Eight European Ministers of foreign affairs Anders Samuelsen (Denmark), Sven Mikser (Estonia), Edgars Rinkēvičs (Latvia), Linas Linkevičius (Lithuania), Jacek Czaputowicz (Poland), Teodor-Viorel Meleşcanu (Romania), Margot Wallström (Sweden), Pavlo Klimkin (Ukraine) issued a joint article: “Four years on – but we will not forget illegally occupied Crimea”.
Four years ago, on 18 March 2014, Russia took the final step to illegally occupy Crimea, a part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory that Russia had recognised as such in several international treaties. The Russian takeover comprised a series of equally illegal actions: from using disguised Russian elite troops to the hasty organisation – in breach of Ukrainian and international law – of an illegitimate “referendum”. President Putin initially claimed that those troops had no association with Russia, but then admitted that he had ordered the entire takeover in late February 2014. He later generously decorated Russian servicemen with medals for carrying out the occupation.
The inhabitants of Crimea suddenly found themselves living under Moscow’s de facto rule. They have subsequently been forced to obtain Russian citizenship, and to serve in the Russian armed forces – both in violation of international law. Broad repressive policies have followed, leading to widespread human rights abuses such as imprisonment on political grounds, closure of media outlets and schools, and several cases of killings and disappearances. The indigenous Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, many opposed to the illegal annexation, have been particularly targeted. Dozens have been convicted on trumped up charges, such as the appalling 20-year prison sentence for “terrorism” handed down to Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker.
Sentsov and more than 60 other political prisoners must be released immediately. The dire human rights situation in Crimea, as reported by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and others, must be addressed without delay. Access must be granted to international monitoring organisations. Some brave civil society organisations have taken on the tough task of defending human rights. They deserve our full support.
Russia claims that the “annexation” represents “new facts on the ground”. Today, stating that Crimea is part of Ukraine according to international law is regarded by Russia as an act of separatism and punishable by law. But Russia’s claims on Crimea have not been acknowledged by any other international actor. Its violations of international law and the continuous militarisation of Crimea have been widely condemned by the international community. The UN General Assembly has adopted a series of resolutions reaffirming its commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Together with many other partners, including the United States, Canada and Norway, the European Union has implemented a policy of non-recognition and sanctions regimes, targeting people and entities that have promoted the illegal annexation. The construction of the Kerch bridge will be considered in this context. The EU has also introduced a ban on trade and investment, and restrictions on travel and tourism. Moreover, the EU does not recognise elections held by Russia in Crimea.
We will not allow Crimea to slip off the international agenda. To this end, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini makes a yearly statement on behalf of the EU on Crimea. As long as the illegal annexation continues, the restrictive measures and sanctions will remain in place.
The illegal occupation of Crimea increases the security risks in the Black Sea region, but its repercussions reach far beyond the region. Together with the ongoing Russian aggression in the Donbas, it also violates the European security order, a set of rules and principles that have served as the basis for Europe’s stability and security since the end of the Cold War. What happened in Crimea is not just about Ukraine, it concerns us all. That is why we will neither forget nor abandon Crimea.