Crimea Platform: how the Kremlin tried and failed to marginalize the international summit

Inaugural summit of the Crimean Platformю Kyiv on 23 August 2021. Photo via RFE/RL 

Crimea

Since 2014, the issue of Crimea remains one of the key issues both on the global geopolitical level and in Ukraine’s domestic policy. Russia’s attempt to annex the peninsula has knocked the modern international politics and the balance of power in the Black Sea region off its axis.

Putin’s claims that the issue of Crimea’s ownership has been “historically closed” and all the efforts and resources put in by the Kremlin serve to gradually erase Crimea from the information space and international agenda.

Ukraine should constantly remind the international community that the Ukrainian authorities are interested in the return of the peninsula and will make every effort to do so, as Russia continues to map Crimea as part of its territory and actively uses foreign politicians and public figures to create the illusion of international support for annexation.

The international summit of the Crimea Platform, de-occupation of Crimea as a priority of Ukraine’s foreign policy, and mobilization of the international community to support non-recognition of the attempt to annex Crimea have provoked a violent, occasionally borderline hysterical reaction in Russia, forcing it to invent new narratives and double down on the old ones, justifying the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the norms of international law.

Public statements, a media campaign, blackmailing countries participating in the summit, and even the first official visit of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov since 2014, who said that “Crimea Platform is a coven where the West will continue to groom the neo-Nazi and racist sentiment of Ukraine’s current authorities”—all of this only serves to demonstrate that the Crimea Platform is a timely, necessary initiative, which had caused fear and outcry in the Kremlin even before it started.

So, what is the Crimea Platform, and why is it so important?

What Is the Crimea Platform?

The Crimea Platform is an international advisory and coordination format established to resolve the problem of Russia’s occupation of Crimea and returning the peninsula under Ukraine’s control.

The Crimea Platform is legislatively supported by a parliamentary caucus that works on the development of draft laws. Among other things, they passed the law abolishing the Law of Ukraine “On Creation of the ‘Crimea’ Free Economic Zone and on Specifics of Economic Activity on the Temporarily Occupied Territory of Ukraine,” as well as the Law of Ukraine “On Indigenous Peoples of Ukraine.” Work is currently underway on other draft laws from the Crimea Platform set: that includes a draft law on the status of political prisoners, as well as on the recognition of Crimean Tatar representative bodies Mejlis and Kurultai.

What Is the Crimea Platform?

The primary goal of the summit is to ensure an effective international response to Crimea’s occupation, respond to the growing security challenges, increase the international pressure on Russia, prevent further human rights violations, protect the victims of the occupation regime, and ultimately achieve the de-occupation of Crimea and its return under Ukraine’s control.

What Are the Results?

The participating countries have approved the official document, Joint Declaration of the International Crimea Platform, which outlines the main provisions on:

  • non-recognition of the attempt to annex Crimea;
  • militarization of the Azov-Black Sea region;
  • ways of Crimea’s reintegration through human rights and sustainable development;
  • restoration of the Crimean Tatar people’s rights.

After President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed the decree “On Measures Aimed at De-Occupation and Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol” on February 26, 2021, the Russian authorities immediately started mocking and marginalizing the idea of the international summit, disseminating narratives of its propaganda and disinformation among both Russians and Ukrainians.

We have collected and analyzed some of the public statements and comments from Russian officials and politicians, as well as the reactions in the Russian and pro-Russian media in response to Ukraine’s initiative of the Crimea Platform, and collected information to debunk them.

Fake from the Kremlin No. 1: Holding the Crimea Platform is a violation of international law.

Where the fake comes from. The common claim in the Kremlin’s rhetoric that it is Ukraine, not Russia, that violates international law is also used by Russia in the context of the Crimea Platform. For instance, the official representative of Russia’s MFA Maria Zakharova said,

“Today, the authorities in Kyiv, backed by their Western supervisors, are blatantly disregarding international law. Their policy of total violent Ukrainization, encouragement of neo-Nazism, violation of linguistic, cultural, and educational rights of national minorities and Russian-speaking citizens, fight against dissent, propaganda of Russophobia, cleansing of the information space—all this only further alienates not only the Russian Crimea but also the regions and citizens of Ukraine itself.”

Verified facts. International law backs Ukraine in this case. Under Ukrainian law and international law, Crimea is occupied and Russia has the status of an occupying power.

First, by its actions in Crimea, Russia violated a number of bilateral agreements with Ukraine, including the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership (1997) and “On the Status and Conditions of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine” (1999), which are proofs of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Immediately after the attempted annexation, international organizations passed a number of documents, which describe Russia’s actions as a gross violation of international law. On April 9, 2014, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a Resolution condemning Russia’s armed aggression and occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and recognizing its actions as a gross violation of international law, including the UN Charter, the OSCE Helsinki Act, and the Statute of the Council of Europe.

After the adoption of the Resolution in 2014, which testified to Russia’s blatant violation of international law, Moscow not only did not stop the illegal occupation of Crimea but continues to violate basic international law for seven years, which includes conscription of Crimean residents, replacement of the occupied territory population by Russian citizens, mass human rights violations, enforced disappearances of Crimean residents, arrests, the militarization of the peninsula, persecution of religious communities, Crimean Muslims and faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Fake from the Kremlin No. 2: The Crimea Platform is not legitimate and contradicts the wishes of Crimean residents themselves.

Where the fake comes from. The occupying power spreads disinformation alleging that the Crimea Platform runs counter to the will of Crimean residents and is not legitimate.

“No ‘platforms’ to discuss Kyiv’s stump neuralgia with other countries will be able to convince Crimean residents to go back on the decision they made at the 2014 referendum. No talk of alleged violations of international norms will cancel their legal right to self-determination,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Verified facts. The Kremlin should be reminded that the only illegitimate actions against Crimea are those done by Russia. The so-called “expression of will” or “2014 referendum,” which the Kremlin calls “restoration of historical justice” and “return of the Crimean people to the family of fraternal peoples of the Russian Federation,” was declared illegal in the UN GA Resolution 68/262 “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine” of March 27, 2014, while the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe declared it “an illegitimate act, the results of which have no legal force” in paragraph 15 of its July 2014 Resolution. The European Court of Human Rights, the UN Security Council, the US, the EU, and its member states all share this position.

Given that Crimea is not a subject of international law, it should be noted that Russia’s actions resulting in the peninsula’s occupation contradict the generally accepted norms of international law enshrined in the UN Charter (1945) and the Helsinki Accords (1975), namely, the principle of sovereign equality of countries, territorial integrity, inviolability of state borders, non-interference in internal affairs of other countries, and the prohibition on the use of force. With its actions, Russia also violated the Constitution of Ukraine and the Constitution of Crimea. Thus, there were no legal grounds for holding this referendum in Crimea and the discussion of the results and turnout is legally invalid.

Fake from the Kremlin No. 3: The Crimea Platform is an act of aggression and encroachment on Russia’s territorial integrity.

Where the fake comes from. It was Maria Zakharova again who first claimed that the Crimea Platform summit constituted an encroachment on the territorial integrity of Russia not only on behalf of Ukraine but also on behalf of other participating countries:

“All Kyiv’s efforts to return Crimea are illegitimate and can be perceived as none other than a threat of aggression against two subjects of the Russian Federation. We remind you once again that the participation of any countries and organizations in similar actions, including the Crimea Platform initiative, will be viewed as a hostile move against Russia and a direct attempt to violate its territorial integrity.”

The idea that the participants of the Crimea Platform intended to “question [Russia’s] territorial integrity” and threaten the Russian territory and the lives of Russians themselves was also expressed by Georgiy Muradov, “Permanent Representative of the Republic of Crimea under the President of Russia,” who added that participation in the summit could have “dire consequences” for participating countries, such as a ban on entering Russia and seizure of assets.

Verified facts. Unfortunately, Russia did manage to scare off some countries with its pressure and blackmail. This applies to representatives from Turkey, Azerbaijan, and some African countries. According to media reports, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan changed his mind about participating in the platform due to Russia’s pressure. Instead, the Turkish Foreign Minister took part in the summit. Another example is Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, who refused to participate in the summit entirely, probably due to the country’s agreement with Russia on Karabakh.

Fake from the Kremlin No. 4: The Crimea Platform is a frivolous initiative and a mere space for conversation of no political consequence.

Where the fake comes from. To discredit the Crimea Platform, Russian media actively spread the message that the summit was a frivolous initiative that could safely be disregarded and that no influential European politicians would take part in it, which means this would stay space for conversation without any important consequences. This idea was disseminated, among other outlets, by Russia Today. And when it came to light that the US would be represented by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, the outlet claimed that it meant “Washington’s indifference and President Biden’s failure to see Ukraine as a strategic partner.” Ukrainian pro-Russian journalists, such as Anatoly Shariy, also picked up the narratives of the propaganda media. In his video blog, he called the Crimea Platform a “real shame and a major challenge for the Ukrainian authorities to drag any really influential politicians from influential countries into.”

Verified facts. These narratives are meant to sow despair and disseminate the idea that Ukraine is powerless in its attempts to recover Crimea.

Forty-six delegations of countries and international organizations have participated in the summit at the level of heads of state, heads of Parliament, heads of the MFA, defense ministers, alongside representatives of the European Commission, NATO, the Council of Europe, and the GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development.

What is noteworthy is that considering the list of participating countries, the Crimea Platform summit appears to have much higher representation than all international events previously organized by Ukraine.

Fake from the Kremlin No. 5: “The West orchestrated the Crimea Platform.”

Where the fake comes from. As it often happens with propaganda narratives and disinformation, Russian politicians often tie themselves up into knots, contradicting each other. On the one hand, they say that the US does not see Ukraine as a strategic partner, which is why it was eventually represented by the Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, as opposed to President Joe Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris. On the other hand, they spread theories that the Crimea Platform has been initiated by the West.

The idea that the CP was organized by Western allies and this was all the West’s nefarious plan to destroy Russia was expressed by Georgiy Muradov. His conspiracy theory claims that the Platform is a big provocation organized by Russia’s opponents to dismantle the country.

“Speaking seriously, this is just a big provocation. It is organized, of course, by our Western competitors and opponents—I will use this word directly, as opposed to partners. It is organized to increase tensions in the Black Sea region and to highlight the subject of Crimea. Because people were getting used to the fact that Crimea is Russian, that everything is going well in Crimea,” he says.

Russian media also talk about the West, which allegedly has its own plans for Crimea and wants to pressure Russia this way. This statement was repeated by Mikhail Sheremet, illegally elected to the Russian State Duma, who made sure to mention the nationalists who run Ukraine.

Verified facts. Narratives on Ukraine’s external governance and the West trying to harm Russia and post-Soviet countries emerged in the Russian propaganda rhetoric long ago and were successfully “exported” to Ukraine. Anti-Western conspiracy theories about alleged American and European “supervisors” of Ukraine are actively repeated not only by Russian political forces and media resources but also by the pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. According to the research of the Institute of Mass Information for 2020-2021, 37% of pro-Russian disinformation and manipulations disseminated in Ukraine target Western countries, mainly the US. The Kremlin is using this narrative to promote its message that the threat to Ukraine’s agency from the West, rather than from Russia itself.

Fake from the Kremlin No. 6. “Kyiv is doing a water blockage to punish the residents of Crimea.”

Where the fake comes from. Russian media use every opportunity to spread their propaganda narratives. Allegations of a “water blockade of Crimea” by the Ukrainian authorities as punishment of the Crimean people for “returning to Russia” are also used in the context of the Crimea Platform. For instance, RT writes that

“the Ukrainian government does not even try to talk to the Crimean residents themselves [about the Crimea Platform]—instead, Crimean residents have become a target of Kyiv’s pressure. One example is the decision of the Ukrainian authorities to limit the supply of freshwater to the peninsula.”

Ilya Timokhov, Deputy Director of the Department of Information and Press of the Russian MFA, said, “Kyiv is not ceasing its fierce attempts to punish the population of Crimea for its legitimate choice to reunite with Russia. The ongoing water blockade of the peninsula could lead to another humanitarian catastrophe with severely unpredictable consequences. Such actions not only run counter to the norms of international law but also contribute to the growth of international tensions.”

Verified facts. The narrative of a “water blockade” emerged in Kremlin propaganda immediately after the closure of the North Crimean Canal in 2014. In July 2021, Russia even filed a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights, where it blamed Ukraine, inter alia, for the deaths of civilians, the downing of MH17 in Donbas, and the water blockade of Crimea.

Russia cynically tries to use the water problem in Crimea to further escalate the situation and sow panic among Crimean residents. In fact, Russian politicians and websites conceal the real reason for this problem, alleging that Ukraine is deliberately punishing people in Crimea for “expressing their identity.”

The Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention) says that the occupying power is obliged to meet all humanitarian needs of the people in the occupied territories. That is, the occupying power has a direct obligation to provide all the necessary resources to the residents of the occupied territory.

Ukraine will not supply water to Crimea until it is de-occupied. This year, Ukraine formalized the prohibition to supply water to Crimea in law for the first time, passing the Law which abolishes the “Crimea” free economic zone.

The very fact that high-level representatives from over 40 countries and international organizations got together in Kyiv on August 23 is a great diplomatic victory for Ukraine. The large-scale launch of the Crimea Platform definitely invalidated all of Russia’s attempts to force the world to make peace with Crimea’s occupation.

Ukraine has brought the issue of Crimea back to the international agenda. On Monday, most countries of the civilized world once again asserted that Crimea is Ukraine.

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