In just four months, from February to May this year, more than 230 foreigners illegally visited Russian-occupied Crimea, and most of them were citizens of Germany. Italy comes second, and Syria is third. The so-called Yalta International Economic Forum (April 19-21) brought together the largest number of "high-level" guests this year. Four years after Russia's annexation of Crimea, many pretexts were created in order to boast about international support for the occupied peninsula. Who are they, and why has the Crimean peninsula become so attractive to politicians of different levels, businesspeople, public figures, some of whom could hardly show it on the map at the first attempt before its annexation? Ukrinform selected top ten travelers to Crimea.
1. Jaromir Kohlicek, a member of the European Parliament from the Czech Republic, a representative of the Communist Party. He is a member of the Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left in the European Parliament and a member of the European Parliament's Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee.
Jaromir Kohlicek / Photo: idnes.cz
Nothing prevented him from visiting the occupied Crimea twice this year - in April and July. The MEP traveled to the peninsula together with his colleague in the Communist Party – Czech Senate deputy Jaroslav Doubrava - and a group of representatives from the Communist Party. In July, Kohlicek visited the occupied city of Sevastopol, where he attended a Russian Black Sea Fleet parade, as well as Yalta, and the Artek children's camp. After the July visit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine threatened to impose sanctions on Kohlicek and members of the "delegation," which apply to foreign nationals who grossly and systematically violate the rules of entry into occupied territories. The deputy said that he is not afraid of sanctions, since he is "an adult."
2. Another MEP, British representative Bill Etheridge, visited Crimea in April, where he took part in discussions at the so-called Yalta International Economic Forum. Etheridge is a member of the UK Independence Party and represents the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group in the European Parliament. He said in one interview that he had to come to the peninsula to tell the Britons what is happening there.
Bill Etheridge / Photo: expressandstar.com
Like Kohlicek, Etheridge demonstrated his "adult" position, but this time not about possible sanctions, but about the official position of the British government. He said that as a representative of the people, the government cannot dictate to him where to go. During his trip to Crimea, Etheridge criticized Britain's involvement in airstrikes on Syria and called for proof that Russia was behind the Salisbury poisoning attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. After returning to Britain, Etheridge, who served as a whip in his party, not only ceased to fulfill the whip's duties, but also was suspended from representing the Independence Party in the European Parliament for six months - until November.
3. Nicolas Bay, an MEP from France, the young secretary general of Marie Le Pen's National Rally, was also among the most respected guests of the so-called Yalta International Economic Forum. His statements about the need to respect the "sovereign choice of Crimeans," the lifting of sanctions, the improvement of relations between France and Russia repeatedly got the applause of the supporters of the "Russian world."
Nicolas Bay / Photo: lirelactu.fr
It is not known whether there was any reaction to Bay's trip to the occupied territory. He was unlikely criticized in in his party, since its leader herself is known for her great liking for Russia and President Putin.
Most likely, the active criticism of the actions of the president and the government - from migration policy to speed limit on the roads – was also not punished by government institutions. After all, French officials, while making trips to the peninsula, prefer to do so during their vacation, thus turning an official visit into a private one. Nobody can interfere in private life. As for his deputy mandate in the European Parliament, while communicating with the media, Bay said that although he was invited as a member of the European Parliament, he officially does not represent this body while visiting Crimea.
4. Yavor Notev, deputy chairman of the Bulgarian National Assembly, also visited Crimea in April this year, but not alone. He was accompanied by two fellow deputies, Desislav Slavov Chukolov and Margarita Nikolova, and well-known Kremlin supporter Volen Siderov, the leader of the United Patriots grouping of nationalist and far-right parties, to which Notev himself belongs.
Yavor Notev / Photo: Youtube
Yavor Notev, a member of Bulgaria's Attack right-wing radical party, which is part of the United Patriots political bloc and forms a ruling coalition together with the GERB Party. The Attack is headed by Volen Siderov. This is a "duet" that is linked not only to their affiliation with one political party. In November 2015, when Siderov was arrested for three days for participating in unrest during local elections, Notev acted as his lawyer and threatened his client would begin a hunger strike.
Notev and Siderov, who marked his 62th birthday in Crimea, while visiting the peninsula talked with journalists from Russian media outlets, predicted the inevitable recognition of the peninsula in Europe as part of Russia and criticized the EU, complaining that Bulgaria is seen as a "second-tier" country.
5. Peter Marcek, a deputy of the National Council of Slovakia, does not belong to any political party. He visited the peninsula recently, in early August, as head of a "delegation" of Slovak "investors," and promised not to return home without "at least one small contract."
Peter Marcek / Photo: radiolemberg.com
An independent MP, as well as his colleagues from other countries who visited Crimea, declared an "adult" position regarding possible sanctions from Ukraine. But speaking of "always Russian" Crimea, "Moscow's restoration of historical justice in Crimea" and the possible cessation of the war in Donbas after the change of power in Kyiv, Marcek emphasized that these were his own thoughts "as a citizen." The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine warned Marcek of the consequences of his trip to Crimea, in contrast to those members of the Slovak parliament who were invited to visit the peninsula, but after consultations with the Ukrainian Embassy in Bratislava refused such an intention.
6. Crimea visitor Markus Frohnmaier, a member of the Bundestag and the leader of the youth wing of the Alternative for Germany ultra-right party. Although he stated that he was primarily interested in economic cooperation between Germany and Russia and considered trade relations as a unifying factor that can contribute to the settlement of conflicts, he could not refrain from statements that Crimea is part of Russia and criticizing the OSCE for its refusal to send a delegation to Crimea during the Russian presidential election.
Markus Frohnmaier / Photo: freewestmedia.com
Initially, Frohnmaier warned that his visit to Yalta in April and participation in the forum was "private," but then he began to use supposedly official figures. Here are the EU's monthly losses from sanctions imposed on Russia and losses for Russian-German economic relations. He did not forget to mention Chancellor Angela Merkel's policy, in particular in the migration field. Moreover, the deputy himself is a native of Romania, who not long ago married a Russian of Asian descent, a former Izvestia journalist.
In addition to Frohnmaier, at least six deputies of different levels arrived in Crimea within the "German delegation," all of them from the Alternative for Germany party. Although representatives of the leftist parties received invitations, they declined them and stated that none of their deputies would visit the peninsula.
7. Hans-Jorg Jenewein, a deputy of the upper chamber of the Austrian parliament who represents the far-right Freedom Party. Attending a forum in Yalta last year, he was one of the few who positioned himself as an official representative, not a private visitor. Of the five representatives of the Austrian parliament invited to visit the peninsula, two of them arrived - Jenewein and a lower house deputy, lawyer Johannes Hubner, a representative of the Freedom Party. Jenewein Probably liked it, because he again visited Crimea in November 2017.
Hans-Jorg Jenewein / Photo: antimaydan.info
Hubner also visited occupied Crimea more than once. In particular, he was an observer during a "referendum" in March 2014. Jenewein was more "universal." In 2015, he was an observer at the so-called parliamentary elections in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, urging European countries to recognize the "republic."
Jenewein, Hubner and at least one deputy and vice-mayor of the Austrian city of Linz were banned from entering Ukraine due to their trips to Crimea.
8. Jacek Wilk, a deputy of the Polish Sejm, who represents the Liberty Party, a right-wing, conservative and liberal party. Wilk joined the party not so long ago - at the beginning of this year, although he is a well-known person in the political arena in Poland. In May 2015, the MP took part in the presidential election from the Congress of the New Right, but not quite successfully - taking the last but one position among eleven candidates and garnering 0.46% of the vote.
Jacek Wilk / Photo: Adam Stepien, Agencja Gazeta
He is known for his EU skepticism. He repeatedly criticized anti-Russian statements by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland and stressed the need to establish close economic cooperation with Russia. During his visit to occupied Crimea in April this year, Wilk actively promoted the idea of implementing joint projects in the field of yacht construction and tourism. It is not certainly known whether Wilk worked off specific bonuses from the Kremlin by going to the occupied territory, or did it of his own volition. But it's possible fact that the boundless love of the former Polish representative in the PACE for the "Russian world" may backfire.
9. Manuel Vescovi, an Italian senator, leader of the Toscana branch of the Northern League right-wing party of Euro-skeptics. It was Veskovi who initiated the adoption in July 2016 by the regional council of Toscana of a resolution asking the Italian government to lift sanctions on Russia. It was through the lifting of sanctions that Veskovi proposed "to build bridges, not walls." The Italian first went to Crimea as a representative of the regional parliament. He became a senator in March this year and then he participated in the Yalta meeting.
Manuel Vescovi (second from right) / Photo: forumyalta.com
Obviously, this trip did not impede the politician's career advancement politics. In general, there are a lot of Italians among Crimean travelers. In October 2016, a "delegation" of 19 people, including representatives of five regional parliaments, arrived in the peninsula from Russia. Among them were Roberto Ciambetti, president of the Regional Council of Veneto, Stefano Valdegamberi, a member of the same parliament, Jari Colla, a member of the regional parliament of Lombardy, and others. No less active are Italian businessmen. In October 2016, the Crimean peninsula was visited by seven representatives of Italian companies, accompanied by Director of the Chamber of Commerce of Veneto Gianangelo Bellati.
10. The last place in the list, for a more detailed "portrait" of travelers to Crimea, is occupied by representatives of Africa, the Middle East and South America. Although the level of representation of visitors is sometimes quite high, for example, Vice-President of Burundi Joseph Butore or Minister of Economy and Foreign Trade of Syria Mohammed Samer al-Khalil, it's still a question how their statements can influence the cancellation of sanctions or the recognition of annexation. The question is how much they were aware of the geopolitical situation around Crimea before (and after) the trip to the peninsula. The same list of casual travelers may also include, for example, MP of the Malian Parliament and Secretary General of the African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence party Oumar Mariko, member of the House of Deputies of Mexico Claudia Sofía Corichi Garcia, Mayor of the Benin City of Abomey-Calavi Georges Bada, and others.
Africans in Crimea / Photo: news.sevas.com
Olga Budnyk, Strasbourg