
Russia constantly repeats that “the issue of Crimea is closed.” At the same time, if it indeed was closed, there would be no need to constantly remind the world about this, Kuleba notes. At the same time, he maintains a realistic approach and strategy, saying in an interview: “We understand that the Russian Federation will avoid any negotiations on the de-occupation of Crimea. Therefore, the strategy must be built completely differently – to create conditions under which de-occupation becomes inevitable.”
He mentions two steps. To start, Russia as the occupying power should comply with obligations in the framework of international law. This includes non-violation of human rights in Crimea, not limiting freedom of the press and ending criminal proceedings for posts on Facebook, and not conscripting local Crimeans to serve in Russia’s armed forces. If all these points were fulfilled, preconditions for de-occupation would be created. And vice versa – if Russia refuses to comply, yet more sanctions should be imposed to raise the cost of occupation.
Meanwhile, the constant Russian jeers about the sanctions cannot conceal the fact that they are working and are painful.
Just the latest example, mentioned by Ukrainian investigative journalist from Crimea, Valentyna Samar: The Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation is preparing a special economic regime for Crimea, which will allow large investors in Crimea to have the right to hide their registration information in order not to fall victim to sanctions.
At the same time, large sums of money are being spent by Russia on so-called “people’s diplomacy,” which is employed by organizations such as the Russian World Foundation to change the policy of Western countries so that they lift sanctions on Russia. Also, the RFE/RL’s Crimean desk Krym Realii conducted a series of Vox populi with Crimeans, which demonstrate that the local population is feeling the pressure of sanctions, having difficulty with banking payments and access to imported goods.
Real western action causes real money to be spent by Russia, not to mention the Ukrainian water blockade that has not only created economic problems for Russia but may also force Russia to reduce its military presence on the peninsula.
Ukraine has also invited Russia to join the platform, although there are no illusions that this will happen quickly. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia will join the platform only if “the restoration of water and electricity supply to the peninsula, lifting of trade and transport blockade of the peninsula,” will be discussed there. The basic Ukrainian position is that water and electricity will be supplied to Crimea only after de-occupation.
“Russia’s reaction to the Crimean platform is nervous, and I am satisfied with that reaction,” Kuleba told a news conference on 24 December. He also noted that in 2021, the Crimean Platform will be “the epicenter of a hybrid war between Ukraine and Russia.”
While in the first months the world actively reacted to the occupation of Crimea, imposing sanctions, the issue of Crimea was quickly overshadowed by Russian aggression in the Donbas and active war there. Crimea disappeared from the agenda of international politics. Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now trying to bring this topic back to the center of political and expert dialogue with international partners and move closer to de-occupation.
Why the Crimean Platform is not just about talking
According to Emine Dzheppar, a much worse situation could be in Crimea if not for the public outcry, court proceedings, and sanctions. Currently, there are more than 100 political prisoners in Crimea suffering from torture, mistreatment, and lack of medical aid. But there could be thousands without a firm reaction.
She gives the example of the imprisonment of civic journalist Nariman Memedeminov in Crimea, who avoided being subjected to torture in prison just because the case was made very public.
Although dozens of states introduced restrictive measures against Russia and assured Ukraine of their constant and consistent political support, there is a lack of coordination and monitoring mechanism to make these sanctions work properly. In the framework of the Crimean Platform, Ukraine plans to consolidate the existing sanctions regime and enhance the monitoring of sanctions implementation.
At the Crimean Platform summit on 23 August, which will bring together world leaders, it is planned to approve the Crimean Charter, a document condemning the policy of the Russian Federation in Crimea. The next step, based on the Charter, will be the consolidation of sanctions policy and approval of new sanctions or mechanisms to put pressure on Russia.
“Each country can find its role in the Platform. Somebody can vote rightfully in the UN, somebody can make more, impose sanctions and economic pressure,” said Kuleba.
He also outlined five priorities of the Platform:
•consolidating the non-recognition policy;
•improving the effectiveness of sanctions and blocking ways of their circumvention;
•finding answers to security threats, including those to freedom of navigation;
•protecting human rights and international humanitarian law;
•and overcoming negative consequences for the economy and environment.
All this should soften the consequences of occupation, ensure freedom for Crimean inhabitants, and decriminalize inner opposition there. Additionally, the states who joined the platform will form their group in PACE to lobby the Crimean issue in the Council of Europe as well.
Ukraine also plans to establish an annual Security Forum for the Azov and Black Seas and the Eastern Mediterranean.
At the same time, domestic work within Ukraine in preparation for the platform, to form a solid domestic basis for foreign policy endeavors, is crucial.
“The National Security Council of Ukraine is working on a comprehensive de-occupation strategy. We are focusing on updating the Ukrainian legislation on sanctions, abolishing the infamous law on the Crimean “free economic zone,” introducing a law on legal and social protection of persons illegally detained by Russia, ensuring the rights and providing for the needs of internally displaced persons. The Crimean Platform will become a foreign policy instrument of the de-occupation strategy,” said Emine Dzheppar.
The activities of the expert community have already started under the auspices of the Crimean Platform negotiation process. Pilot projects researching the Russian military-industrial complex on the peninsula will facilitate better understanding by European and Euro-Atlantic partners of the threats, including nuclear.
“These are the steps toward a better understanding of why anyone beside Ukraine should care about Crimea, and we see positive developments in this regard,” concluded Dzheppar.