7 years of Russian occupation put 2 million Ukrainians of Crimea in a critical situation amid the Kremlin politics of militarization and violation of International humanitarian law.
As a response, Ukraine is looking for a new way to reintegrate the annexed territory, leaving the Kremlin no other choice but to negotiate about the annexation of Crimea instead of its common tactics of silencing military crimes and normalizing its aggression.
On the 20th of October, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the launch of the Crimean platform, a new consultative and coordination format initiated by Ukraine to improve the efficiency of the international response to the occupation of Crimea.
Russia’s Military Crimes in the Occupied Crimea
As part of the “integration” strategy, Russian authorities built a military base on the peninsula, and adapted an airfield to military needs, inter alia for the movement of nuclear weapons. Also, Russia does not allow international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross representatives to enter Crimea and implements forcible passportization.
Thus, according to the Russian MFA, 100.000 Russians moved to Crimea. However, according to the Ukrainian MFA, this number is 5 times bigger — 500.000. This is no doubt an act Moreover, on 20 March 2020, an illegal decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin entered into force, prohibiting people without Russian citizenship from owning land in all the territories of the peninsula that have access to the Black Sea. Such an approach is being used by the Kremlin as a powerful method of brand new colonization to change the demographic situation and increase the number of loyal citizens. Undoubtedly, this is not only a rough violation of The Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilians but also a way to intensify the processes of assimilation and marginalization of the local Ukrainian population, inter alia Crimean Tatars, illegally depriving them of their homes and their liberty. Systematic prosecutions and tortures of journalists and Crimean Tatar activists are a part of the Kremlin’s strategy of integrating the occupied Ukrainian territories which is also being implemented in the puppet Donbas “republics”.
The Crimean Platform: Looking for the Way out
This format of the Crimean Platform is supposed to cover multiple strategic goals, such as increasing the further political pressure on Russia (inter alia, through international sanctions for unlawful actions), provide security for the victims of the occupation regime, protect the threatened cultural and religious heritage of local Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, prevent further human rights violations, ensure the freedom of international navigation in the Black Sea and Azov Sea, and draw the attention of the world community to Russia’s militarization of the peninsula. As a result, the final and most global goal of the platform is a further full de-occupation of Crimea while keeping the Crimean issue in the focus of constant international attention.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy believes that the creation of the Crimean Platform will be a serious step towards forming a coalition of states that will help Ukraine to boost the highest political attention to the issue of the occupation of Crimea and its consequences and put the de-occupation in the middle of international political agenda, as it was done with the so-called Normandy format, bringing together France, Germany, and Russia to keep the attention of the global community focused on the occupied Ukrainian Donbas.
As the Head of State mentioned, “The steps of de-occupation will be considered there, we will finally open an office of the permanent Crimean platform — these will be professionals who will deal with the issues of occupied Crimea and the issues of people who should receive humanitarian aid every day — from lawyers to economists and humanitarian specialists and those who are in prisons of Crimea and the Russian Federation”.
Among the participants that have already given their agreement, there will be the USA, Turkey, Canada, Great Britain, Moldova, and Slovakia. The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, also confirmed his participation. Russia is also invited as the country that holds responsibility for the occupation and numerous human rights violations in Crimea.
The Crimean platform is supposed to work on several levels: from the highest political level, represented by heads of states to the levels of foreign ministers and defense ministers, inter-parliamentary, and expert levels.
The leaders of the countries will not only sign a declaration that is currently being developed but also will consolidate the political position of their countries, increasing the international pressure on Russia, and that’s what scares the Kremlin the most.
Russian Campaign to Discredit the Platform
While Vladimir Putin persistently calls the occupation of Crimea nothing short of a “restoring historic justice” because the Crimea “has always belonged to Russian people”, the Kremlin launched a massive information campaign to discredit the initiative, portraying it as “insignificant” and “created as another bureaucratic initiative for corruption and money-laundering”.
Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, mentioned that “Ukrainian authorities just want a bright event”, describing the initiative as an act of “hopelessness and masochism” since all efforts of Ukraine to return to Crimea are nothing else but “illegitimate action” and a “threat of aggression against Russian Federation and its territorial integrity”. However, such transference and turning the truth inside out is not only a common act of cynicism committed by the Kremlin but also a fear of publicity which shows that Russia has some horizons of expectations and they are nothing else but disturbing. That is why it is vitally important to constantly remind the global community of the problems of the Crimean peninsula and prevent the normalization of occupation — and the Crimean Platform may be rather an effective instrument of doing that.
As Dmytro Kuleba, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, stated, the Kremlin takes the platform as a serious threat, and counteracts it with serious methods. Thus, the Russian Foreign Ministry even has a group whose task is to discredit the summit of the Crimean platform and, as a result, to remove the fact of occupation from the international political agenda.
Not a Miracle but a Mechanism
A Crimea summit which is scheduled for August 23, 2021 (on the eve of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s national independence on August 24) in Kyiv, will become the first step in the launching of the Crimean platform. Several countries expressed interest in attending the summit, including the US, Turkey, and the Baltic States.
As the Kremlin systematically portrays the Crimean issue as “non-negotiable” and “closed”, justifying the military aggression with the quasi-referendum which was illegally held in Crimea in March 2014, and is not recognized by both the US and the EU, it is still necessary to publicly emphasize the fact of annexation so that the global community does not forget about Russia’s military crimes and its crucial role in the violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine.
According to Dmytro Kuleba, “There will be no miracle. This summit will build a mechanism that will return Crimea to the list of top issues of the international agenda, a mechanism that allows dealing with the problems of occupation”.
Given that the Crimean Platform is not supposed to be a decision-making organ, it may face several problems, such as the Kremlin’s unwillingness to negotiate, strengthening the Russian propaganda, political and economic blackmail, the tactics of intimidation of the participating countries, or new threats of escalation.
However, the launch of the Crimean platform is nonetheless important, being more a strategic instrument than a fast solution, proving that Ukraine is ready to fight for Crimea and Crimeans, and the international pressure of sanctions against Russia may be permanent until the final occupation of the peninsula.
Both the EU and the US stay persistent in their politics of non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea and are interested in cooperation with Ukraine within the framework of the Crimean platform. But no less important, the Crimean platform is also a new communication platform that will also work against the Russian plan to silence the occupation, and human rights violations, such as militarization, assimilation, attempts to erase the local population’s identity and illegal deprivation of liberty.