The forcible occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation ended in human rights violation, militarization of the Crimean peninsula, and actual destruction of fundamental principles of global security. At the same time, Russia’s actions in Crimea, together with the need to respond to the first illegal annexation in Europe after the end of World War II, have become a real challenge to the Ukrainian political and administrative elites and authorities, especially amid Russian aggression in the Donets and Luhansk regions, and efforts to make Crimea its part.
The occupation and annexation of Crimea have resulted in the deterioration of the human rights situation. Under the pretext of the “fight against extremism”, Crimean authorities launch criminal cases against Crimean Muslims, and repress members of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People banned in Russia. Numerous incidents of enforced disappearances and violations of the freedom of speech and assemblyare reported. 268 episodes of violation of human rights are recorded by human rights defenders. In their reports, international organizations mention restrictions of human rights and fundamental freedoms imposed on “those Crimeans who opposed the annexation of the peninsula, could not refuse from Russian citizenship, and/or were unwilling to obtain Russian passports”.
Ukraine’s actions in response to the illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea by Russia were mostly represented by solutions to the current problems. Ukrainian central executive authorities still lack communication. The Ukrainian government often responded to challenges under the pressure of non-governmental organizations, which assumed many government functions in the information policy of de-occupation, monitoring of human rights violations, and work with IDPs. Yet, despite the absence of an official, well-articulated strategy for the de-occupation of Crimea, the Ukrainian policy was focused on resolving various problems, conflicts, and challenges in the field of human rights protection in Crimea, property, and formation of institutions. Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly proclaimed an exclusively political and diplomatic path of the peninsula’s de-occupation.
Although elements of the de-occupation policy and Ukraine’s general political position are reflected in different public documents, no additional structures to deal with monitoring and responding to problems have been established under ministries, state services, and agencies. The Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons was set up only in the spring of 2016. At present, it is the main body in the system of central executive authorities responsible for the development and implementation of government policy for the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol. Also, law-enforcement agencies of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea were restored in Ukraine. The main tasks of the Ministry in relation to Crimea are: to ensure the formulation and implementation of government policy for the reintegration of the Crimean peninsula and its population into Ukraine’s constitutional space. Yet, the Ministry lacks funds for its activities and structural coordination.
In the first months after the occupation of Crimea,a de-occupation law was developed in Ukraine to regulate the issues of Ukrainian property owned by legal entities and individuals in Crimea and Sevastopol. All transactions carried out after the occupation have been recognized invalid.
Notwithstandingthe limited opportunities to influence the situation in temporarily occupied Crimea, the attention of Ukrainian authorities is focused on international aspects of the non-recognition by other countries of Crimea’s annexation –to ensure the international recognition of Russia as an aggressor state,first and foremost by the UN, the EU, and NATO;hold Russia accountable in accordance with various UN conventions;andmake it compensate for damagesincurred as a result of the armed aggression and the occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol.
Simultaneously with the introduction of the sectoral sanctions against Russia by the U.S. and the EU in connection with the escalation of the Donbas conflict, Ukrainian authorities actually aided Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian patriotic organizations in the trade and energy blockade of Crimea, andcut off water supply to the occupied territories. The blockade has seriously hit the Crimean economy. In turn, until the last moment, Russia used Ukrainian manufacturers and the Ukrainian infrastructure for the supply of goods, electricity, and water,the functioning of the financial and communicationssystems,etc. The duration of the use of Ukraine’s facilities was determined by either a possibility of occupation of other Ukrainian territories (which could ensure convenient logistics) or the creation of conditions for the replacement of its own infrastructure (as in the situation with communications).
Generally speaking, the trade, water, and energy blockade of the Crimea peninsula has demonstrated a lack of Russia’s preparedness for such situation. The blockade, especially the energy one,has caused serious humanitarian problems. The effect of the large-scale blockade of the occupied territories is estimated at billions of dollars in losses for the Russian budget. Over the two years the occupation, Russia has failed totake measures for systemic economic restructuring of the peninsula. Despite the fact that occupied Crimea has become one of the most subsidized regions, the main budget transfers are “eaten”, not spent forthe peninsula’s development. Among Russia’smost ambitious projects in Crimea arethe emergency construction of an “energy bridge”, and theconstruction of a bridge connecting the Crimean peninsula and Kuban. According to data as of16 August 2016, the ratio of Crimea’s revenues (RUR 26.743 billion) to expenditures (RUR 119.714 billion) shows that the budget of the “Republic of Crimea” is subsidized by 78% (even despite some specific features of formation of budget revenues and receipt of indirect benefits). In Sevastopol, a revenue-to-expenditure ratio was a little better: RUR 8.13 billion to RUR 24.39 billion (33.32%). Yet, 61% of all revenues of Sevastopol were those from individual income tax, of which 62% were paid by state employees. Hence, the Crimean peninsula has become one of the most subsidized “Russian regions”, along with Chechnya and Ingushetia.
The system of the U.S. and the EU sanctions remains an effective tool to influence the actions of Russia in Crimea because of pressure on the Russian economy and general implications for the peninsula. The economic sanctions against occupied Crimea, transport restrictions, and the economic crisis have led to a sharp drop in Crimea’s export of goods. In 2013, the export of goods from Crimea amounted to USD 914.9 million, whereas in 2015, it decreased up to USD 79.3 million, according to data of Russia’s Krymstat.
Despite the lack of influence of international organizations on the situation in Crimea, the international community condemned the illegal occupation of the peninsula in political assessments. On 27 March 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution 68/262, saying that the referendum held in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol on 16 March 2014 had no validity and could not form the basis for any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or of the city of Sevastopol. The UN resolution however has failed either to reflect Russia’s role in the annexation of the two Ukrainian regions and the Crimean peninsula or to recognize Russia as a state that violated the UN Charter. The situation has changed on 19 December 2016, when the UN General Assembly approved a resolution titled “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”. The document gives a clear definition for the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol as part of the Ukrainian territory, condemns the temporary occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and does not recognize its attempted annexation by the occupying power. Particular importance is attached to the reference in the resolution to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, which, inter alia, foresee the humane treatment of the population of the occupied territory and protect its rights under international humanitarian law.
European structures have developed a common position on the annexation and occupation of Crimea. In 2016, the Council of Europe, the EU Foreign Affairs Council, and the European Parliament adopted a number of resolution in support of Ukraine. Specifically, on 12 May 2016, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the human rights situation in Crimea, in particular of the Crimean Tatars.
Despite the policy of Crimea’s “integration”, Russian authorities have not yet completed a two-year process of merger of the Crimean peninsula. Meanwhile, the anti-Russian sanctions and the common policy of non-recognition of the annexation by the international community cause additional resource expenses of Russia, and place an additional burden on the Russian economy in general.
After the occupation of Crimea,Russian authorities first of all started to restore its status as a military base. In 2014-2015, a large joint group of forces was created in Crimea, which allows the Russian Federation to carry out complex military operations in the south-western strategic direction, covering the waters of the Azov and Black Seas, coastal areas, and airspace, as well as in the distant zone of the Mediterranean Sea. Before the beginning of 2016, the number of tanks and armored vehicles in the peninsula grew by 6.8 times, artillery systems – by 7.2, combat aircraft and helicopters – by 2.2, and submarines – by 2.
The establishment of the strong military base in Crimea sets priorities of its economic development, primarily the revival of military industry and military infrastructure. In April 2016, Oleg Belaventsev, the then Russian Presidential Envoy to the Crimean Federal District, claimed that the military-industrial complex consisting of 30 enterprises is a strategic direction of Crimea’s industrial policy.
Russia has actively built a new administrative “structure” in the peninsula, by using collaborationists from among the Crimean political elite who had earlier maintained close ties with Ukraine’s Party of Regions. Hence, quasi-administrative structures were established right after the illegal annexation. In particular, on 31 March 2014,the Ministry of Crimean Affairs (MinKrym)was set up (it was abolished by the Russian government’s decision in almost a year, on 15 July 2015).Law-enforcement agencies were “formed” a few days after the annexation, on 25 March 2014.
After the illegal occupation, Russian authorities, within a very short term, “equated” the status of the Crimean regions with that of federal subjects. From the very start of the occupation and annexation, Russia had a guiding hand in establishing quasi-structures of so-called Crimean authorities. Officially, since the beginning of 2015, the specifics of performance appraisal of “executive authorities” of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol in 2015-2018 are determined by the Russian government, not by “local authorities”, whose participation in public administration is purely nominal. The transition period for the adaptation of the Crimean economic, political, and administrative systems to the Russian conditions lasted for 1-2 years, but in actual fact it has not been completed yet. In particular, the duration of the transition period is set until 1 January 2019 with regard to regulation of property, town planning, land, and forest relations, as well as relations in the area of real estate cadastre, state registration of rights to and contracts with real estate.
At the political and legal levels, Russia has adopted a number of special resolutions on the “integration” of Crimea in all spheres of the socio-economic and cultural life. In general, the Russian State Duma has considered 43 bills on Crimea from 19 March 2014 to 12 March 2015.
The policy towards Ukrainians in Crimea, who are disloyal to the annexation, is more repressive than that in Russia, as evidenced by criminal cases against activists, a denial to reregister Crimean Tatar media outlets, and a ban of the Mejlis as an “extremist organization”. Citizens of Ukraine in Russian-occupied Crimea and Sevastopol very quickly felt changes in the political system, especially in terms of political repression, restrictions on political freedoms (the right to peaceful assembly), and stirring up of xenophobia towards Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. Russia used the whole arsenal of its repression machine to “hush” Crimean Tatars, ranging from abductions and murders of the activists to the ban of the activities of Mejlis as an “extremist organization”.
Although the Crimean peninsula was not left in the full information blockade because of the Russian aggression, physical and psychological barriers were created to access to information from Ukrainian sources. The policy of the Russian and Crimean governments is targeted at putting ideological pressure at all levels of the humanitarian and education policies through a variety of actions, including special courses, out-of-school education, etc. The policy of the Russian and Crimean governments is first of all focused on the rapid integration of the peninsula into the Russian education system and legal framework. Very few facts about the negative implications of the annexation for Crimean educational institutions are reported to international organizations.
To resolve the situation given Ukraine’s limited influence on the processes in Crimea, it is recommended that the government map outa strategy for the de-occupation and reintegration of the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. This strategy should provide for measures in the area of economy, trade, information, education policy, transport, and others to respond to violations of human rights and freedoms, as well as violations of the rights of Crimean Tatars in Russian-occupied Crimea. To this end, it is necessary to allocate resources, ensure coordination and cooperation with non-governmental and international organizations.
The indefinite status of indigenous peoples in Ukraine and, accordingly, of their self-governing bodies creates obstacles for cooperation of the government with these authorities. Hence, the Ukrainian government should prioritize the passage of a lawthat could help address relevant issues in the future. It is also recommended that the government carry out a constitutional reform and a public discussion, develop constitutional amendments on Crimean Tatar national and territorial autonomy, with regard to the status of Crimean Tatars as an indigenous people to be entrenched in the Basic Law.
The government should continue the development of broadcasting infrastructure and temporary procedures for licensing of Ukrainian broadcasters. Ukrainian broadcasters should cover events in Crimea in an unbiased and objective manner so that to restore trust in the media.
It is necessary to draft some bills, including “On Collaboration and Cleansing of Power (Lustration) in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol”,“On Ensuring the Exercise of the Right of Ownership in the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine”, and others.
In view of the “nationalization” of Ukrainian state-owned enterprises and private property objects, it is recommended that the Ukrainian government render every assistance in cases against the Russian Federation in arbitration courts, and in the European Court of Human Rights.
The government should also continue the economic policy of Crimea’s trade embargo, cancel the free economic zone in Crimea, and revise the procedure for crossing the administrative border with the temporarily occupied Crimean peninsula subject to recommendations from human rights organizations (list of goods, etc.).
By Yulia Tyshchenko and Svitlana Gorobchyshyna,
Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research
21 December 2016