The first Anniversary of the Crimea reunification with Russian Federation was widely celebrated all over Russia on March 18, 2015.
One must not ignore or forget the tragic background, against which the situation was evolving, what was happening in Ukraine and what challenges and threats the people of the Crimea faced. The residents of the Crimea, mostly Russian and Russian-speaking, have invariably, despite all vain attempts of Kiev authorities at “ukrainizing” the peninsula, felt their belonging to the Russian world and regarded Russia as their motherland.
The Crimea holds a special place in the history of Russians and Russia as a whole, in Russian self-consciousness and perception of the world. It is related to the baptism of Prince Vladimir the Saint in the Chersonese and the principality of Tmutarakan, age-long struggle with the Crimean Khanate and the Osman Empire. The Crimea symbolizes the victorious Russian-Turkish wars and the deeds of Catherine the Great, which resulted in acceding the Crimea into the Russian Empire, the foundation of the Black Sea Fleet and the city of Sevastopol, the Crimean war of 1853-1856, the heroic feats of the Great Patriotic War and the Yalta Conference in 1945, which sealed the fate of Europe and the world after World War II. Crimea is associated with Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov and many other writers, artists, scientists and people of culture – who are crème-de-la-crème of the Russian civilization.
Anxious and worried, the people of the Crimea were following what was unfolding in Kiev, western and central regions of Ukraine in late 2013 – early 2014. Escalation of aggressive radical Ukrainian nationalism, intolerance, anti-Russian hysteria, shifts to anti-constitutional actions, street riots, seizure of administrative buildings, police stations and military bases, the formation and armament of nationalist storm troops – all these events of the “revolution of dignity” could not but make the residents of the Crimea ponder over the prospects of the evolving the situation.
Looking at raging masked crowds with “Molotov cocktails” storming the buildings of highest government administration, attacking the law enforcement units passively defending themselves, flaming tires in the heart of a European capital, watching live telecast of provocative shooting at police and marchers, the people of the Crimea were inevitably thinking – what would happen to them if that wave of extremism reaches the peninsula? Their hopes were dashed by the nationalist anti-Russian rhetoric of the new “leaders” and Maidan “activists”; enraged hopping mob chanting slogans like “Russians to gallows”, “Stab the Russians”, ”Bandera comes – Order comes”, ”Hail to Ukraine – Glory to the heroes!”, ”Glory to the nation – death to the enemies” and even a slogan “Ukraine is second to none” that creates allusions to the Europe of the 1930s.
The events sped up after the armed coup d’état in Kiev, when power was seized by the most notorious members of the Ukrainian political spectrum, regardless of the well-known agreement between the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition signed on February 22, 2014 with the approval of the respected Western politicians. Intimidated by physical elimination, the Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) and its members were “cleansed” in no time, and against all laws, regulations and rules, started to mass-produce new laws and rules to meet the needs of the usurpers.
Without any semblance of legitimacy and constitutional norms, Alexander Turchinov was appointed an acting President of Ukraine while the President Yanukovych was there, alive, neither resigned nor impeached.
Noteworthy was the decision of the Rada , taken on the second day of the coup d’état, on February 23, 2014, to abolish the 2012 Act on State Policy Towards National Languages, which, though incomplete, gave certain rights to Russian and other minority languages to develop as regional ones. Although it was not implemented, this decision was a clear indication of the true intentions of those personages who came to power in Kiev.
Arson of buses with unarmed Crimeans returning from Kiev after the peaceful anti-Maidan actions made by the “Rightist Sector”, attempted seizure of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC) and training of the “Rightist Sector” militants and units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces for invasion in the peninsula were the additional warning signals.
In those circumstances both the authorities and the people of the Crimea were faced with a question – how to protect themselves from the nationalist threat, which started to filter into the peninsula and how to oppose those destructive, ultra-radical forces, which began to destabilize the situation and try to implement the Maidan techniques, already widely used in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. The conclusion for the majority of the Crimean population was obvious – no shared existence with the Ukraine which started to take shape in Kiev was possible, and the protection from the emerging threats could come only from Russia.
The Crimean politicians were proceeding exactly from these facts when they proposed to hold a referendum in the peninsula about the future of the Crimea – whether it should remain a part of a new Ukraine going fascist or should they take the course for natural reunification with Russia in order not only to put the historical record straight, but to guarantee security and even the very chance to survive for the Russians and other nations of the peninsula.
The referendum held in the Crimea on March 16, 2014 demonstrated that the absolute majority of the population unequivocally supported alliance with Russia and reunification with the Russian state. The referendum was proclaimed absolutely legitimate by the Supreme Council of the ARC itself, it was held according to the laws of the democratic pre-coup Ukraine.
The issue of the Crimea was and remains a matter of particular importance for Russia. Moscow clearly saw how the radical nationalists, who ceased power in the country, were trying to establish their own laws in the Crimea by means of military provocations and brutal force, thus endangering tranquility and the lives of Russians, Russian-speaking, Ukrainian and Tatar population of the peninsula, whose majority disagreed with the policies of the new Ukrainian authorities.
Another important and disturbing aspect of the Ukrainian crisis was the actual transition of control from Kiev authorities to governance from outside – an open Euro Atlantic alignment of Kiev in spite of the public mood in the South and East of Ukraine, the threat of the country’s renunciation of its “no-block” status and the start of an accelerated accession to NATO.
The real perspective of NATO forces coming to the peninsula was a direct challenge to Russia’s legitimate interests and a threat to its national security, especially in the context of the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s presence in the Crimea. It undermined the principle of equal and indivisible security in Europe and the Atlantic proclaimed at summit level in the OSCE and Russia-NATO Council.
The decision to reinforce Russian presence in the peninsula was stipulated by preventing the Crimea from the spread of the bloody aftermaths of the coup d'état, carried out with open support from outside, a most blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and fundamental standards of the international law. It was also aimed at prevention of violence and provocations by the Ukrainian radical nationalists against Russian speaking Crimean population, ensuring safe functioning of the legitimate Crimean state authorities and ensuring free voting of the Crimean residents at the referendum held in March last year as well as safeguarding the Black Sea Fleet facilities. The Russian Fleet was based in the Crimea and Sevastopol in accordance with appropriate Russian-Ukrainian agreements. After the unconstitutional coup d'état in Kiev its overall strength was increased but it never exceeded the limits defined in the mentioned agreements (up to 25000 servicemen). The role of the Black Sea Fleet and the subsidiary units was decisive in preventing the bloody clashes and involvement of the Ukrainian Forces deployed in the peninsula into execution of orders from the illegitimate “rulers” who seized power in Ukraine with the support of the West. The actions of the Russian servicemen stationed in the Crimea in accordance with the agreements on the Black Sea Fleet were fully welcomed and supported by the authorities and the population of the Republic.
From the view of the international law, the Crimean population has exercised its right for self-determination, sealed in the UN Charter, in compliance with the decisions of the legitimate Crimean authorities to conduct the referendum, declare independence of the Republic of Crimea and to appeal with a request to accede to the Russian Federation. In response to these decisions of the legitimate authorities of the peninsula, the Crimea was recognized by Russia as an independent and sovereign state, and subsequently, the Agreement on admission of the ARC and Sevastopol into the Russian Federation and the creation of new constituent entities within the Russian Federation was signed in the Kremlin on March 18, 2014 between the Russian Federation and the ARC.
The true yardstick of the attitude of the Crimean people to the situation in the spring of last year is that all the developments in the peninsula took place peacefully, without any outrages and perturbations. Numerous attempts of the radical nationalists, infiltrating from Kiev in order to explode the situation as well as trigger off bloodshed by forceful provocations and stirring up interreligious strife, were neutralized. The enthusiasm of the citizens of the Crimea and Sevastopol who returned to the fold of the Russian state speaks louder than words and confirms the correct actions taken by Russia as well as in providing safe environment for the expression of free will at the referendum on March 16, 2014. The choice of the Crimean people was convincingly reaffirmed by the regional elections in September 2014.
Any insinuations about so-called coercion towards the Crimean people are intended to serve dirty geopolitical goals. Without Russia’s support the Crimea and its citizens were doomed to share the same destiny as the South-East of Ukraine, the fate of the civilians burned alive by neo-Nazis in Odessa on May 2, 2014, of the people shot in Mariupol on the Victory Day the same year and of many other victims of radical nationalists who became the pillar of the coup d’état in Kiev.