Interview with the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Emine Dzhaparova
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has initiated the creation of the Crimean Platform, an idea that has been actively negotiated with partners. What is behind this idea? What is the future outlook of this platform?
The idea to create the Crimean Platform came about in the process of addressing the consequences of Russia’s temporary occupation of the peninsula. These consequences range from violations of human rights, in particular those of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, to mounting militarisation, from environmental degradation to the stifling of trade in the Black and Azov Sea region.
Until now, these problems have been addressed on an ad hoc basis. Sanctions were imposed in response to the so-called “elections” in Crimea, militarisation, and illegal detentions of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians. The situation in Crimea is included in the agenda of international organisations, and relevant points have been included in adopted resolutions and documents.
However, there is a need to elaborate a long-term strategic vision of the de-occupation of Crimea, both at the national level and in the international arena.
We have started to revamp our approach to achieve the de-occupation of Crimea by peaceful means. The National Security Council of Ukraine is working on a comprehensive de-occupation strategy. We are focusing on updating the Ukrainian legislation on sanctions, abolishing the infamous law on the Crimean “free economic zone”, introducing a law on legal and social protection of persons illegally detained by Russia, ensuring the rights and providing for the needs of internally displaced persons.
The Crimean Platform will become a foreign policy instrument of the de-occupation strategy. This flexible international format is aimed at consolidating international efforts and achieving synergy of intergovernmental, parliamentary, and expert levels.
The ultimate goal of the platform is eventual de-occupation of Crimea and its return to Ukraine by peaceful means.
On the way to this main goal, we will focus on the outstanding problems in five priority areas: consolidating the non-recognition policy; improving the effectiveness of sanctions and blocking ways of their circumvention; finding answers to security threats, including those to freedom of navigation; protecting the human rights and international humanitarian law; and overcoming negative consequences for the economy and environment.
At the same time, we are working with national stakeholders on the issues of domestic agenda that will form a solid basis for our foreign policy endeavours.
The Crimean Platform is to be launched during a summit on 23 August 2021 in Kyiv. We expect our main international partners to participate in it at the highest political level. The president of Ukraine has invited over 100 foreign heads of state and government. We plan to adopt a final document to reiterate support to the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders, recognise threats emanating from the temporary occupation of Crimea and an overall aggressive policy of Russia in the region and beyond, outline international policy on Crimea, and formally establish the platform itself.
Ministers of foreign affairs will meet regularly, including at major international events in New York, Geneva, Vienna, etc. We also plan to establish an annual Security Forum for the Azov and Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Members of the Ukrainian parliament will engage on Crimean issues within parliamentary assemblies of international organisations and the existing bilateral cooperation groups.
An international expert network will perform two important tasks: They will provide aggregated data, recommendations, and draft decisions for the political level of the platform and engage in expert diplomacy globally. I am glad that while the creation of the network is underway, the leading experts are already working on pilot projects. I am also happy to see UA: Ukraine Analytica already on board.
The Crimean Platform serves as an instrument to ensure synergy of actors from all these levels: governments, parliaments, and expert community. We believe that common endeavours will ensure long-term effectiveness of the non-recognition policy, consistency of the international community’s response to the occupation, and the eventual return of Crimea to Ukraine.
Why should the world care about Crimea?
Our task is to reinstate the de-occupation of Crimea in the regional and global context. First, it is in the interest of the international community to remedy the situation in order to restore the rules-based order and protect the international law. Second, the temporary occupation of Crimea and the activities of the occupation authorities in and around the peninsula have already sent shockwaves to the entire region and beyond. One can talk for hours about the threats to the security and interests of states other than Ukraine. There are purely military threats and justified nuclear non-proliferation concerns. There are threats to the freedom of navigation. We will concentrate on these issues separately. There are war crimes and serious violations of human rights committed in the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea. Russia demonstrates a total disregard for obligations and commitments under international humanitarian and human rights law. Among environmental threats, we see potential nuclear and chemical hazard to the entire Black and Azov Seas. These breaches and precedents arouse concern among the international community. Our task is to bring international partners together to devise strategic responses to the challenges raised by the occupation of Crimea. It is one of the purposes of the Crimean Platform to consolidate resources in this matter. The activities of the expert community that have already started under the auspices of the Crimean Platform negotiation process are a good example. Such projects as the UA: Ukraine Analytica issue on Crimea and pilot projects researching the Russian military industrial complex in the peninsula serve the purpose of achieving a better common understanding by European and Euro-Atlantic partners of the mentioned threats. We bring up the information about Russia’s activities in Crimea and the implications for international partners regularly in the framework of the UN, OSCE, and other organisations, at the meetings at the EU and NATO headquarters, and during our bilateral contacts. These are the steps toward a better understanding of why anyone beside Ukraine should care about Crimea, and we see positive developments in this regard.
What diplomatic and legal instruments is Ukraine using to oppose the Russian occupation of the peninsula and to keep connection with Crimea?
We try to use each opportunity and mechanism at our disposal. Substantially reinforced “Crimean” UN resolutions (on the human rights situation and the militarisation of Crimea and parts of the Azov and Black Seas) were adopted in the UN General Assembly last year. These resolutions reaffirm the status of the Ukrainian territories temporarily occupied by Russia, demand that the Russian Federation grant full and unrestricted access to Crimea for international monitoring missions, and call on the international community to enhance cooperation and pressure on the Russian Federation with regard to Crimea. We ensured the item “Situation in the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine” remained on the agenda of the 75th UN GA session. Three reports of the UN secretary general on “The Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, Ukraine” clearly state the responsibility of the Russian Federation for mass human rights violations on the occupied peninsula. We use the format of international organisations and bilateral meetings to update the international partners on the situation in Crimea. As an example, we held the 8th round of consultations between the EU and Ukraine on the legal consequences of the temporary occupation of Crimea on 14 December 2020. It certainly pays off: We have constant and consistent political support; dozens of states introduced restrictive measures against Russia. In the framework of the Crimean Platform, we will consolidate the existing sanctions regime and enhance the monitoring of sanctions’ implementation. We use the mechanisms provided for by the international treaties to hold Russia accountable for its flagrant violations of and disregard for international law on the territory of Ukraine. The case in the International Court of Justice concerns Russia’s violations of two international conventions regarding financing of terrorism and racial discrimination. Our claims under the Racial Discrimination Convention speak for the human rights of the Ukrainian people in Crimea, in particular those of the Crimean Tatar and ethnic Ukrainian communities who have been targeted for mistreatment. The case seeks to defend the rights of people of both ethnicities, who have been subjected to disappearances, murder, torture, and harassment; it defends the right of the Crimean Tatars to their representative institutions; and it seeks to defend the rights of ethnic Ukrainians who have been denied the ability to preserve their cultural identity and to educate their children in their own language. In April 2017, the ICJ ordered Russia to lift the ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis and to ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language. Both Russia and Ukraine periodically report to the court on the implementation of this order. A case in the Arbitral Tribunal concerns Ukraine’s coastal state rights in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and Kerch Strait under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Ukraine asks the Arbitral Tribunal to stop violations of the UNCLOS by the Russian Federation and to reaffirm Ukraine’s rights in the Black and Azov Seas and the Kerch Strait. It includes obliging the Russian Federation to respect Ukraine’s sovereign rights in its waters, to stop stealing Ukrainian resources, and to pay compensation for the damage caused. Another case in the Arbitral Tribunal concerns the immunity of three Ukrainian naval vessels and 24 crewmembers. The dispute alleges violations of absolute immunity of naval vessels and personnel on board envisaged by the UNCLOS, which means that foreign states cannot arrest, detain, and prosecute them. Ukraine asks the Arbitral Tribunal to declare that Russia has violated the UNCLOS as alleged by Ukraine, to order a cessation of its unlawful conduct and assurance of non-repetition of the immunity violations, and to oblige Russia to pay Ukraine approximately 8 million Euro in compensation. On 25 May 2019, the tribunal ordered Russia to immediately release the vessels and crewmembers. Following the release of the Ukrainian sailors and return of the vessels, the tribunal continues the consideration of the case. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg considers five interstate Ukraine v Russia cases. On 14 January 2021, the Grand Chamber of the court has ruled on the admissibility of interstate claims in Ukraine’s case against the Russian Federation No. 20958/14 (concerning Crimea). The court decided that the events described in the application fall under the jurisdiction of the government of the Russian Federation and must be examined on the merits. The court thus reaffirmed its position on the application of the principle of effective control, repeatedly established in previous individual and interstate cases. Now the European Court will proceed to considering the merits of the case.
How is Crimean militarisation connected with the security of the Black Sea region?
The geographical position of Crimea defines its strategic role for the Azov-Black Sea security. This is exactly why the Russian side is so determined to transform Crimea into its military outpost in the Black Sea. The ongoing militarization of the occupied territory of Crimea complicates the security situation in the region and poses additional threats to Ukraine, other Black Sea coastal states, the EU, and NATO. The figures speak for themselves – compared to the pre-occupation period, the Russian Federation has nearly tripled the personnel strength of its military in Crimea, from 12,500 to over 32,500 persons. The number of Russian weapons and military equipment was significantly increased as well. In total, the naval component of the Russian Black Sea Fleet includes 58 ships and submarines, in particular 13 carries of “Kalibr” cruise missiles (with the range of up to 2,600 km in a nuclear version). This drastic increase of the military presence in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov leads to the disruption of international maritime trade to and from Ukrainian ports. In other words, we can say that the substantial aggravation of the security environment in the Azov-Black Sea region has undermined the basic principle of the freedom of navigation. The ongoing occupation and militarisation of Ukraine’s territory erodes the existing legal mechanisms for regional security. Temporarily occupied territories had been turned into a grey zone inaccessible for verification and inspection activities under a number of international treaties and arms control regimes. Another dangerous aspect of the militarisation includes Russian actions to prepare the Crimean military infrastructure for deployment of nuclear weapons, including refurbishment of the infrastructure of Soviet-era nuclear warheads storage facilities. It is an extremely concerning fact for the entire international community that the Russian Federation has already deployed potential carriers of nuclear weapons such as warships, missile systems, and combat aircrafts in Crimea. We should not forget that the Azov-Black Sea security is an integral part of the broader security architecture in the Mediterranean region. Moscow uses the occupied Crimea as a forward base for a further extension of its aggressive foreign policy, in particular for expanding the Russian influence in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Middle East, and Eastern Mediterranean.
What are the most pressing problems in Crimea that international institutions should care about?
First and foremost, we need to protect the world order based on the norms and principles of international law, including legal instruments designed after World War II to prevent future major international conflicts. Second, we all should care about the respect of fundamental rights in the temporarily occupied Crimea, in particular as regards human rights. There are more than 100 political prisoners of the Kremlin there. They suffer from torture and mistreatment, lack of medical aid. Many of them were sentenced to up to 18 years of imprisonment. The most recent example of persecutions on political and religious grounds were illegal searches and detentions conducted on 17 February 2021 by the Russian occupation authorities targeting Crimean activists. Illegal application of the Russian legislation in the temporarily occupied Crimea led to the detention of Ernest Ibrahimov, Timur Yalkabov, Lenur Seidametov, Azamat Eiupov, and Oleh Fedorov, accused of crimes they never committed and for which there is no evidence whatsoever. We deem that it is our joint obligation to counter severe human rights violations throughout the world and protect democratic values underlying our civilisation.