Russia's Ambassador to Cyprus pens an op-ed for The Cyprus Mail, reflecting on Crimea's reunification with Russia, the coup in Ukraine, and the similarities between the war in Donbas with Cyprus's ongoing division and occupation by Turkey
This article originally appeared at The Cyprus Mail
A YEAR has passed since Crimea reunited with the Russian Federation. What has happened during this year? The peninsula has been receiving significant financial aid from the Russian Federation, different productions have been restored and are now developing, different cultural and recreational infrastructure is being renewed, and national minorities have been granted various privileges. However, the most important question is, what has not happened in Crimea?
There has been no bloodshed, no Nazi-fascist attacks against the people of the peninsula, no bombing and no oppression of Russian and Russian speaking inhabitants of Crimea. That is, nothing of what we now observe in the East of Ukraine. People in Crimea are primarily Russian and Russian-speaking, who, despite all the efforts of Kiev to ‘ukranise’ the peninsula, continued to identify themselves as a part of the Russian world, part of their Russian Motherland.
Here are some historic facts. The baptising of the Grand Prince Vladimir happened in Crimea (in Kherson). Crimea was the main battlefield between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire and Ekaterina the Great appended Crimea to the Russian Empire as a result of those wars. In those years, the Black sea Fleet of Russia was established and it gained its glory during the Crimean war of 1853-1856 and the Great National War of 1941-1945. The well known Yalta Conference of 1945, where the future of Europe and of the whole world for the period of the Second World War was decided, also took place in Crimea.
For Russia, Crimea is the place where famous Russian writers, scientists, painters, artists lived and worked. Let us name some of them: Alexander Pushkin, Lev Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov.
Crimea felt anxious about the events that took place in Ukraine in late 2013 – beginning 2014. What did the Crimeans see in other parts of Ukraine? Anti-Russian hysteria that went as far as calling for eliminating everything Russian, including the Russian speaking population. They saw a sweeping growth of Ukrainian aggressive radical nationalism, accompanied by street riots, seizure of army depots and military facilities, creation of armed formations of nationalists. This ‘revolution of dignity’ forced the people of Crimea to think about their future.
Obviously, the events at Maidan square and coup d’etat that followed were the key deterring factor. It is in Kiev where blood was spilled and the terrorist operation in the East of Ukraine was launched.
The day after the coup d’etat on February 23, 2014, the Rada (Ukrainian Parliament), that joined together the most odious representatives of Ukrainian politics, adopted the decision to cancel the Law on the principles of state language policy, that had granted Russian and other languages of ethnic minorities the right for use and development.
The next threatening signal for Crimea was when the ‘Praviy Sector’ (‘the Right Sector’) set on fire buses with unarmed Crimeans who were returning from Kiev where they had participated in peaceful anti-Maidan demonstrations. Those buses were burnt to ashes and many of the passengers were murdered.
That was when the overwhelming majority of the Crimean population saw it clearly: it is impossible to coexist with the government of such a Ukraine. The only help they could expect was from Russia. Crimean politicians, who did not agree with Kiev, raised a question of holding a referendum about the future destiny of Crimea. Crimeans were asked one question: whether to stay a part of Ukraine, which had turned to radical nationalism and full submission to foreign centres of influence, or to reunite with Russia, thus providing not only security to all the nationalities of the peninsula, but also the very possibility of staying alive.
The referendum turnout was so high (82.7%) that it surprised even the authorities of the Republic of Crimea. Over 96.7% of the voters supported reuniting with Russia and becoming a part of the Russian Federation. The Russian Government could not ignore the expression of the will of Crimeans, considering the fact that the possibility of deployment of NATO armed forces in the peninsula was a direct threat to the national security of Russia.
Some people state that the referendum was conducted in the atmosphere of ‘total Russian military control and at gunpoint’. In this respect, it is important to say that an international agreement was effective between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, according to which Russia was authorised to deploy up to 20,000 soldiers to its military base in Crimea. However, Russia did not need to deploy any additional armed forces to the peninsula. Many Ukrainian units took the side of the Crimean authorities. Out of 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers only 2,000 decided to return to Kiev.
As for the claims that people of Crimea voted ‘at the gunpoint’, firstly, it is hard to imagine such a number of guns, and secondly, it is hard to imagine people being so cheerful when they are ‘taken aim at’.
Neither Russia, nor Crimea, who united a year ago, broke international law. Two UN declarations (1969 and 1970) recognise the right of nations for self-determination up to separation. The loss of Ukrainian territorial integrity due to the reunification of Crimea with Russia was caused by unlawful and rather complicated internal processes within Ukraine, that were not related to Russia.
Now, let us talk about the parallels with Cyprus. Such parallels are hard, if not impossible, to draw due to numerous reasons. First of all, and most importantly, not a single drop of blood was spilled in Crimea, what happened was a voluntary reunion with Russia. Secondly, this free will was confirmed by the referendum. To repeat once again, there was no invasion or deployment of armed forces.
Those who try to find similarities between the events of 1974 in Cyprus and 2014 in Crimea, should rather turn their eyes to what is happening in Ukraine now, in its South-East regions (where there are more analogies), and think about who organised the events and led the country to bloodshed, that forced the Russian authorities to ensure peace and security on the peninsula.
According to the recent poll conducted by ‘Forbes’ magazine, 73.9% of Crimeans admitted that during this year in the Russian Federation their life has improved. Thus, there can be only one conclusion: the decision to reunite Crimea with the Russian Federation was the right one.
Stanislav V. Osadchiy is the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Cyprus