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Crimea under siege: Revisiting the Crimean referendum

The recent Crimean incident highlights the extent to which Ukraine is unable to control its own military whilst re-emphasising Crimea's historical connection to Russia which the West chooses to ignore.

The 7 August skirmish on the Crimean peninsula has ratcheted tensions between Ukraine and Russia, calling into question Kyiv’s legitimacy and claims to the territory. Currently, both nations are on high alert as they boost their military defences following a terrorist plot sanctioned by the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF).

RT reports.

“[The] FSB received a warning from Armyansk locals, who had reported on some suspicious people in military uniforms in their town,” and “detected some 20 people in the area, who were loading explosives and weapons from their hideout. Once the suspects noticed the Russian security forces, they immediately opened fire, shooting to kill.”

Acting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s immediate, scripted reaction was to deny involvement.  UNIAN reports him saying.

“Russian accusations that Ukraine has launched terror attacks in occupied Crimea are as cynical and insane as its claims that there are no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. These fantasies have only one goal: a pretext for more military threats against Ukraine.”

Nevertheless, Poroshenko’s statements are at cross purposes with Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who chauvinistically asserted the opposite just months before.  Press TV reports him saying

“We have nothing. We need a new army, a new National Guard, a new police force. This is what the government of Ukraine is working on right now. We must restore all of this, and then, with enough will, Crimea will be ours.”

According to Press TV Avakov continued

“Kiev is currently training a separate special force within the Ukrainian National Guard”.

These contradictions show that Kyiv’s authorities are simply losing control of their defence forces. The UAF—a loose confederation of over 50 volunteer batallions—simply lack the skills and coordination to best the Russian FSB and infiltrate the Crimean peninsula. This became evident on 8 Sept. 2014, at the onset of hostilities, after Amnesty International released a scathing report documenting the lawlessness of the Aidar Battalion and other Ukrainian paramilitary groups’, as they committed increasingly brutal human rights violations in the Russian speaking Donbas region in a manner which compared to those of the Islamic State.

“Our findings indicate that, while formally operating under the command of the Ukrainian security forces combined headquarters in the region members of the Aidar battalion act with virtually no oversight or control, and local police are either unwilling or unable to address the abuses.”

Ironically, Marcin Mamon of The Intercept wrote a ground breaking series of articles on how the Kyiv government began overlooking Ukrainian collaborations with Islamic State.

“Ostensibly state-sanctioned, but not necessarily state-controlled, some have been supported by Ukrainian oligarchs, and others by private citizens. Less talked about, however, is the Dudayev battalion, named after the first president of Chechnya, Dzhokhar Dudayev, and founded by Isa Munayev, a Chechen commander who fought in two wars against Russia.”

Due to a long list of violations, Russian-Ukrainian relations remains in utter disarray and have come to a volatile showdown as the UAF advances southward to the Isthmus of Perekop, violating the Minsk agreements along with the self-determination of Crimean citizens.  Ukrainian relations with Crimeans, on the other hand, have been irrevocably changed forever.

Underneath the empty propaganda of Western media and the discourse of Russian-based pundits hides the uncomfortable truth: Crimea was been a gift to Ukraine and historically sanctioned within strict guidelines.

The 1954 “Meeting of the Presidium of the Supreme Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” speech explicitly states the terms of the agreement to transfer Crimea to the Ukraine.  The agreement was Nikita Khrushchev’s bid to promote fraternity between the Russian Socialist Federative of Socialist Republics (RSFSR) and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR), as part of his “de-Stalinisation” policy, which included reconciling former General Secretary Joseph Stalin’s process of dekulakisation (1930-1937), the Ukrainian Great Famine (1932-33), and the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars, Russians, Greeks and Germans during World War II (1942-43).

The following passage, spoken by Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union Kliment Voroshilov, speaks almost prophetically and explains the terms in detail:

“[Voroshilov]: Under capitalism this would have been impossible. In history there could not be and cannot be such relations between republics [where] under capitalism, desires for territorial seizure and the desire of strong countries to feast on the territories of weak countries formed the very basis of relations between countries. Only in the conditions of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was such a just solution of all territorial issues between union republics possible based on administrative and economic advisability with complete mutual friendship and the fraternal cooperation of their peoples.

Both in the distant and not-so-distant past enemies repeatedly tried to take the Crimean Peninsula from Russia and use it to pillage and ravage Russian lands, and to create a military base there to attack Russia and Ukraine. But more than once in joint battle the Russian and Ukrainian peoples severely beat the insolent invaders and threw them out of Ukraine and Crimea […]”.

(Bold italics added)

First, the transfer is based on trust between two communist governments—guaranteed under a socialist political economy. Now that both are independent capitalist republics, the terms and conditions no longer apply.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it took years of painful negotiations between then-Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin and US Presidents George Bush, Sr. and Bill Clinton to reshape the pacts under the “Treaty of friendship, cooperation and partnership between the Russian Federation and Ukraine”, which was enacted on 31 May 1997.

However, it was a fool’s errand for Yeltsin to believe that these new conditions would hold under the current global order.

Furthermore, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych inflamed these tensions after opportunistically weighing his options between the Eurasian Union (EAEU) and the European Union (EEUU), violating Article 13 (coordination of strategies to implement economic reform and deepen economic integration) of the 1997 Treaty of Friendship.

According to EU Commissioner Stefan Fuele, Yanukovych could not agree to the deal because it would

“……cost Kiev $500 billion in trade with Russia over the coming years, while implementing demands for Ukraine to adopt EU legal and other standards would cost another $104 billion.”

By the time he had rescinded Europe’s offer, he had already besmirched Ukraine’s national sovereignty as the Euromaidan coup was already underway as a contingency.

Furthermore, Yanukovych invited disaster by negotiating the 2013 Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, which exposed Ukraine to deregulated foreign privatisation.  As highlighted by an article in the Oriental Review

“Within two to three years, as the relevant provisions of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU go into effect, Monsanto’s lobbying efforts will transform the Ukrainian market into an oligopoly consisting of American corporations.”

Putin keenly observed this and following the coup, simply rescinded the 1954 transfer, noting specific violations in the Friendship Treaty to validate the Crimean referendum.

With Yanukovich gone and a hostile, puppet government on its doorstep, Russia reclaimed its historical territory.

Violations of the 1997 Friendship Treaty entailed Article 6 (no agreements with countries directed against the other party), Article 11 (violence against citizens based on national, racial, ethnic, or religious intolerance), and Article 12 (right to safeguard ethnic, religious, linguistic, or cultural histories without assimilation).

Following the US-backed Euromaidan coup, then-interim President Oleksandr Turchynov provoked Russian authorities further by temporary repealing a 2012 law protecting minority languages.  Reports of persecuted ethnic minorities finally compelled Putin to act by first speaking to US President Barack Obama and later contacting UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon.

With little support from the international ‘community’, Vladimir Putin worked with Crimean authorities to establish the referendum, then signed Executive Order no. 268 shortly afterwards.

The goal was to rehabilitate national ethnicities in an inclusive democracy and invest in their development, starting with the Kerch Strait Bridge, as is made clear by the Kremlin’s summary:

“The purpose of Executive Order No. 268 is to restore historical justice and remedy the consequences of the unlawful deportation of the Bulgarian, Greek, Crimean Tatar and German peoples from the Crimean ASSR and the violations of their rights that occurred.”

Whilst there certainly were material concerns in Simferopol and relating to the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol which explain the Russian actions, the primary motivation was that, under Putin’s watch, he would never to allow Crimeans to fall under fascism again.  The referendum was as ideological as it was material.

Rather than explaining this history to its audiences, international media outlets have chosen to lose face through the banal, deceptive mantra of “Russian aggression” and “annexation”. However, both the illicit Kyiv government and its Western supporters brush this aside and choose to ignore Russia’s valid concerns.

Unfortunately, in doing so, the ludicrous accusations against Vladimir Putin as a power-hungry dictator have only reinforced and increased support for his actions around the world.

The reintegration, not annexation, of Crimea is one such case study.

Western propagandists and its followers should look in the mirror and then study history. Russians never forget their own; something that continues to bewilder the misinformed to this very day

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Haneul Na'avi
Haneul Na'avi is an independent journalist and geopolitical analyst based in the United Kingdom. He has previously written for RT, Press TV, Global Research, and the Pravda Report.