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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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«Crimean Platform» will help to support the policy of de-occupation of Crimea

On December 24, 2020, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba stated at a press conference that one of the main foreign policy priorities for next year will be the launch of the «Crimean Platform». For the first time, information about the creation of an international platform for discussing the problems around Crimea and the future de-occupation of the peninsula was announced by Kuleba back in June. Since the announcement of the platform, Ukrainian diplomacy has made great efforts to involve in this initiative as many states as possible. 

First Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhepparova in an interview with «Ukrinform» stated that among the partners who have already welcomed the initiative to create the «Crimean Platform» are the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, Turkey, Georgia, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Germany, the Czech Republic, as well as the EU and a number of its member states. The important point is that the holding of the Crimean Summit coincides with the changes in the White House. The election of Joe Biden as President of the United States is a favorable moment for Ukraine in the context of countering Russian aggression. Given Biden's claims that Russia is a major threat to US national security and its system of alliances, Ukraine can count on the United States' full support for the Crimea initiative.

The position of the European Union countries plays an important role for Ukraine regarding the de-occupation of Crimea. It’s a well-known fact that a number of states, in particular France and Germany, maintain partner relations with Russia and do not always express their readiness to support Ukraine against their own economic interests. The sanctions have cost the Russian economy an estimated one percent of annual GDP, a not insignificant share for an economy that has grown roughly 1.5 percent annually in recent years. To date, the Kremlin appears to believe that the benefits of sustaining the conflict in Donbas still exceed the costs. Altering Russia’s cost-benefit analysis is the key to changing its behavior—and the United States and Europe have the ability to do so.[1]

Although the vast majority of European countries support Ukraine's territorial integrity and do not recognize the annexation of Crimea, the question remains: are these states ready to increase pressure on the Russian Federation? Therefore, on the eve of the Crimean Summit, representatives of Ukraine are in dialogue with representatives of European countries, in particular, drawing the attention of their colleagues to human rights and international humanitarian law violations, curtailment of freedom of speech and religious freedom, racial discrimination, militarization, threats to freedom of navigation in the Black Sea and The Azov Seas, as well as security challenges to the wider Mediterranean and Middle East region, where European powers conduct active foreign policy and directly compete with Russia. Ukraine's position is supported by most of the states of the Baltic-Black Sea region, which are most threatened by the Russian Federation, in particular, due to the militarization of Crimea.

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba participated in the «International Response to the Occupation of Crimea: Next Steps» event on the margins of the 27-th OSCE Ministerial Council Meeting. Dmytro Kuleba presented to the OSCE participating States the Ukrainian initiative to establish the «Crimean Platform», which aims to consolidate the efforts of the international community on Crimea. The Minister listed five expected priorities for its work: «First, security, including freedom of navigation. Second, ensuring the efficiency of sanctions against the aggressor state. Third, the protection of human rights and international humanitarian law. Fourth, protection of educational, cultural and religious rights. Fifth, overcoming the negative impact of the temporary occupation of Crimea on the economy and the environment».[2]

The Platform is expected to operate at several levels: heads of state and government, the level of foreign ministers, in the dimension of inter-parliamentary cooperation, and in the format of an expert network[3]. Officially, the Crimean platform will be launched at the inaugural Summit, which is scheduled for May 2021 in Kyiv. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine is also considering inviting Russia to the forthcoming summit. In an interview with Ukrinform, Emine Japarova said that the principle position of the state is that Russia, as an occupying power is fully responsible for the occupation and its consequences and should be invited to participate in «Crimean Platform». However, the prospects for Russia's participation in the platform are very unlikely. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, in turn, said that the Russian side is ready to participate in the «Crimean platform» initiated by Ukraine, if the problems of the peninsula - including water supply and transport issues – will be discussed during the Summit[4]. However, the Russian side is not ready to discuss any issues of de-occupation. In addition, in the case of effective work under the «Crimean Platform», the Russian side may disrupt the agreements on Donbas and exacerbate the situation in the east of the country. Dmytro Kuleba noted that Russia would make every effort to discredit the platform, and that this platform would probably be one of the epicenters of Russia's hybrid war against Ukraine.

Obviously, the Crimean platform will not solve the issue of the annexation of the peninsula and the Russian Federation will not so easily return the Ukrainian territories. However, this is an important initiative that was not created during the presidency of Poroshenko, which resulted in separation of the issue of Crimea de-occupation from Donbas and, in fact, no steps were taken since the beginning of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation towards the return of the peninsula. In the absence of a discourse regarding the annexation of Crimea, given Russia's powerful information resources that allow it to spread its own narratives, there is a danger of the formation of a «new reality» and the perception of the captured peninsula, together with the exclusive economic zone of Ukraine, as the sovereign territory of the Russian Federation by the international community.

The initiative of President Zelenskyy to create a «Crimean Platform» will help to support the policy of non-recognition of the occupation of Crimea and keep the issue of de-occupation and subsequent reintegration of the peninsula on the agenda. However, there is a danger that this initiative will not show effective work at a high level and will remain a platform for expert discussions. However, the very fact of the platform's existence and cooperation within this format is important for strengthening Ukraine's position on the issue of return of Crimea. In addition to the information component, the policy of non-recognition, strengthening the position of Ukraine in the diplomatic dimension, as Mr. Kuleba noted, the work within the platform will be aimed at strengthening the sanctions policy against Russia. The cost for the annexation of Ukrainian territory for Russia should be increased and the «Crimean Platform» can become a format consolidating and coordinating the activities of states in this dimension.