This month marks five years since Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula was invaded and subsequently occupied by Russia. The occupiers who came from across the border would come to be known as “Putin’s little green men” — Russian troops with their military insignias hidden.
Russian President Volodymyr Putin at first brazenly denied his country’s involvement, then later admitted that it was an under-cover operation by Russian special forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, centre, visits inspects the road section of the road-rail bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia near Kerch, Crimea in March 2018.
The Kremlin held a sham referendum and installed a puppet government. These events shocked the world community and created the dangerous precedent which undermined the law-based world order. On March 27, 2014, the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 “Territorial integrity of Ukraine” condemned occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and all western democracies including Australia imposed
sanctions on Russia.
Today the Crimean peninsula is a human rights black hole. The occupation regime is harshly persecuting the indigenous Crimean Tatar population, which enjoyed considerable freedom with the Ukrainian state.
Now dissidents are routinely abducted and tried in kangaroo courts. 60,000 former Crimean residents have been internally displaced to mainland Ukraine. The main representative body of Crimean Tatars, called the Mejlis, which fully supports Ukraine, has been banned by Russia. The human rights situation on the Crimean peninsula is so poor that Australia and over 20 countries co-sponsored very important UN GA resolutions: ‘Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine.’
Russia’s occupation of the Crimean peninsula has resulted in a militarization of the region and violation of basic principles of freedom of navigation.
Ukraine treated its Crimean region as a resort, but Russia treats it as a military base. Russia has introduced to the
peninsula a tremendous amount of weaponry, which poses a danger to the whole Black sea region. Russia built a bridge to the occupied peninsula and then used it as a barrier, firing on and seizing Ukrainian sailors and warships that were navigating in international waters.
All the world’s main democracies, which understand the dangerous precedent set by such lawless piracy, including Australia, have imposed sanctions on Russia, and UN GA resolution 73/194 expresses “grave concern over the progressive militarization of Crimea”, condemning Moscow’s building of the Kerch Bridge and the recent attacks on Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov.
We cannot forget that the Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula was the prelude to a broader campaign of aggression that includes Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine, using both its regulars and mercenaries, which has killed almost 13,000 Ukrainians and 298 international passengers on flight MH17, including 38 Australians, who were shot down by a Russian military missile.
At this five-year milestone of Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the facts established in UN GA Resolution (all co-sponsored by Australia) speak for themselves.
If you value democracy and the rule of law, human rights and freedom of navigation, if you genuinely believe that the international rules-based order makes us all safer, then you will never tolerate Russian propaganda concerning Ukraine, and will support putting increased pressure on the Kremlin to start to adhere to international law.
Dr. Mykola Kulinich is the ambassador of Ukraine in Australia