To the anniversary of the Russian occupation of Crimea
One year has passed since Russia invaded Crimea. The world was shocked, but soon more tragic events began. Russia invaded areas of eastern Ukraine, began a bloody war that has claimed thousands of lives, and in a geopolitical sense led to a global confrontation between the democratic West and Putin’s neo-imperialist Russia.
The last developments have somehow overshadowed the Crimean issue and it is rarely mentioned now. However, no matter how challenging current events are, Crimea should not be removed from the agenda of world politics. Russia’s annexation of the peninsula not only violated all possible international agreements, but also destroyed the entire order of global security that for almost 70 years has protected mankind from World War III.
We have witnessed broad and immediate international condemnation of the actions by the Russian Federation. Tough US and EU sanctions on Russia as well as strong support and robust diplomatic efforts by European leaders have aimed at de-escalating the situation in Ukraine and preserving its territorial integrity. In this regard we highly appreciate and respect the principled, balanced and impartial position of the Republic of Cyprus, which corresponds to the global policy of solidarity with Ukraine.
However, there are those who believe in the Kremlin-imposed myth that “Crimea has always been Russian.” This statement is one that only Russians ever answer to the question “Why?”
But even so, is this a sufficient argument to grab the territory of a sovereign state, unilaterally, without a proper legal referendum and without hearing the opinion of the people who live on this territory? And all this is happening today, in the 21st century in the heart of Europe.
Since ancient times, the Crimean peninsula was inhabited by various ethnic groups and later it was the site of Greek colonies. In the 13th century, the Crimean Tatars came from the east, creating a state, Crimean Khanate. The Russian Empire conquered Crimea only in 1783, and in 1954 the very same Moscow gave Crimea back to Ukraine. It should be emphasised that the transfer of Crimea from Moscow to Ukraine was conducted with the strict observance of all Soviet legal provisions, so that even Putin himself publicly stated that the Crimea belonged to Ukraine just a few days before the occupation.
The occupation of Crimea is considered a tragedy by local Ukrainians who are 24 per cent of the population. In addition, many Crimean Russians understand that this annexation is a dangerous, destructive gamble. The peninsula, which a year ago was a favourite holiday destination for people from all over the former Soviet Union, at one point turned into a military base. All social life is now under the control of the Russian special services. Especially persecuted are Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar activists, but any citizen who dares to express pro-Ukrainian or anti-Kremlin views risks his freedom.
According to international organisations on human rights, increasingly grave civic, political and human right violations have taken place in Crimea since Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula a year ago. Ukrainian flags and symbols are prohibited in Crimea, Ukrainian is no longer taught in schools, Ukrainian libraries are closed and there is no Ukrainian TV. What’s more, Ukrainian books are being publicly burned by Russian activists. Recently, the “Crimean authorities” refused to allow a peaceful gathering at the monument of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko, as in previous years, marking the 201st anniversary of his birth. Two people received corrective labour sentences for using Ukrainian national symbols.
From some points of view, Crimea’s case is comparable with events in Cyprus in 1974 and 1983, with the Turkish invasion and the unilateral illegal proclamation of the Turkish Cypriot pseudostate. Unfortunately, Cypriots know firsthand all about the atrocities of illegal annexation of territory in their homeland. Thus, no one in Cyprus believed in the Russian propaganda myth about the “democratic” separation of Crimea from Ukraine and its accession to the Russian Federation after the illegal “referendum” held on March 16, 2014. Everybody knows that it was held under the military pressure by the so called “green men” and against all provisions of the constitution of Ukraine and the constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. It is also well known now that Crimea’s secession from Ukraine was well planned by Putin.
It is generally assumed that the Russian annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin’s attempts – with tanks, artillery, special forces and false propaganda in the face of Ukrainian resistance – to implement their project of creating Novorossiya and destroy the Ukrainian state, is nothing more than a punishment for Ukraine’s conscious pro-European stance and its unwillingness to join the post-Soviet empire.
H.E. Borys Humeniuk
Ambassador of Ukraine
to the Republic of Cyprus
Cyprus Mail, 22.03.2015