Will the Crimea Platform help Ukraine return Russia-occupied peninsula?

Crimea is Ukraine

Activists hold poster "Crimea is Ukraine." Source: Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine  

Crimea, International

Article by: Yuliia Rudenko
Edited by: Alya Shandra

On 23 August, Kyiv will host an inaugural Summit of the Crimea Platform, an international initiative for the ultimate peninsula’s de-occupation that will gather 40 foreign participants. Who will join the format, how did the Kremlin react to the forum, and is this the platform capable of returning Russia-occupied Crimea? Euromaidan Press answers these questions.

What is the Crimea Platform?

On 23 August, on the eve of Ukraine’s 30th anniversary of independence, Kyiv will host a constituent Summit of the Crimea Platform. This new international consultative and coordination format for ultimate peninsula’s de-occupation will gather 40 foreign delegations, led by presidents, prime ministers, heads of parliaments, foreign ministers and leaders of international organizations. In the follow-up to the Summit, they will draw up a joint Declaration open for signature also after the event.

12.8% of Ukraine’s territory remains under Russia’s control. It annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, and controls two proxy statelets – the Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics,” or occupied Donbas. Source: Euromaidan Press

This diplomatic initiative shall operate regularly until the peninsula is returned to Ukraine. The Summit’s future format is still to be decided. It may even be a high-level segment within the United Nations, commented First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova.

The idea of the Crimea Platform was first voiced in September 2020 by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the 75th United Nations General Assembly. He invited the international community to join the creation of the Crimea Platform for the peninsula’s de-occupation and protection of the rights of the Crimeans.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenkyy speaks at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Photo: president.gov.ua

And in March following year, Zelenskyy by his order endorsed the Strategy for the Deoccupation and Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol. The decision provided for the setting up of an organizing committee for Crimea Platform’s constituent Summit chaired by Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister.

The official part of the Crimea Platform Summit will be opened with a performance of “1944” by Jamala, a Ukrainian singer of Crimean Tatar background. Having brought her triumph in the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 in Stockholm, this piece sings about the 1944 Stalin’s mass deportation of the Crimean Tatar population from the peninsula.

Crimea comes to Eurovision

Indeed, the Summit will be more than a merely formal event.

“[I]t was fundamental for us that each and every person attending the summit, from a president to an expert, not only heard but also lived through certain things. And this can be reached through the language of culture, language, artistic and interactive aspects,” noted Dzhaparova.

Aims and tasks of the Crimean Platform

In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution by 100 votes not to recognise Crimea’s annexation. Since then, the international community has consistently condemned Russia’s aggression in the peninsula. However, with time, the issue seems to have disappeared from the international agenda.

While two international platforms for Russia-occupied Donbas (Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine and The Normandy Format) operate, no such forum has been provided for Crimea for seven years of the Kremlin’s annexation.

The Crimea Platform will make the peninsula at play again and foster its peaceful de-occupation.

As Kuleba announced at the all-Ukrainian “Ukraine 30” Forum last month, the Summit will focus on four key directions:

  1. non-recognizing Russia’s attempt to annex Crimea
  2. militarization of the Azov-Black Sea region
  3. reintegrating Crimea through human rights and sustainable development
  4. restoring the rights of the Crimean Tatar people

Infographics: mfa.gov.ua

To this end, as Emine Dzhaparova announced, the Crimea Platform shall further focus on the five key areas of work:

1. consolidation of the international policy of non-recognition of any change in the status of the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol;

2. monitoring and analysis of the effectiveness of sanctions, developing proposals to strengthen sanctions and preventing ways of circumvention;

Infographics: mfa.gov.ua

3. protection of human rights and international humanitarian law;

Infographics: mfa.gov.ua

4. ensuring security in the Azov-Black Sea region and beyond, protecting freedom of navigation;

5. overcoming the negative environmental and economic consequences of the occupation.

Infographics: mfa.gov.ua

Infographic: Centre for Economic Strategy, translated by Euromaidan Press.

A separate aspect of the platform’s work will be the issue of the Kremlin’s political prisoners. Since 2014, Russian occupation authorities are jumping through hoops to gag Crimean dissidents, among whom are religious people, journalists and activists.

Crimean Tatars, who have mounted an overarching peaceful resistance to occupation, are bearing the brunt of repressions. Russia-controlled kangaroo courts churn out falsified criminal cases against them. And it is publicity that saves the political prisoners from torture and death in Russian cells. Hence, the Crimea Platform aims to shed light on the stories of Crimean prisoners of the Kremlin.

Putin’s Hostages, documentary about Ukrainian political prisoners of the Kremlin, available online

What states will attend the Crimea Platform Summit?

As of 13 August 2021, as many as 40 states and international organizations confirmed their participation in the Summit, an unprecedented international event for Ukraine in terms of a number of foreign participants.

The list of the states has not been made public. Yet, we know of the consent of the UK, Canada, Estonia, Lithuania, Moldova, Turkey, France, the Netherlands to take part in the Summit. The event will also be attended by the Presidents of Poland, Latvia, Slovakia, the European Council, and the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. The U.S. will be represented by its secretary of transportation Peter Buttigieg. High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell will join on behalf of the EU.

Consolidated effort for Crimea’s return: the Crimea Platform Expert Network

The Crimea Platform unites the efforts on the four levels — heads of states, foreign ministers, parliaments, and experts. Some 180 pundits from 33 states plan to join the Crimea Platform Expert Network, an independent analytical hub.

Bringing together the representatives of Ukrainian and foreign NGOs, think tanks and human rights activists, the Expert Network is intended to analyse the situation on the peninsula and in the Black and Azov Seas and elaborate proposals in the Crimea Platform working areas.

The Network’s inaugural forum outlining its future activities was held on August 6, 2021, in Kyiv. At the event, Emine Dzhaparova emphasized that the role of the Expert Network in the Crimea Platform is perhaps most crucial in the process.

At the inaugural forum, the Network’s working groups presented their ideas and suggestions in the following seven areas:

  • Non-recognition policy and sanctions;
  • Human rights and international humanitarian law;
  • Security;
  • Economics and ecology;
  • Culture and heritage of Crimea;
  • Humanitarian policy;
  • Restoration of the rights of the indigenous peoples.

According to Yuliia Kazdobina, Head of the Ukrainian Foundation for Security Studies and Network’s expert, one of the key tasks of the Platform shall be seeking ways to influence the Kremlin, as “the key to liberating Crimea lies not in Crimea but in Russia.” Therefore, she believes, experts should work to understand the political tendencies in Russia as well as global developments.

This will help de-occupy Crimea for which two ways exist — “sanction” and “armed,” claims Head of the Institute for Black Sea Strategic Studies Andriy Klymenko.

“Those who fail to impose sanctions objectively foster a local or a series of local wars which will escalate into a new global conflict,” he says.

He also expresses concern that since 2014 the number of states backing sanction policy against Russia decreased: in March 2014, 100 countries voted for the first UN GA resolution for sanctions over Crimea’s annexation, and only 40 states and organizations will partake in the Crimea Platform.

Mykhailo Gonchar, President of the Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI, reiterates Klymenko’s idea that the Crimea Platform’s mission goes beyond returning the peninsula to Ukraine. In particular, Gonchar speaks of the necessity to comply with the conditions of the post-WWII world:

“[N]ot only the European but also world order reached the cul de sac, and the goal is to return to the compliance with the rules of international law. To this end, Russia, a violator, must be made to obey international law. One of the goals is to activate the sanctions policy, move from the present level of sanctions — hindering but not stopping Russia — to a new degree of sanction pressure.”

Russia’s reaction to the Crimea Platform

On 15 March, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated that “all Kiev’s efforts to return Crimea to Ukraine are illegitimate and cannot be perceived as anything other than a threat of aggression against two regions of the Russian Federation [Ukraine`s territories of Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol].”

In response to this statement, Dmytro Kuleba said that “The nervous, and even hysterical Russian reaction to the Crimea Platform, proves that we are on the right path. Crimea was, is, and will be Ukraine.”

Russia has not once warned that it deems participation of foreign states in the Crimea Platform as an “unfriendly move” and as a “direct encroachment upon its territorial integrity.”

Going further than these statements, Moscow resorted to threats and blackmail to preclude other states from joining the Platform, noted Dmytro Kuleba. He added that according to Ukraine’s special services, Russia created special groups working to discredit the Crimea Platform and managed by the Foreign Ministry through diplomatic missions.

Deputy Chair of the Kremlin-controlled Council of Ministers of Crimea and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Crimea under Russia’s President Georgiy Muradov stated that the participants of the Crimea Platform will face “injurious repercussions,” such as the seizure of assets and prohibition of entry into the territory of the Russian Federation because they intend to “infringe upon Russia’s territorial integrity.”

Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Refat Chubarov said these “direct threats” and “ultimatum” did not work as most of the parties invited confirmed their participation in the Platform. He further added:

“Muradov’s threat is absurd and in essence, because no one holds to challenge the territorial integrity of Russia with regard to Crimea – it’s just that no one in the civilized world recognises the attempts of the illegal annexation of Crimea.”

Since the Crimea Platform Summit has come across sturdy resistance from the Kremlin, Ukraine’s side sees no rationale in Russia’s participation in the event, Dzhaparova said.

Earlier, Zakharova pointed out Moscow will join the Platform if it will discuss the return of water and electricity supply to Crimea and Kyiv lifting the trade and water blockade of the peninsula, which are “non-negotiables” for Ukraine.

Ukraine’s water blockade of Crimea should stay, because it’s working

Whether Russia’s influence is commanding or not will become clear closer to the summit, says Institute of World Policy expert Yevhen Mahda.

“I contemplate that the Russian power of influence is significant and the personal makeup of representatives of different states in the summit might be lower than expected in Kyiv,” he adds.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, former Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, hopes that despite Kremlin’s pressure there will be many states “whose moral compass will not snap” and who will come to the event.

Will the Crimea Platform be effective?

Russian media cover the Crimea Platform as a purely discussion area doomed to a zero-sum outcome, the Media Initiative for Human Rights reports. But is this rhetoric true?

According to Ukrainian experts, this will depend on subsequent de-occupation mechanisms.

“Not the attendance level but the level of institutional capacity is vital.

For instance, [it is decisive] whether the posts of the special envoys of the U.S., EU, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation that will conduct permanent negotiations on Crimea’s reintegration will emerge. Whether new sanctions against Russia will be brought to the table, whether not only the Ukrainian government but also the international community will seek new mechanisms to support Ukrainian nationals in occupied Crimea,” says Mahda.

Susan Stewart, an expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, believes that Crimea’s return is a distant prospect but the Crimea Platform is valuable since it will lay the foundation for the peninsula’s de-occupation. Namely, highlight the infringements committed by Russia.

This view is endorsed by Gustav Gressel, a senior policy fellow at Berlin’s office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. He claims that Crimea will return to Ukraine only after a change of power in Russia:

“At some point, Russia may wish to get out of this scam after Vladimir Putin. Then it would be good for Ukraine to have decent documentation concerning the occupation regime and all its violations. In thirty, forty years this will be of great significance.”

Above all, the paramount task of the Crimea Platform is to keep the issue of the peninsula’s annexation on the international agenda, as Russia invests substantial resources to make Crimea forgotten. In this regard, the Crimean Platform is Ukraine’s offensive tactic, Dzhaparova points out.

“We do not know what it will result in. But we should not be the only warrior on this battlefield,” she says.

The Crimea Platform is a promising initiative and its first fruits on the national track speak for themselves: a strategy for Crimea’s de-occupation is adopted, a law on indigenous peoples passed, and a common economic zone with the peninsula abolished.

Ukraine recognizes three Crimean peoples as indigenous, infuriating Russia

Now, the Crimea Platform’s front office to coordinate respective national policy is underway at the Office of the Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in Crimea.

Related:

Edited by: Alya Shandra

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