Seven Years of Russian Occupation of Crimea: Where Are We Now?

March 18, 2021
7 years have passed since Russia invaded Crimea. In the span of a few weeks, the appearance of Russia's "little green men" turned into an illegal referendum on the status of Crimea.
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In this way, Moscow attempted to legitimize its military aggression and attempted annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.

On 18 March 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the self-proclaimed prime minister of Crimea Sergei Aksenov signed an illegal treaty that declared Crimea to be Russian territory, in total violation of Ukraine's constitution and fundamental principles of international law.

Seven years on from the attempted annexation, we can see the long-term repercussions of Russia's aggression in the peninsula: water shortages, prosecutions, human rights violation, militarization, and drastic changes to Crimea's demographics.

While Ukraine's and the international community's policy of non-recognition remains strong, the Crimea issue has faded from the  international limelight amid other current challenges, in particular the COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, Ukraine has decided to launch the Crimean Platform Summit that will take place on 23 August 2021, the day before the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's Independence. To discuss Ukraine's strategy on the occupation of Crimea and the current situation on the peninsula, Internews Ukraine and UkraineWorld hosted a panel discussion titled Seven Years of Russian Occupation in Crimea: What's Going On and What Can Be Done.

The Crimean Platform

The Crimea Platform is expected to bring together state leaders, foreign ministers, MPs and experts on Crimean issues. Its ultimate goal is to end the occupation of the Crimean peninsula. This aim was established by the Strategy for the Deoccupation and Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, recently adopted by the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine.

Today Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs works in order to elaborate as many countries as possible, however, it is still an ongoing process. As well, Ukrainian party continues its work on the provision of the Crimean Charter that will be adopted at the inaugural summit of the Crimean Platform. The document will reinforce non-recognition policy that will be common for all participating parties. Earlier, internationally the non-recognition policy was established by the Crimea Declaration, issued by the U.S. Department of State in 2018. The EU, as well, constantly reiterates its unwavering position on Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its recognised borders.

First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova tells UkraineWorld the philosophy of the Crimean platform has three main pillars: strategy, consolidation, and synergy.  She asserts that the de-occupation of Crimea is not only a Ukrainian issue, however, it concerns other members of the international community:

I think the response lies with common efforts. Therefore, we talk about strategy, consolidation, and synergy. The Crimean platform serves this course because we believe that the ultimate goal of Ukraine as a state, as a society, is the de-oсcupation of Crimea.

Today the Crimean Platform Summit faces tough resistance from the Russian Federation. On 15 March, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated the platform constitutes "a threat of aggression against two subject regions of the Russian Federation", meaning by this Ukraine`s territories of Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol. Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba responded that stating it is politically, legally, and most importantly morally correct to support the Crimean platform: "The nervous, and even hysterical Russian reaction to the Crimean platform, confirms we are on the right path. Crimea was, is, and will be Ukraine."

Human rights abuses in Crimea

While Russia's occupation authorities continue to govern Crimea de facto, its people, especially the indigenous Crimean Tatars, face  brutal violations of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Over 100 Ukrainian citizens have been illegally detained in Russian jails. The fact of the Russian repression in Crimea is acknowledged internationally. On 14 January, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of accepting an interstate claim in Ukraine's case against the Russian Federation. The cases submitted concern Russia's violation of fundamental human rights, in particular: the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association.  (Read more about Ukrainian political prisoners in our Prisoners Voice project)

However, the human rights situation in Crimea continues to worsen. On 16 December 2020, the United Nations General Assembly supported an updated resolution on the "Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine." This resolution laid out the increasing number of human rights violations in occupied Crimea amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In this context, the Assembly expressed its concerns "about additional challenges for the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by residents of Crimea resulting from unnecessary and disproportionate restrictive measures taken by the occupying Power under the pretext of combating the coronavirus". (Read more about persecution of the Crimean Tatars in our article Presumption of Guilt: How Russia Imprisons Crimean Tatars in Occupied Crimea)

Tamila Tasheva, Deputy Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, described to UkraineWorld a systematic persecution of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists that results in "illegal detention of our citizens for showing their pro-Ukrainian position". In addition, Crimeans face forced conscription into the  Russian Armed Forces. Moreover, the Russian occupation authorities "systematically use the transfer of citizens of the Russian Federation to the occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and City of Sevastopol with the specific intention of changing the demographic map of Crimea," she explained

The indigenous Crimean Tatar people face enormous pressure from the occupation authorities. The Mejlis, the self-governing body of the Crimean Tatar community, has been declared an extremist organization. In this way, Russia portrays Crimean Tatars as terrorists and extremists. To fight this image,  Deputy Director General at the Ukrainian Institute Alim Aliev told UkraineWorld that Ukraine must communicate more about the plight of the Crimean Tatars to the international community:

For us, it is crucially important to emphasize that Crimean Tatars are a bridge between the Muslim/Turkish path and European/Ukrainian path. Because we [Crimean Tatars] understand these two contexts: the European context and Turkish / Islamic context.  And that's why we try to explain that Crimean Tatars' culture, history, traditions, and political traditions are peaceful".

(Learn more about history of Crimea in our video Crimea: The Story of an Occupied Peninsula )

Water shortages and environmental problems in Crimea

Since the occupation, Crimea's residents have been facing serious challenges, in particular water shortages and power outages. While Ukraine's mainland provided about 80% of Crimea's electricity,after the illegal annexation the island's homes have been left without electricity for hours and days at a time.

The water shortage problem is even more critical; Crimea's population has increased and the existing resources can't meet demand. According to the Ukrainian Institute's Alim Aliev, the primary cause of Crimea's  water supply comes from Russia's ongoing militarization of the Crimean Peninsula. He explains that the Russian military takes great amounts of water for its military forces, its bases, and its industrial projects, as they have transformed the place from resort into a military zone since 2014.

Russia, however, blames Ukraine for the water crises, demanding that it supply Crimea with water and threatening to sue against Ukraine. However, Kyiv's official position remains steadfast: Ukraine will supply Crimea with water after its de-occupation. According to independent journalist Natalya Gumenyuk, "many people have been brought from Russia to live in Crimea. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people. And it is a small territory, so there is a huge burden on the infrastructure of cities like Sevastopol and Simferopol. It created a burden for water supply due to this reason.

She is one of the few Ukrainian journalists who has visited Crimea several times since the start of the occupation. Natalia's reports have been compiled into a book about the peninsula's occupation called Lost Island.

Thus, even for natural reasons Crimea was, is, and will be Ukraine. Natalya Gumenyuk is convinced:

The fact that the Crimean Autonomous Republic became a part of the Ukrainian Republic during the Soviet Union,was a result of the fact that geographically, Crimea can`t be separated from the Ukrainian mainland. The only guarantee for things to work out with the water is for it to be connected.

Olha Kravchenko
Analyst and journalist at UkraineWorld and Internews Ukraine

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