Crimea’s troubled history began in 1954, when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave the peninsula to Ukraine to celebrate 300 years of union with Russia.
Within the Soviet Union it was a transfer of administrative jurisdiction that did not involve major changes. Putin’s view was that such a donation was nothing more than “a historical injustice.”
In 1992, after the dissolution of the USSR, Crimea proclaimed its independence.
Despite this, the Government decided to remain within Ukraine as an autonomous republic, with its own Parliament and Government based in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea.
In 2010 the concession to Russia to have control over the port of Sevastopol was renewed, Russian fleet was allowed to maintain an important garrison on the coast bordering the Black Sea and guaranteed Putin’s navy an outlet to the Sea of Marmara and, from there, to the Mediterranean. In November 2013, following President Viktor Ianukovich’s decision not to sign the political and economic association treaty with the E.U., a protest movement known as “Euromaiden” developed in Ukraine.
In February 2014, with the fall of pro-Russian President Viktor Ianukovich and the seizure of power by the nationalist, a pro-European opposition, the Crimean parliament decided to hold a referendum to secede from Kiev.
Due to this decision pro-Russians took to the streets to support the cause of secession.
Russia, which did not recognize power to the new government in Kiev, sent military forces and resources to protect the main centers of the peninsula. The provisional government in Kiev denounced “the invasion” and continued to assert that it did not want to surrender the Crimea.
On March 20th, four days after the referendum, the accession treaty was ratified by the Duma, the lower house of the russian Parliament.
For a better understanding it should be specified that this treaty also passed the review of the upper house of the Parliament and signed two days earlier by President Putin and the prime minister of the former Ukrainian region Sergei Aksionov.
That treaty was declared illegitimate by the EU, which extended economic sanctions against the peninsula until June 2017. It was also not recognized by Ukraine, which still considers the Crimean as a part of its temporarily occupied territory.
The referendum result and Duma approval marked the incorporation into the Russian Federation as almost complete.
The process of Crimea’s annexation to Russia began de facto when around 20,000 Russian military took control.
During his speech for the annexation of Crimea, Putin said that he was not interested in invading the rest of Ukraine, but that his only goal was to protect the rights of Russians living abroad. Today we will say that he was not true to the statement he made.
As mentioned, after the referendum, the U.S., EU, Japan, and Canada applied several sanctions against Moscow. As a response nine U.S. officials were banned from entering Russia.
Looking at the economical relation between EU and Russia, the EU is Russia’s main trading partner and depends heavily on russian hydrocarbons.
In addition, Russian gas pipelines to Southern Europe pass through Ukraine. Hence, what occurred in 2014 attracted the attention of the entire international community and world public opinion. From the perspective of international law, it is controverted the legitimacy of the referendum held by the Crimean Parliament and of the annexation from the Russian Federation of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.
The Conclusion of the Council of the Union was that the referendum would be illegitimate, as it was organized in violation of the Ukrainian Constitution and under conditions that did not allow the free exercise of the right to vote by the eligible voters.
Given the principles of self-determination and the one of territorial integrity, we know that if the secession of a part of the territory to form a new state, or to merge with another state or even to incorporate into an existing state takes place with the consent of the state from which one secedes and after consultation with the local population, no particular problems of legal significance arise.
In this case, both the manner in which the referendum was held and the incidents related to it raise serious doubts of compatibility with relevant international norms.
Ukraine lodged a complaint against Moscow, this was upheld by the judges of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The charges vaulted were respectively torture, enforced disappearances, illegal detentions, raids on private homes, suppression of non-Russian media, expropriation of property without compensation and violation of ethnic and minority rights. Investigating these events backwards shows us some of the motivations that prompted the Kremlin’s Head to embark on what began as the “blitzkrieg” against Ukraine.
We have already reiterated the fact that Putin believes that his country has a “historical right” over Ukraine, “from the days of the Soviet Union”. In fact, he refers to Russia and Ukraine as “one nation”.
Crimea is still at the center of internationals debates and its strategical geographic location continues to make it attractive to neighboring countries, which does not allow it to have peace. From its story many questions arise: How have the rights of its inhabitants been so neglected? Why does Moscow continue to be deaf to the demands of the international community?
Only one certainty remains: there is nothing able to justify a compression of the rights of a man who only wishes to live free in his own homeland.