Interview with Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of Russia Yury Yuzhaninov on the 5th anniversary of the accession of the Crimea to the Russian Federation
Q. This year marks five years since the Crimea’s integrated into Russia. What is the significance of this event?
A. On 18 March 2019, we celebrate the 5th Anniversary of the reunification of Russia and the Crimea. It happened under the critical circumstances, when the people of the peninsula faced the menaces posed by the armed radical groups, which grabbed the power in Kiev.
In February 2014, after several months of anti-government unrests Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted as a result of the coup staged by ultra-right elements, neo-Nazis, Russophobes which were supported by external forces. Those who opposed the coup were immediately threatened with repression. Majority of the Crimeans rejected legitimacy of Kiev’s self-proclaimed authorities and opposed their policy targeted at infringing rights of ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking population living in the country. Taking into account the dangerously chaotic situation in Ukraine, the Crimea came to be on the brink of imminent violence and persecutions on ethnic and political grounds. In fact, immediately after the coup the ultra-right radicals started their charges against residents of the peninsula. On 20 February 2014, a bus convoy was attacked by Ukrainian nationalist radicals on the way to the Crimea from Kiev. On 27 February 2014, the so called “train of friendship” departed from Kiev to the Crimea, which turned out to be full ofmilitants of the nationalist organization “Right Sector” who were armed to the teeth. Fortunately, they decided to abandon their bloody plans when encountered the decisiveness of the population of the peninsula.
Eventually, the new Kiev leaders’ nationalist hard line resulted in a severe political and economic crisis in Ukraine featured by grave human rights abuse, decrease of living standards, and aggravation of social and inter-ethnic tensions. Real threats to life and safety of people, everyday cases of violence, gross and mass violation of human rights in Ukraine, including discrimination and persecution due to nationality, language and political convictions – all of this has made the existence of the Crimea within the Ukrainian state impossible. The Odessa massacre of 2 May 2014, where several dozens of people were burnt alive, and other atrocities committed by Ukrainian radicals all over the country became striking and dreadful examples demonstrating their violent methods, which they might have used in the peninsula against opponents of the coup.
In view of this, the people of the Crimea and Sevastopol addressed to Russia for help in protecting their rights and lives, in preventing the events that were unfolding in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkov and other territories of Ukraine. Russia could not leave this plea unheeded and could not abandon the Crimea and its residents in distress. If we had not extended the Crimeans a helping hand, it would have been betrayal on our part.
Q. How did the Crimea Spring events develop?
A. To provide the people of the Crimea with the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination was the only possible way to protect their vital interests in the face of the orgy of nationalist and radical elements in Ukraine who seized power. After the coup in Kievin February 2014, local residents created self-defence units, which took the situation in the peninsula under their control.In order to assist them, Russia enhanced its troops which had been deployed in the Crimea in line with the agreement between Russia and Ukraine of 1997. These forces never exceeded the personnel limit, which is set at 25,000 as per the above-mentioned document.
On 11 March 2014, the Crimean Supreme Council and the Sevastopol City Council adopted a declaration of independence.
On 16 March 2014, the people of the Crimea exercised their right to self-determination, enshrined in the UN Charter, and organized a free and peaceful referendum held in conformity with democratic norms and principles. Over 80% of voters participated in the plebiscite. More than 96% of the Crimeans voted for reunification with Russia.
On the basis of the results of the referendum, the Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Republic of the Crimea on the Accession of the Republic of the Crimea in the Russian Federation and on Forming New Constituent Entities within the Russian Federation was signed in Kremlin on 18 March 2014.
On 21 March 2014, the Republic of the Crimea and the Federal City of Sevastopol became the subjects of the Russian Federation after the above agreement and the respective federal constitutional law were approved. Since then, federal and regional authorities headed for ensuring full integration of the new entities into the single socio-economic and legal area of the Russian Federation.
Q. Could you, please, shed light on the historical background of the accession of the Crimea to the Russian Federation?
A. The Crimea has been a part of Russia from 1783. In 1954, as per a personal initiative of Nikita Khrushchev,Head of the Soviet Union’sCommunist Party,the Crimean Region was transferred from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, along with Sevastopol, despite the fact that it was a federal city. It is still a matter of dispute for historians what stood behind this decision of his.
This decision was made behind the scenes in clear violation of the constitutional norms. The citizens of the Crimea and Sevastopolwered face with the fact, nobody asked their opinion. Of course, people wondered why all at oncethe Crimea became a part of Ukraine. However, the decision was considered a formality because the territory was transferred within the boundaries of a single state – Soviet Union.
After the collapse of the USSR, the Crimea found itself a part of independent Ukraine. As residents of the Crimea say, in 1991 they were handed over “like a sack of potatoes”. However, as per bilateral agreements Russia received the right to have the air and naval bases in the specific territories of the peninsula as well as to keep there a contingent of troops not exceeding 25000 military personnel.
It should be noted that during the turbulent period of 1990s the leadership of Ukraine ignored two important plebiscites held in the Crimea. The first one was the referendum of 1991, as a result of which the majority of voters supported the establishment of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Social Republic as a part of the USSR. The second one was the referendum of 1994, where the majority voted for restoration of the 1992 Constitution that had been cancelled. As a result, the Crimea was deprived of any opportunity to use their right to self-determination and became part of Ukraine contrary to the desire of the major part of the population. This problem could have been solved by ensuring a broad political and cultural autonomy for the Crimea. However, the Ukrainian authoritiesdid the opposite and cut the autonomy of the peninsula. The people could not reconcile themselves to this historical injustice.
All these years, many of them came back to this issue, saying that the Crimea is historically Russian land and Sevastopol is a Russian city. In 2014, Russians constituted more than 65% of the population of the Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.
Since the sound majority of residents of the peninsula expressed their free will in favour of accession to Russia, starting from March 2014the issue of sovereignty of the Crimea is closed.
Q. What were the legal grounds for accession of the Crimea to Russia?
A. The Crimeans made their decisions on declaring independence and holding the referendum in full conformity with the principles approved by the UN.
According to the decision of the International Court of Justice of July 2010, proclamation of independence frequently does not meet the norms of domestic law of the state, in the territory of which independence is proclaimed. This ruling beats the criticism of those whotry to treat the declaration of independence of the Crimea as a violation ofinternational law. Why, for some reason, some countries prefer to permit Kosovo Albanians to dothe same what Russians, Ukrainians and the Crimean Tatars in the Crimea are not allowed?
We do not call upon our UN partners to prioritize the right of nations to self-determination and prejudice the respect for territorial integrity. Each situation is unique and requires a specific approach. The fate of the Crimea was predetermined by the political course of new Kiev authorities that came to power after a coup. This course was to push the Russian identity out of Ukraine.
Besides, I would like to note that in August 1991 Ukraine decided to secede from the Soviet Union pleading the “imminent mortal danger hanging over Ukraine in connection with the coup in the USSR of 19 August 1991” and the right of self-determination provided for in the UN Charter and other international legal documents. That is why, being threatened by the Ukrainian nationalists who toppled the elected president, in 2014, in fact, the people of the Crimea had the same grounds to use the right of self-determination and did almost the same as Ukraine in 1991.
When the Crimea was proclaimed independent, two independent states – the Russian Federation and the Republic of the Crimea – exercised their right under the UN Charter, which is based on the sovereign equality of states and signed the Agreement on Accession of the Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian Federation. Two sovereign states took a sovereign decision, which concerns two of them and their people.
Q. How would you describe the current situationinthe Crimea?
A. Today, Russia, on legal grounds and in accordance with its Constitution, exercises its state sovereignty in the territory of the Crimean peninsula. The Crimea and Sevastopol arewell integrated into the single political, socio-economic and legal area of the Russian Federation. The results of the presidential elections of 18 March 2018 demonstrated that the people of the Crimea are satisfied with development processes in the peninsula and soundly support the political course of federal authorities.
The Crimea is one of the most dynamically developing Russian regions. Starting from 2015, a federal target program of social and economic development for the period until 2022 is being implemented in the Crimea. It is worth $12 billion. The financing of education has gone up by 200%, of culture – by 250%, of sports – by 300%. The volume of gross regional product has grown by 50% (during the Ukrainian period from 2009 to 2013 the industrial output dropped by 5%). Actual wages of people working in the public sector as well as pensions and allowances in the Crimea have increased by 2-2.5 times and approached the all-Russia level.
The Crimea is a free economic zone. Over 250 investment agreements were signed, 183 projects with a total investment of over $2,4 billion are being implemented. Major investment areas are agriculture, industry, tourism and transport.
The power supply issue in the Crimea is now successfully resolved. To ensure a stable generating capacities surplus and to end the Crimea’s energy dependence on Ukraine, two new high-capacity thermal power plants have been constructed and already put into operation.
The tourist flow to The Crimea has significantly grown and in 2018 reached 6.5 million people. Due to the opening of the Crimean Bridge for road traffic in May 2018, the number of travelers coming to the peninsula increased by25% increase and benefitted the dynamics of the Crimea’s socio-economic development. Additional impetus to the region’s development is expected to be given by the construction of the four-lane federal highwayand the establishment of a regular railway communication across the Kerch Strait which is planned to be launched in Autumn 2019.In 2015-2016, we repaired 520 kilometers of roads in the peninsula.There are plans to upgrade 700 more kilometers of roads by 2021. Approximately 76% of local drivers noted the improvement in the condition of the region’s roads.In 2018, the Simferopol International Airport came into operation, which significantly increased the passenger transport capacity of the peninsula.
To ensure stable water supply for the population of the Crimea, 100 kilometers of new water pipelines have been built. By 2020, we are going to completeconstruction of a water conduit for replenishment of the North Crimean Canal, which was shut off by Ukraine.
The positive atmosphere of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional relations continues to prevail in the peninsula. The interests of all national minorities are fully taken into account in the Crimea.The multi-ethnic population of the peninsula fully exercises its rights to freedom of speech, assembly and mother-tongue medium education. Along with the Russian language,the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages obtained official status in the Crimea. The Crimean Tatar community enjoys full-fledged national-cultural autonomy.
The allegations that the Russian authorities supposedly hinder visiting the peninsula are absolutely false. In 2018, over 40 major international events took place. The most notable of them were the IV Yalta International Economic Forum (April), XII International Festival “The Great Russian Word” (April) and the Third International Livadia Forum (June).