Even though cherry-picking might be natural for media and politicians who seek to promote their own agenda, such approach could be counterproductive in resolving the Ukrainian standoff, an indicated by the debates over Crimea.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 8, 2017. Photo: U.S. State Department
On Mar. 16, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a statement expressing concern over human rights violations in Crimea, specifically mentioning “the persecution of Crimean Tatars and other minorities.” In response, the Russian Embassy in Canada accused Freeland of making “politicized statements with unfounded claims.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner declared that "our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine," adding that Washington does not recognize Crimea’s 2014 referendum. "Residents of Crimea were compelled to vote while heavily armed foreign forces occupied their land," said Toner.
While servicemen in uniforms without insignia indeed backed up the pro-Russian forces in Crimea at the time, calling them occupiers is technically incorrect. Those forces were not shipped in Crimea from Russia on the eve of the referendum: They were stationed in Sevastopol in accordance with the international agreement signed by then-President Viktor Yanukovych, which gave Russia the basing rights until 2042.
For a Ukranian view on Crimea read: "Controversial anniversary: Two years after Crimea's 'return' to Russia"
That president was dislodged in a violent coup d’etat that saw the antigovernment forces firing on their own to blame the loss of innocent lives on the sitting president. Fleeing for his life, Yanukovych abandoned the country, while Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, rubberstamped his ouster and replaced him with unelected revolutionaries. Each and every appointee had to get reconfirmed by rioters in the Maidan, and was either endorsed or rejected by the street. People in Ukraine’s east and south, who gave Yanukovych millions of their votes only a few years before, saw how the regime changed in the blink of an eye.
At the time Freeland characterized Ukraine’s revolution as “openly a battle about democratic values,” offered the Maidan her moral support and rejoiced at prospects of a “powerful demonstration effect in Russia.” Judging by Foreign Minister’s statement on Thursday, her position remained consistent over the years.
On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed out that the decision to conduct the Crimean referendum was made by a body established in accordance with the Ukrainian law.
“We hope that sooner or later Kiev will show respect for the decision made by the Crimean people and recognize the outcome of the plebiscite as it was caused by events taking place in Kiev which had created serious threats for the Crimeans," Peskov said.
The events in question, apart from beating of the Communists, the members of Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions and the pro-Russian sympathizers by the “revolutionaries,” included open demonstration of the Nazi insignia by the Right Sector and Svoboda — the controversial political groups, deemed as racist and anti-Semitic. Their militaries spearheaded the Maidan revolution.
As a result, mass protests erupted in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. In Crimea, the protesters received a firm, yet bloodless support of the Russian troops (also known as “little green men” and “polite people”) stationed there. On March 16, 2014, 80 percent of eligible voters participated in Crimea’s referendum to join Russia, and over 96 percent of them supported the accession.
Russia moved on to swiftly reincorporate the peninsula, which it ceded to Ukraine in 1954. This was done in contravention of its previously accepted obligation to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Crimea’s "annexation" has not been acknowledged as legitimate by the UN, and Russia’s arguments so far have received no traction with the international community.
And yet, Crimea's takeover might have helped to save lives. Russia’s refusal to extend similar protection to the pro-Russian citizens of Ukraine in the breakaway Donbas led to a protracted civil war that has claimed 10,000 lives so far. Kiev used aerial bombardment, mortar fire and heavy artillery to destroy some of the most densely populated areas in what can only be described as a massive human rights violation. Recognizing it as such seems to elude the western powers, including Canada.
Globe and Mail, a Canadian media outlet, claims that 20,000 Crimean Tatars have left Crimea. In fact, the Ukrainian sources put the total number of migrants from Crimea at 22,862, of which no more than half are reported to be the Crimean Tatars. At the same time, Crimea accepted about 30,000 of refugees from the Donbas war. More than a million of refugees and migrants from Ukraine arrived in Russia. About one third of those received temporary residence permits.
By the start of World War II, Crimean Tatars constituted 19 percent of the population of the peninsula. According to the last Ukrainian survey, 12 percent of the Crimean population were Crimean Tatars. The survey undertaken by Russia in 2014 gives the figure of 10.6 percent of the Crimean Tatars and 2 percent of self-reported “Tatars” — that is, basically the same share as before the annexation. Altogether, 277,300 Crimean Tatars chose to live in Russia, and 99 percent of them applied and received Russian passports.
Crimea’s Constitution gives the Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimean-Tatar languages equal rights as the state languages of the Republic of Crimea. Under Ukraine’s rule, only the Ukrainian language enjoyed such rights. Ukraine’s current authorities reportedly discourage the use of the Russian language even in the areas with the majority Russian-speaking population. The January 2017 resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expressed concerns about the plight of national minorities in Ukraine in light of the proposed language bills aimed at further restriction of their rights.
Russian is a native language for 84 percent, Crimean Tatar — 8 percent, and Ukrainian — 3.3 percent of the Crimean population. It is the native tongue for 80 percent of local Ukrainians, 25 percent of Tatars and 5.6 percent of the Crimean Tatars. Even so, 53 schools offer classes in the Crimean Tatar language. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 decree had fully rehabilitated the Crimean Tatar population as victims of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s forced deportation campaign.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to the human rights monitoring in Crimea after the meeting with Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe. However, part of the problem, according to Amnesty International, a human rights watchdog, is Ukraine’s own prohibitions and obstruction of visits to Crimea from the Russian territory.
For a very different take on Crimean Tatars read: "The plight of the Crimean Tatars"
While the Majlis, the parliament of the Crimean Tatars, was banned for instigation of disruptive activities, including food and energy blockade of Crimea by Ukraine, a host of other Crimean Tatar organizations has been flourishing in its place. Crimean Tatars are not discriminated against by the Russian authorities.
It is noteworthy that the winner of the Eurovision tournament, the Crimean Tatar singer Jamala, is a frequent guest in Russia, while her parents categorically refuse to relocate to Ukraine from the “occupied” peninsula, where they have received Russian citizenship and run a successful hotel business.
Against the background of these facts, Canada’s Foreign Minister remains intrasigent, as indicated by her statement: One could say that she sticks to her principles. So do the mainstream media in the West, including in Canada. However, the problem is that they seem to ignore other facts that contradict their narrative [this problem is also common for their Russian counterparts — Editor's note]. Even though cherry-picking might be natural for media and politicians (because they are used to promoting their own agenda), such approach could be counterproductive in resolving the Ukrainian standoff. Eventually, this will only result in delaying the much-needed implementation of the Minsk agreements.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.