Valentin Vatsev, the Bulgarian political analyst’s September statement in RIA Novosti regarding Russia’s involvement in Crimea echoes a series of Russian government and media claims since 2014.
Here are the facts, which we will detail:
- Russian soldiers, without displaying insignia, took over the Crimean peninsula, taking control of a peninsula that had been Ukraine’s more than 60 years, dating back to the Soviet era.
- Russian-backed local authorities quickly staged a referendum, labeled invalid by the UN, to give its annexation the veneer of legality.
- The United Nations Security Council acted in (20154/15?), demonstrating the view of most of the international community toward Russia’s aggression on the Crimean peninsula.
- The view of the international community followed Russian’s own legal recognition of the post-Soviet order, which included the Belovezha Accord and the Budapest Memorandum.
The Russian takeover of Crimea in February 2014 began when Russian special forces, operating without national insignia, seized the Crimea parliament building and raised the Russian flag. The “little green men” bloodless invasion resulted in unmarked Russian soldiers taking control of the Republic.
On March 16, the new Russia-installed government staged a referendum, which completed the annexation of the peninsula by Russia.
On March 27, the United Nation General Assembly adopted Resolution 68/262, stating that the referendum, “having no validity, cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea or of the city of Sevastopol.” The resolution urged all countries “not to recognize any alteration of the status” of Crimea.
The Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea violated post-Soviet agreements Russia signed establishing the sovereignty and borders of Ukraine.
In December 1991, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and the Belorussian Supreme Soviet President Alexander Lukashenko signed the Belavezha Accord, which all three countries ratified that month, formally ending the Soviet Union and agreeing to existing borders.
In 1994, the U.S, Russia and Britain as nuclear powers, committed to respect the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, under condition that Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons deployed on its territory – the Budapest Memorandum.
The international community’s answer to Russia’s violation of this important treaty was swift – it imposed a number of sanctions against many Russian companies, banks and individuals. Russia was kicked out of the Group of Eight (G8) of most industrialized nations – all considered advanced democracies.
Context: Crimean History as Russian Territory
Vatsev’s comments quoted by RIA Novosti came as he visited Simferopol, Crimea’s capital city and asserted that Crimea, as RIA put it, “…has long been Russian territory…” Let’s dig into that history:
Crimea was considered as one of the jewels in the Russian Tsarist crown, with Yalta as a top summer retreat of Romanov tsars and Odessa as an important cultural center where many Russian writers and poets were born or resided. The peninsula was part of Tsarist Russia from 1783, when Russia annexed it from the Ottoman Empire.
From 1922 to 1991 Russia and Ukraine were part of one country, the former Soviet Union, the enter of communist ideology, a nuclear power seen as locked in a bi-polar rivalry with the U.S. and much of Europe.
In 1954, the Soviet government under Nikita Khrushchev, secretary of the Communist Party, transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet Federation of Socialist Republics to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Many historians regard the transfer as “administrative” and “a gesture of goodwill,” a propaganda move to consolidate Khrushchev’s power after Stalin’s death in 1953.
During Soviet times, nearly 200,000 Crimean Tartars were deported from their original homeland. While many have since returned, the UN considers the Tartars “a vulnerable minority” in the largely Russian-speaking province – now under Russian rule or “occupation” as some call it.
In 2014, National Geographic Magazine described Crimea as “physically, politically…Ukraine,” but “mentally and emotionally” identifying with Russia, with memories of the peninsula as a Soviet-era holiday playground.
Yet, Russia defied the agreements it had negotiated and adopted when Vladimir Putin’s government staged its bloodless invasion. And with the 2014 UN resolution in force, most nations regard Crimea as Ukrainian, under international law.