Ankara, February 26, 2019 It has been five years since the Russian Federation occupied the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol. The occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula became the first attempt of one sovereign state to forcibly change borders of another sovereign state since 1945.
By committing an armed aggression, Russia violated a large number of norms of international law, in particular such cornerstone documents as the Charter of the United Nations and the Helsinki Final Act, as well as numerous bilateral agreements, including the Ukrainian-Russian Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership. In addition, Russia deliberately disregarded its own commitments envisaged in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum where it clearly signed up to respect existing borders of Ukraine and refrain from the threat of force or use of force against the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine.
After the Russian Federation occupied Crimea, Ukraine and the international community have witnessed progressing militarization of the Crimean peninsula as well as the entire region of the Black and Azov Seas. As we compare numbers with those during the pre-occupation period, Russia’s military personnel in Crimea has grown almost three times from 12,500 to over 32,000 persons. Moreover, Moscow intends to increase its force in the peninsula to 43,000 persons in the near future (2020-2025). Russia has also substantially reinforced and modernized its military land, air and naval components there. Particularly dangerous are Russia’s steps to prepare Crimean military infrastructure for the deployment of nuclear weapons, including refurbishment of the infrastructure of the Soviet-era nuclear warheads storage facilities. Potential carriers of nuclear weapons, such as warships, short-range missile systems and combat aircraft, have been already deployed there.
Illegal construction of the Kerch Strait Bridge has substantially contributed to security threats in the region by:
These activities have far-reaching negative consequences for the security of Ukraine and the whole region. Over the last year, they have resulted at a direct military attack on Ukrainian military vessels near the Kerch Strait, which were carrying out a regular transit from the Black Sea to their deployment stations in the Azov Sea. Vessels along with crew were shot and captured by Russian forces.
All this time, the Russian occupation authorities continue to persecute and oppress Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and all other activists who express their dissent with Moscow’s illegal actions. As of now, over 70 citizens of Ukraine are illegally detained in Crimea and Russia. Vast majority of political prisoners come from Crimea.
Ukraine and its international partners, including Turkey, are working hard to ensure their release. For some of them, release is not only a matter of justice but also a matter of survival. Health status of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who was sentenced 23 years in a penal colony and is incarcerated in harsh conditions of far north of Russia, has deteriorated dramatically, in particular after an unprecedented 4-month hunger strike to protest his made-up sentence. Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh, who is “guilty” of only hoisting a Ukrainian flag over his home, also teeters on the edge between life and death after an almost 200-day hunger strike. The list can be continued further and further. Ukraine has made a number of proposals to Russia to exchange our citizens with the Russians arrested in Ukraine for activities against sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, terrorist and subversions. Yet, these proposals have been ignored by Moscow. So far, it has been possible to ensure release of only two people, with the help of President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The indigenous people of Crimea – Crimean Tatars – who remember horrors of the Stalinist rule in the peninsula, in particular the forced deportation of the entire nation in 1944 which cost lives of thousands of people, again face persecution, oppression and violation of their rights. Many people have disappeared, others killed and tortured. There are searches and arrests taking place regularly. The activities of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people were banned by Moscow almost immediately after the occupation. Their leaders are not allowed to enter the peninsula. As a result, about 30,000 have been forced to escape from the peninsula.
People are forcefully assigned Russian citizenship.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine is gradually squeezed out of Crimea. The occupation authorities seek to confiscate its cathedral and other churches’ premises now.
To defend its territorial integrity and the rights of the population in Crimea, Ukraine carries out active actions both within the country and at the international arena. The Crimean theme is definitely kept high on the world agenda. As a result, the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE, and many other international organizations and bodies have adopted a number of documents calling Russia to halt occupation and restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity as well as to remedy violations of human rights, in particular the UNGA resolutions on territorial integrity of Ukraine, situation with human rights in Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine) and Russia’s militarization of Crimea and the Black Sea region. Russia sabotages implementation of what is prescribed in these international documents and also refuses to allow international observers to observe the human rights situation in the occupied Crimea.
Ukraine also submits facts regarding the entire spectrum of violations of international law to the International Court of Justice, International Criminal Court, European Court of Human Rights etc. We do our best to defend our cause and bring Russia to account thus ensuring that violation of international law cannot go without impunity.
To restore respect for international law and prevent further international lawlessness, it is still crucial to respond to Russia’s aggression with a consolidated international pressure, in particular through properly tailored and proportionate sanctions against Russia which should last as long as it continues to occupy Ukraine’s Crimea, disturb freedom of navigation in the Black and Azov Seas and wage a way in Ukraine’s Donbas.
Without de-occupation of Crimea and peace in and around Ukraine, peace and stability in the region can hardly be established.
The Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol remain an integral part of Ukraine, which is temporarily occupied by Russian troops as a result of an act of aggression. Ukraine will never recognize this occupation and will take all legal measures to restore its sovereign right in the territory of its peninsula.