Anton Korynevych, Permanent Representative of President of Ukraine in Autonomous Republic of Crimea: INTERVIEW

Platform for de-occupation of Crimea may initially be created without Russia

02.06.2020 15:30

Although Russia would try to claim that the “Crimea issue is closed,” the occupation of the peninsula and related issues remain the focus of both the Ukrainian state and the international community. This issue is considered at meetings of the governing bodies of international organizations, primarily the UN and the OSCE, and in international judicial institutions. At the same time, Ukraine still does not have an official document on the strategy for the de-occupation of Crimea. There is no respective format for discussions such as “Minsk” or “Normandy” for Donbas.

Ukrinform spoke with Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea Anton Korynevych to discuss the situation with key aspects of the de-occupation of the peninsula, as well as sanctions, water supply, Russia’s obstruction of navigation through the Kerch Strait, access for international organizations, and the COVID-19 pandemic in Crimea.


Question: Does Ukraine have a strategy for the de-occupation of Crimea?

Answer: The Representative Office of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea clearly understands that such a strategy is extremely necessary. It’s not very good that seven years have passed since the occupation of Crimea but Ukraine still does not have a single strategy to regain control over the peninsula.

The president’s office in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea has currently managed to resume the process of developing this strategy together with colleagues from the Ministry for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories and the National Security and Defense Council. A working group, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, has already been set up at the ministry. Its main task is to develop a strategy for the de-occupation and reintegration of temporarily occupied territories.

At the same time, we need to understand that some developments in this regard exist in different bodies and ministries: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs writes a draft of its part, the reintegration ministry has its own set of issues, and the president’s representative office has its own set of issues. Now we need to bring it all together.

The strategy is needed, and there are no other points of view. In addition, it is clear to all parties involved that part of this strategy must be open and public so that people can see what the state is doing to return the temporarily occupied territories and the people who live there. But, of course, much of it must be closed and secret, especially when it comes to security issues.

Therefore, the process has been resumed. I hope and believe that we will finish it because it is really important to us.

Question: Are there any approximate time frames?

Answer: I would not like to say anything about time frames, but my colleagues and I believe that it would be good to have this de-occupation strategy this year.


Question: The issue of Russia’s occupation of Crimea is raised at various international platforms, especially in the OSCE, but there is no separate format for discussing its termination. How can this situation be changed?

Answer: Of course, this is an important issue. The president has recently talked about it at his big press conference. It is really difficult to discuss the issue of ending the occupation of Crimea at the existing platforms. This was also noted by the deputy prime minister and minister for reintegration of temporarily occupied territories and the foreign minister of Ukraine, and we in the representative office also share this opinion.

We need to introduce a separate platform for Crimea. I think now is a good time, as well as the shared vision and desire of key stakeholders, to raise this issue. At the same time, there is an understanding that in the beginning this platform, this format, may not include the Russian Federation. But it is important to start the process.


Question: Are the current Crimea-related sanctions against Russia effective?

Answer: They work – both Ukrainian and international. Of course, everyone would like to see immediate positive changes after the introduction of sanctions. But the situation is a little different here. Sanctions work, but they should be constantly strengthened and in no way allowed to be eased.

Question: Isn’t it time to transform the Crimea-related sanctions package in accordance with the new situation and ongoing violations by the occupying state? Is there any readiness for this on the part of Ukraine’s leadership? Do you see it among our international partners?

Answer: I am sure that the package of sanctions on Crimea should be tightened. A new package of Ukrainian sanctions against Russian cultural and scientific institutions for illegal activities in Crimea has recently been introduced. That is why the issue of tightening sanctions is on the agenda.

The president’s office in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is currently working on the introduction of certain restrictions against individuals and legal entities involved in violations of international law and legislation of Ukraine committed in the territory of the temporarily occupied Crimea. We hope that our foreign partners will also tighten the sanctions regime. I think many of them are ready to do so.


Question: Russia continues to impede free navigation to the Ukrainian ports of Berdiansk and Mariupol. What are the prospects for the introduction of international monitoring of freedom of navigation through the Kerch Strait?

Answer: As of April 2020, delays last an average of 17 hours for ships moving from the Black Sea to the ports of the Sea of Azov. On the way back – from Mariupol or Berdiansk to the Black Sea – these delays last on average 20 hours. Therefore, the problem of obstruction of free navigation by the Russian Federation is really serious.

Of course, we say that we consider it appropriate to introduce international monitoring and ensure the presence of ships of our partner countries, in particular NATO countries, in the Kerch Strait in order to monitor the situation during the passage of the strait.

Monitoring by our partner countries would be effective. So far, it has been carried out more by civil society – some expert organizations in Ukraine that deal with Crimea.


Question: The maritime border between Ukraine and Russia – in the Black and Azov Seas and the Kerch Strait – has not yet been established. What measures under international law can be taken to establish a maritime border with Russia? How can Russia be prevented from turning the Black and Azov Seas into “Russian lakes”?

Answer: Crimea is the territory of Ukraine. In view of this, Ukraine considers the sea areas around Crimea to be its own. That is right, and so it is for the international community. The occupier, the Russian Federation, takes a “slightly different” approach, to put it mildly. I think this issue is more within the competence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, which deals with border issues and relevant agreements.

The maritime border with Russia has really not been established, and it is necessary to take all possible measures to establish it. It is possible that the procedures provided for in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea can be used here. But this is a difficult issue that needs to be analyzed in detail by all the bodies involved.

As for the Sea of Azov, according to the relevant agreement, the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait are the internal historical waters of the two states, and therefore, in fact, there is no border there. Accordingly, if this issue is to be resolved, it is necessary to raise the issue of the validity of certain international agreements.


Question: Will Ukraine resume water supply to the occupied peninsula? How realistic is the scenario of a Russian military offensive on mainland Ukraine in order to gain access to water supply? Recently, U.S. think tank The Jamestown Foundation has not ruled out the possibility of such a scenario. They say the Kremlin can take advantage of the moment when the whole world is focused on the coronavirus pandemic and carry out the offensive, showing it as a “humanitarian action”?

Answer: Ukraine is not planning to resume water supply to the territory of the temporarily occupied Crimean peninsula. This will be done only when the territory is de-occupied.

We in the Representative Office of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, while communicating with all state bodies, constantly emphasize the impossibility of water supply to Crimea. They all know our position, and no agency has spoken differently about it.

If other positions were heard somewhere, they were most likely due to thoughtlessness or lack of understanding of the issue. At a serious level, no one in Ukraine is talking about the resumption of water supplies to Crimea.

Regarding possible provocations from the Russian Federation. The issue of restoring water supply is constantly raised in Russia and the occupied Crimea. We see all this information about possible military and security threats, but so far everything is as it is.

Water supply is one of the issues that the occupying state cannot solve on its own as of now, both financially and technically. And here it is important not to succumb to pressure and not to comply with Russian requirements.


Question: With the help of cynical deception, Russia is avoiding the implementation of a ruling of the International Court of Justice on resuming the activities of the Mejlis and education in the Ukrainian language in Crimea. Are there mechanisms to make Russia comply with the ruling?

Answer: Yes, this is a big problem. It is already the fourth year since the adoption of the order on provisional measures of the International Court of Justice dated April 19, 2017. Russia did not implement both of the provisional measures – it did not ensure the resumption of Ukrainian-language education in Crimea and did not remove the status of “extremist organization” from the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, further banning its activities in Crimea.

Everything is bad with Ukrainian-language education in general. In fact, there is no Ukrainian language as such in any Crimean school. This is an element of erasing the national identity of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars in Crimea. This is a kind of mechanism for creating a Soviet citizen – he or she remembers his or her origin, culture, traditions somewhere but does not associate himself or herself with Ukraine or the Crimean Tatar people.

The same happens with the Mejlis: warnings are constantly issued to its members who are in Crimea, and criminal cases are opened against individual members.

That is, the Russian Federation does not comply at all with the order of the International Court of Justice on provisional measures. What can be done here?

First and foremost, we need to seek justice in international courts. This strategy seems right to me. Ukraine should use international law because it is on our side.

The International Court of Justice last November recognized its jurisdiction over both conventions under which Ukraine sued Russia. Now the trial on the merits begins. It is important. And all these things should be included in Ukraine’s portfolio for further action on the international stage.

In particular, I would like to point out the support of the Ukrainian authorities for internally displaced persons, in particular Crimean Tatars, and cooperation with the Mejlis. The president has recently met with representatives of the Crimean Tatar people, and this meeting was attended by almost all members of the Mejlis who are in government-controlled territory. This issue is actually very important to the state.


Question: What is the current situation with access for international human rights and humanitarian missions to Russian-occupied Crimea, in particular the OSCE SMM?

Answer: We constantly emphasize that international monitoring missions, especially those working within international intergovernmental organizations such as the UN and the OSCE – the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine – should have access to the territory of Crimea. Legally, they have it because their mandate extends to the entire territory of Ukraine, including Crimea. However, the physical access of the missions is blocked by the occupying state, which says: ‘We are ready to grant access to Crimea but according to Russian law.’

Of course, no monitoring mission working under the umbrella of an international intergovernmental organization will do so. This is absolutely clear and correct. International monitoring missions must arrive in Crimea in accordance with the provisions of Ukrainian legislation.

I think Ukraine is doing the right thing, emphasizing at all possible platforms the need for international human rights monitoring missions to be granted access to the occupied Crimea. We need to understand the situation on the ground, talk to people, see the families of political prisoners, and so on. But, of course, all this must happen in accordance with the legislation of Ukraine as a sovereign state.


Question: The coronavirus epidemic is now raging in Russia. Is there any information on the situation with the spread of the virus in the occupied Crimea?

Answer: Everything is really bad there but there are certain things that seem most glaring.

First, conscription into the armed forces of the occupying power continues despite the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a real threat to the lives of our citizens in Crimea and a serious violation of international humanitarian law, not to mention that the draft itself is illegal – Ukraine is talking about it at various platforms, including the OSCE.

Second, the Russian Federation considers the Crimean peninsula as a territory for placing an infirmary for military with COVID-19 from the Russian Federation. To this end, a special hospital has already been built in Sevastopol in Omega Bay exclusively for the military infected with coronavirus. While construction continues, the Russians use the hospital ship Yenisei of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which did not go to sea for years and has now been reequipped for servicemen with COVID-19. We see this as creating an additional threat to the sanitary situation in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine.

Third, in the context of COVID-19, the situation with Ukrainian citizens illegally detained by the occupation authorities should also be considered. We have a lot of information that in places where they are held – both in Crimea and in the Russian Federation – sanitary, hygienic and anti-epidemiological measures are often not observed.

Fourth, in the occupied Crimea, there are traditionally problems in the medical sphere: few doctors, bad drugs or their shortage, closure of hospitals.

And fifth, illegal flights from Russia to the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea do not stop. On these flights, Russian citizens can and do bring this dangerous virus to the temporarily occupied Crimea.

The cherry on the cake is that parades “in honor of the 75th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War” will take place in Sevastopol, Simferopol and Kerch on June 24. This is a crowd of civilians, military. In less than a month. And we don’t think the coronavirus pandemic and threat will go down to zero in late June.

Vasyl Korotkyi, Vienna

Photo credit: Olena Khudiakova, Ukrinform


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