by Miceál O’Hurley
KYIV – Never one to do anything by half-measures, Russia has launched a new front in their campaign to destabilise Ukraine and isolate its diplomats to further its territorial ambitions on the eve of Ukraine’s Crimean Platform Summit.
Late last night, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, was awoken with startling news that Russia had imposed sanctions against him (personally), for organising the Crimean Platform that will take place on Monday, 23 August. Reliable reports are that he kindly thanked the caller and returned quickly to his slumber.
Dmytro Kuleba sleeps soundly with the knowledge that truth, the world community and history are on the side of Ukraine.
With Summit, Ukraine Demonstrates Hallmarks of a Mature, Democratic State
Counting more than 45 world leaders from 4 of 7 continents, 27 of 27 European Union countries participating, 30 of 30 NATO countries, 370 accredited media including 170 from the international press corps and 200 experts from more than 33 countries – the Crimean Platform is an unmitigated success from its beginning.
In creating the Crimean Platform for problem-solving necessitated by Russia’s temporary occupation of Crimea, Kyiv has achieved that which Russia fears – Ukraine has made the full transition from victim to dynamic and empowered problem solver with friends.
The ingenuity and practicality of the Crimean Platform marks Ukraine as having entered its maturity as a State. Celebrating its 30th Anniversary of Independence on 24 August, Ukraine will do so even against the onslaught of the Russian bear inside her borders. Unique in such situations, Ukraine has done so while maintaining its democratic commitment, continuing on a path of reform and blossoming as a civil society with a functional – even growing economy.
Russia’s invasion and temporary occupation of Donbas, and attempted annexation of Crimea, marked the first time a European nation has been invaded by another since Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union coordinated to set off World War II. Russia and Germany collaborated through the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in an attempt to wipe Poland from the map in 1939 by annexing its territory. Russian President Vladimir Putin, famous for claiming Ukraine isn’t a real country and Ukrainians are really Russians (Kyiv by comparison built stunning cathedrals in the 11th century while Moscow was little more than a collection of mud huts on a river), has set the goal of absorbing Ukraine into the Russian Federation. Putin’s aim is to create a new Russian Empire.
In establishing the Crimean Platform, Ukraine seeks to address a problem with which the world has long struggled – how to construct an effective approach to solving the problem of military occupation without wholescale war.
Tantrums Inside the Kremlin Display Russian Weakness & Frustration
Russian tantrums on the Eve of the inaugural Summit of the Crimean Platform are telling. They began with a renewed round-up and arrest of more Crimean Tatars on trumped-up charges without judicial review. This overt retribution against Crimea’s indigenous people, the Tatars, perpetuates illegal conduct by the Russians in occupied Crimea and Donbas. Crimean Tatars have a troubled relationship with Russia. Crimean Tatars suffered genocide and expulsion under Stalin. Only once Ukraine became independent in 1991 could the handful of surviving, indigenous Crimean Tatars return to their homeland and attempt to rebuild their lives. Crimean Tatars thrived with the assistance of Kyiv until 2014 when Russia invaded and attempted to annex Crimea, setting-off renewed ethnic conflicts, persecution, disappearances and murders. Other fits of rage emanating from the Kremlin have resulted in increased breaches by Russia of the cease fire agreement, renewed sniper targeting of Ukrainian troops and civilians across the contact line and reports of more repression, interrogations and summary arrests in Russian occupied territories of both Donbas and Crimea.
Another cardinal sign the Crimean Platform has deeply rankled Putin was last night’s announcement that Kuleba was added to a Russian sanctions regime. According to a posting on the Official Portal of Legal Information of the Russian Federation, Kuleba was personally designated the subject of sanctions. Sanctioning a Foreign Minister or Head of State is exceptionally rare as they are not generally subjected to sanctions in order to facilitate dialogue and peaceful efforts at conflict resolution. By their sanctioning of Kuleba Russia again demonstrates their refusal to be guided by international norms.
The addition of Kuleba and the Ukrainian National Defense & Security Council (NDSC) Secretary, Oleksiy Danilov to the Russian sanctions list brings to 922 the number of people they have subjected to sanctions. Kuleba is reportedly unperturbed by the addition of his name to the Russian sanctions list. Internationally, senior diplomats around the world have told Diplomat.ie during research for this article that they perceive the addition of Kuleba to a sanctions list “a clear indication of Russian weakness and frustration” at what they privately describe as Ukraine’s standing in the world community rising despite the occupation and elevated Russian threats on her borders.
In a viral and prideful post on Facebook, Danilov responded to the news of Russian sanctions imposed against him to be merely a complimentary assessment of his work on behalf of Ukraine in opposing Russian aggression and occupation. Danilov described the sanctions a “gift” on the occasion of Ukrainian Independence Day.
Ukraine celebrates 30-years of Independence on 24 August 2021.
What is the Crimean Platform?
Russia’s attempted land grab of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 ignited a firestorm in international politics. Russia has used its occupation to undermine a rules based world order, fracture international organisations and attempted to pit nations against each other.
Ukraine and the world have fought back.
Ukraine’s sons and daughters have risen to the occasion, volunteered by the thousands and suffered more than 14,000 deaths and countless more casualties to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ukraine’s civilian population has sacrificed equally as much as their military with more than 1.5 million internally displaced people having fled Russian violence and occupation. Despite the sacrifices (which continue daily with ongoing Russian violations of the European Union brokered ceasefire), Ukraine remains resolute.
The world community has rallied behind Ukraine. The United Nations, European Union, Parliamentary Council of Europe and several nations individually have imposed significant sanctions on Russia for its aggression. United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/262 affirmed the “Territorial integrity of Ukraine” signaling its opposition to Russian occupation and claims of annexation. Russia’s claims of justification are rejected, outright.
Russia, however, has been undeterred in its violence. On a continuing basis Russian artillery shells civilians along the contact line. The ceasefire agreement reached with the help of the European Union is breached so regularly by Russia it has almost become meaningless except for Ukraine which abides by it. Russia self-servingly refuses to cooperate with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission to verify breaches. The ongoing list of the Ukrainian dead is proof of Russia’s use of snipers to kill Ukrainians. Russia even fired a missile recently at Ukrainians removing Russian landmines that continue to kill and maim civilians. Even Russia’s shooting-down of flight MH-17 with a BUK missile – an act which is being prosecuted in The Hague at present is demonstrative of Russia’s ruthless violence continually inflicted upon Ukraine. Russia’s culpability is so significant that the International Court of Human Rights (ICHR) has found reasonable evidence that Russia has engaged in war crimes in both Donbas and Crimea. In particular, the indigenous population of Ukraine’s occupied Crimean peninsula, the Crimean Tatars, have come under particular persecution. Russia is subjecting Crimean Tatars to extrajudicial killings, disappearances, unlawful arrests and detention as well as forced transportation to Russia for imprisonment without any semblance of due process of law. Russia has long since abandoned any semblance of being guided by the rule of law, civility or humanity.
To counter this scourge, the Crimean Platform is an ambitious effort for the international community to coordinate their efforts to see Crimea returned to Ukraine as quickly as possible. This new consultative platform seeks to use leaders and experts to maximum effective measures while creating a synergy between governments, parliaments, NGOs and experts. The objective is not solely to elevate the issue of Crimea in the minds of decision-makers but to implement practical approaches designed to expedite the de-occupation of Crimea and see the rule of law, civility and lawful government return to Ukraine’s Crimea.
Who Will Participate?
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will welcome more than 45 Heads of State, Foreign Ministers, high level diplomats, experts and leaders from around the world as they descend on Kyiv.
Ireland, which has been vociferous in its condemnation of the Russian aggression and attempted annexation of Crimea, supporting sanctions and using its non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity has placed a high priority on the the de-occupation of Crimea. This month, Ireland opened a new Embassy in Kyiv, sending one of its most talented Ambassadors, Her Excellency Ms. Theresa Healy, to be its first Ambassador. Significantly, the Irish delegation’s participation in the Crimean Platform will be personally led by Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.
Only last night, President Joe Biden announced that he would be sending United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm to lead a distinguished American delegation. For his part, Biden has invited Zelenskyy to pay a personal visit to him at the White House at the end of August. Biden has even expanded the scope of the visit by another day as a sign of what the White House called, “America’s unwavering commitment to Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity….”.
Ambitious, Yet Practical Agenda
There has long been a need to create universal “red lines” to contain Russia’s aggression and skirting of international laws and sanctions. It is expected that the Crimean Platform will begin to address the absence of clarity on an array of “red lines” that are the consequence of multiple sanction regimes. By moving towards the formulation and adoption of common understandings and principles the Crimean Platform promises a more even, comprehensive and responsive counter to the ill effects of the temporary Russian occupation.
Once agreed, Crimean Platform participants will share a commonality of expectations, benchmarks and information collection/assessment/dissemination that will assist everyone in identifying potential breaches, closing loopholes, create effective preventative measures and encouraging the world community to follow-suit through coordinated diplomatic efforts that counter Russia’s military campaigns, aggression and occupation in Crimea and ultimately, elsewhere.
The planned extent of Agenda items reflects both the ambition and pragmatism that underscore the Crimean Platform objectives and goals:
- a ban on the formal recognition of the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation;
- a ban on visits of official persons to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine) and any statements that may be interpreted as recognizing the change of their status;
- discouragement of attendance by the participating states’ nationals and entities of events in the occupied Crimea;
- a prohibition for foreign consular officers in the Russian Federation to perform any functions with respect to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine);
- introduction of a specific ‘Crimea clause’ in any new international documents with the Russian Federation excluding their application with respect to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine);
- state agencies should not invoke mutual legal assistance treaties with the Russian Federation in respect to the territory of Crimea;
- a ban on imports of goods originating from Crimea unless they have Ukrainian certificates of origin;
- a prohibition of any investments to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine);
- a ban on providing tourism services in Crimea as well as other services, enabling or supporting tourism in the temporarily occupied peninsula;
- a prohibition of trade in goods, technologies and services with companies from Crimea and Sevastopol as well as the Russian occupation authorities;
- a ban on provision of technical assistance, maintenance, insurance, financing, brokering, construction or engineering services related to all infrastructure, transportation, scientific projects in the occupied Crimea.
Strengthening Sanctions Regimes
At present, there exist sanctions regimes by several bodies and countries. The Crimean Platform will seek to synchronise sanctions lists and create enhanced cooperation on already existing measures to ensure that proper implementation and enforcement achieve measurable, effective and collective goals.
Regional Implications of Crimean Occupation – Benefits of Cooperation
Russia’s armed attempt to annex Crimea has wide-ranging repercussions for the region and international relations policy and norms. By militarising Crimea, including the positioning of nuclear-capable weapons platforms on occupied Ukrainian soil, Russia has extended its threat capability across the entire region. The unilateral re-introduction of nuclear capacity on a decidedly nuclear-free Ukraine fundamentally undermines Europe’s vulnerable southern flank as much as posing a new threat to Eastern Europe, the Azov-Black seas region, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Crimea has been transformed into an intermediate staging base to extend Russia’s menacing, muscular foreign policy in ways known and other that have yet to fully develop.
Enhanced security as well as a more robust threat and aggression deterrence policy and stance is within the grasp of the international community through the Crimean Platform. By protecting the core principle of freedom of navigation (which has profound implications for trade, travel, commerce and security) to protecting and enhancing supply-chains which are essential to energy security, trade, technology and food security (recent indicators are the European Union has surpassed China as Ukraine’s largest agricultural trading partner), the Crimean Platform can begin to repair the significant harm done by Russia, enhance security and stability in the region and promote a new and operable model for the world community to address similar problems.
Addressing Human Rights & International Humanitarian Law Violations in an Age of Fatigue
From Sudan to Afghanistan and from Crimea to Syria, the world is daily deluged with stories of unspeakable conditions inflicted on civilian populations and lawful governments. The existence of so many that are so pressing is reflective of the lack of effective response by the international community. For Ukraine, after 7-long years of occupation, the issue of Crimea seems to have disappeared from people’s radar screen. The Crimean Platform hopes to ameliorate this problem.
Participants in the Crimean Platform are expected to formulate joint-action plans to bolster monitoring (in which Russia continues to cooperate and actively thwarts OSCE, ICHR and other efforts) as well as establishing exchange of information protocols to help deter further human rights and international humanitarian law violations that have become profligate under Russian aggression and occupation regimes. The Crimean Platform cooperation mechanism will be particularly beneficial to protect Ukrainians in Russian occupied territories and extend enhanced protections for the indigenous Crimean Tatars whom have become particularly targeted by Moscow. The simple ingenuity of this new model has universal appeal to all participants.
Crisis Mitigation of Russian Engineered Economic and Environmental Calamity in the Region
More comprehensive monitoring of the long-term environmental threats to the Black Sea region (and beyond) has been made necessary by the devastating and detrimental actions taken by the Russian occupation regimes. Soviet-era nuclear storage facilities, relics from over 3-decades ago, are badly in need of assessment, renovation and modernisation. The utter lack of cooperation by Russia have been put beyond Ukraine’s or international monitoring bodies’ ability to assess, let alone address this impending debacle. Russia’s obdurate negligence poses a direct threat not only to temporarily occupied Ukraine but collaterally to Europe and surrounding regions as a whole. Russia has to date demonstrated no concern they might be creating yet another Chernobyl disaster, this time contaminating vital fishing, wildlife, transportation and navigable waters that are of importance to the wider-world.
Reliable information has verified that Russia has engaged in widespread destruction of natural reserves, illegally and un-safely exploiting industrial facilities and neglected key infrastructure that does not serve a military or occupational priority. Russia’s occupation has proven incredibly irresponsible, creating long-term remediation demands that will extend far into the future due to their looting, damage and neglect. The proof of such reprobate conduct can be easily accessed by viewing open sources like Google Maps.
There is every credible reason to believe major Russian construction projects have made use of harmful chemicals and created nuclear waste hazards during their construction. This has been typical of Russian projects in that they fail to consider future consequences and are undertaken for the immediate and on-the-cheap. Russia’s recklessness has already begun to have a deleterious impact on the Black Sea and wildlife. Russia’s continued realisation of major infrastructure projects without proper environmental risk assessment will have long-term consequences for Crimea, Ukraine and the region. Russia’s construction of the so-called Kerch Bridge that created the only access between Russia and Crimea (entirely artificial) and the Tavryda highway have imposed a devastating and enduring physical footprint on Crimea and its environs. Indeed, the Kerch Bridge has already had negative consequences for the natural flow of waters between the Azov and Black seas, damaging the channel, inhibiting tidal flows and limiting natural species migration.
There is a pressing need to mitigate the socio-economic damage Russia is inflicting upon occupied Ukraine. It has a concomitant and collateral impact on Ukraine as a whole due to Russia’s illegal conduct and occupation. To counter this, Ukraine is contemplating an investment fund to benefit the regions along the contact line with territory temporarily occupied by Russia. The fund will serve to mitigate the domestic socio-economic links that have been severed because of Russian occupation. If done properly, the investment fund will also create a functional model for the re-integration of Crimea when de-occupation occurs.
Crimean Platform Charter Expected
Speaking on background, senior diplomats from Ukraine and in participating delegations, have indicated they expect that functional working groups to take place at the Heads of State; Ministerial, Parliamentary and Expert levels. These working groups are anticipated to be durable and sustained into the future. Additional working groups may arise based on future agreements by participating States to address narrowly focused topics or arising issues.
One expected outcome of the inaugural Summit of the Crimean Platform may be the adoption of a Charter outlining the vision for future international consolidation of Crimean policy.
Ukraine’s bold initiative in forging ahead to mitigate damage caused by Russia, build international cooperation and start the process for de-occupation and re-integration of temporarily Russian occupied territory is an exciting development in addressing illegal occupations. The participation of more than 45 key players, the entirety of the EU and NATO and so many others proves there is every hope and confidence it will succeed.
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy and Kuleba deserve great credit for seizing the initiative and forging ahead with Ukraine’s future which will see its territorial integrity restored sooner by innovative multilateral initiatives like Crimean Platform.