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The inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform took place in Kyiv on 23 August 2021. The event was attended by delegations from 42 countries and four international organizations (the EU, NATO, the Council of Europe and the GUAM).
It is no exaggeration to say that this is a historic event for Ukraine. The summit became the largest high-level international event in the history of our country and demonstrated that Ukraine is able to shape the agenda and act as an engine for addressing issues of importance to the entire international community. This is indeed a natural process, since the occupation of Crimea is, above all, a huge challenge for Ukraine. However, the Ukrainian government has seldom been able to initiate, organize and hold such large-scale meaningful events.
The logical conclusion of the inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform was the signing of the Joint Declaration of the International Crimea Platform by the participants. In this article, we will analyze this document and try to find out how important this Declaration is on the way to a diplomatic solution to the issue of the de-occupation and reintegration of Ukrainian Crimea.
The US Crimea Declaration
Since 2014, international organizations have regularly decided to condemn the occupation and not to recognize the annexation of Crimea. However, support in the context of the work of international organizations and the arrival of a delegation to a specialized event are different levels of public support. In this context, the Crimea Platform summit was a real success. And the Declaration, signed by the summit participants, shed light on the position of the international community on this issue.
To begin with, it should be noted that in international politics a Declaration is a statement of one or more parties that defines or proclaims the main principles, official positions of the participants on certain issues. Those Declarations that not only declare certain principles but also precede the actual implementation of the declared policy and become the basic principles of the policy of the signatory states are especially important. Will the Declaration of the Crimea Platform become a document like that? Only time will tell.
As any successes and failures are relative, to assess the importance and effectiveness of the signed Declaration, it is necessary to compare it with similar documents.
The Declaration of the Crimea Platform is the first multilateral document of this kind. However, an example of such unilateral Declarations can be provided. On 25 July 2018, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented the Crimea Declaration: “As we did in the Welles Declaration in 1940, the United States reaffirms as policy its refusal to recognize the Kremlin’s claims of sovereignty over territory seized by force in contravention of international law. In concert with allies, partners, and the international community, the United States rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored”.
The US Crimea Declaration is one of the important documents concerning the non-recognition of the occupation of Crimea, on par with the UN General Assembly Resolution on the Territorial Integrity of Ukraine № 68/262 of 27 March 2014. In fact, the Declaration states that Russia’s occupation of Crimea will never be recognized by the United States. Given the influential position of the United States in the world, the position of non-recognition will be supported by other democracies.
The US Crimea Declaration is a clear political document. The document does not contain descriptions of the situation in occupied Crimea. Its main purpose is to succinctly state the US position on an extremely important issue for the international community.
The Crimea Declaration and UN General Assembly Resolutions
At the level of international organizations, the resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly are important for Ukraine. For comparison, consider the resolution of the UN General Assembly “On the situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine” № 72/192 of 16 December 2020, adopted before the signing of the Crimea Platform Declaration.
The UN General Assembly resolution is a substantially detailed document condemning the ongoing temporary occupation of part of the territory of Ukraine – the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol – by the Russian Federation, and reaffirming the non-recognition of its annexation; covering various aspects of human rights violations as well as violation of international humanitarian law on the territory of temporarily occupied Crimea: restrictions on freedom of speech, politically motivated persecution of Ukrainian citizens, persecution of Crimean Tatars, restriction of religious freedom through the persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In general, the resolution contains significant passages condemning the actions of the Russian Federation and calling for a change in the behavior of the Occupying Power. The resolution is important in terms of recording human rights violations by the Russian Federation but does not contain any clauses that could actually contribute to the de-occupation of Crimea.
Compared to the UN General Assembly resolution, the joint Declaration of the Crimea Platform is a less detailed document and consists of several parts:
- The first part emphasizes the connection of the Declaration with previous important international documents on the temporary occupation of Crimea, in particular: UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262 on the territorial integrity of Ukraine and subsequent resolutions; decisions of the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights. It also reaffirms the main principles through which all issues related to the occupation of Crimea should be considered: respect for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and non-recognition and condemnation of the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Thus, it is emphasized that the Declaration of the Crimea Platform is a logical continuation of all previous decisions of international organizations and courts.
- In the second part, the signatory states condemn the ongoing violations and abuses and the systemic unlawful restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms by the aggressor state; the ongoing militarization of Crimea; obstructions of the rights and freedoms of navigation in the Black and Azov Seas; the ongoing change in the demographic structure of the occupied peninsula through the resettlement of Russian citizens to Crimea.
Particular attention should be paid to the last item “change of the demographic structure”. At present, there is a lack of attention at the international level to this issue. From the Russian Federation’s point of view, changing the demographic composition of the population of Crimea is of strategic importance, as it not only significantly strengthens control over the peninsula and destroys the Ukrainian mentality in the region but also presents a time bomb if Crimea returns to Ukraine.
According to the experts of the International Centre for Black Sea Studies, “migration weapons” and socio-cultural transformation of the population in the process of the colonization of new territories by the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union have a long history. Through it, Russia has accumulated considerable experience and built a strong scientific and historical foundation.”  According to the expert of the National Council of Ukrainians of Crimea Andriy Ivanets, one of the elements of this policy of the Occupying Power is “anti-Ukrainian informational propaganda pressure on Crimeans, creation of Ukrainophobic moral and psychological climate in the occupied territories in general.”  In this regard, it is very important that this issue was singled out in the Declaration.
The third part is the most meaningful. Here, the signatory states decided on many important issues, in particular: to continue the policy of non-recognition; to consider imposing further sanctions against the Russian Federation; to confront new challenges and ever-changing hybrid threats posed by the ongoing militarization of Crimea.
These issues are regularly raised in other international documents, but the tone of such statements in the Declaration of the Crimea Platform is considerably more inflexible. It is also important, that the focus of this document is much more specific. For example, it was decided to consider supporting economic, infrastructural and environmental projects that would contribute to the further development of the regions of Ukraine bordering the temporarily occupied Crimean Peninsula.
- In the final part, the signatory states note the need to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine; confirm the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as part of Ukraine and the determination to continue to put pressure on Russia. Attention should be drawn to two paragraphs of the final part;
- any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as an integral part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine is not and will not be recognized, and that Russia’s efforts to legitimize the temporary occupation and illegal seizure are unacceptable;
- participants look forward to the eventual return of the temporarily occupied territories of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to Ukraine and restoration of their autonomous status as stipulated in the Constitution of Ukraine, and pledge their support to the residents of this territory with regard to restoring their rights and freedoms, enshrined within the Constitution of Ukraine, and improving the socio-economic situation in the peninsula,
Regardless of the motives of the authors of the text, one of the possible ways of interpreting these paragraphs is that before the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty over the Crimean Peninsula, participants expect to consolidate the existing status of administrative-territorial units on the peninsula. That is, the signatory participants of the Crimea Platform Declaration expect that both the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol will retain their current autonomous status enshrined within the Constitution. Accordingly, alteration of the status of these administrative-territorial units can be made only after the de-occupation of Crimea.
Characteristic Features of the Crimea Platform Declaration
All the above issues are extremely important and the fact that they are mentioned should not be underestimated. However, the main achievement of the Crimea Platform Declaration is quite different. In fact, the Declaration contains almost the first attempt to create a mechanism for cooperation between partner countries on the issue of the de-occupation of Crimea.
The main deficiency of UN General Assembly resolutions and decisions of other international organizations is that they focus exclusively on acknowledging certain facts and condemning them. The need to create new approaches, which would involve joint close coordination and joint action to remedy the situation, is left aside. In contrast, the Declaration of the Crimea Platform contains the following:
- to establish the International Crimea Platform as a consultative and coordination format with the aim of peacefully ending the Russian Federation’s temporary occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol and to restore control of Ukraine over this territory in full accordance with international law,
- to establish a network of constant and rapid communication between the representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the member states of the Platform (to set up Crimea focal points),
- to recognize the role of national parliaments in addressing the temporary occupation of Crimea and to encourage the coordination of activities on Crimea between national parliaments as well as within inter-parliamentary assemblies,
- to welcome the establishment by Ukraine of the National Office of the Crimea Platform,
- to welcome the establishment of the International Crimea Platform Expert Network with a view to supporting its activities, and invite international and national non-governmental organizations, think-tanks and the expert community to contribute to the network’s activities,
Thus, a holistic mechanism of cooperation of the signatory states in the issues of de-occupation of Crimea has been created, which is as follows:
- the highest level of cooperation in the form of regular summits of the Crimea Platform, probably annual, with the participation of top officials of the signatory States;
- the ongoing cooperation and consultations at the level of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, within which special focal points on these issues should be identified. According to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, so far 36 countries have confirmed their participation in the coordination network at the level of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs ;
- parliamentary interaction in the form of support groups for the Crimea Platform on the parliamentary level. Such groups have already been established in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the parliaments of Latvia and Lithuania;
- on the basis of the Office of Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, an office of the Crimea Platform was established, the purpose of which is to assist in the implementation of the internal dimension of the policy on de-occupation of Crimea;
- the International Crimea Platform Expert Network has been established, the purpose of which is a thorough analysis of the situation in Crimea and advocacy at the national and international levels. The expert network is mostly represented by Ukrainian NGOs and think tanks, but one of the goals is to involve international partners. Seven working groups have been set up, each of which takes care of a separate area of activity.
According to Andrii Shchekun, coordinator of the working group Crimea Platform Expert Network on Humanitarian Policy, the main goal of the expert network and the working group is to conduct research, prepare analytics, assess the situation in the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea and Sevastopol, development of proposals and recommendations”.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the adopted Declaration of the Crimea Platform is a historic document. Without describing in detail the situation on the territory of occupied Crimea, the main achievement of the Declaration is the creation of a new mechanism for multilateral communication and coordination with partner countries.
Of course, the Declaration is a political document and has no legal obligations. However, the agreement of 43 states to clearer and closer cooperation with Ukraine on the issue of de-occupation of Crimea unquestionably represents a step forward and an extremely important diplomatic achievement.
Today, Ukraine faces many challenges, in particular, ensuring real cooperation between the signatory states on the issue of the de-occupation of Crimea. As the Declaration is a purely political document and does not entail any obligations, it will be a serious challenge for our country.
In addition, despite the public statement that any state will be able to join the Crimea Declaration after the founding summit, there are still no such precedents. In order to understand which countries Ukrainian diplomacy can focus on with a view to expanding the list of signatory sattes, the results of the vote on the UN General Assembly resolution on Crimea can be analyzed.
For example, the last “Crimean” resolution of the UN General Assembly, which was considered earlier, was co-sponsored by 27 states. 64 countries voted for, 23 voted against and 86 abstained. Among the countries that supported the resolution, but were absent at the inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform and, accordingly, did not sign the Crimea Platform Declaration are: Andorra, Barbados, Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Guyana, Israel, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Monaco, Panama, Pope New Guinea, Samoa, San Marino, Tuvalu, Vanuatu. These countries have largely supported Ukrainian resolutions on Crimea at the UN since 2014. Djibouti, Qatar and the Solomon Islands, which most often supported Ukraine at the UN, can also be added to this list.
Probably, the absence of these countries at the Crimea Platform summit was dictated by pressure from the Russian Federation. Nevertheless, we can assume that states from this list may become the next signatory states of the Crimea Platform Declaration.
Implemented within the project “Information Platform” Voice of Crimea. Culture “- about Crimea honestly, qualitatively, actually” with the support of the Media Development Fund of the US Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the US government.