In a little more than a week, on August 23, the inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform will launch Ukraine’s new diplomatic initiative. So far, 38 countries have already confirmed participation in the event. This, as they say in sports, is a serious bet – perhaps not yet for total victory, but surely for some success on the path toward it.
What needs to be done to achieve ultimate success, that is, to put an end to Crimea occupation by Russia, is a difficult question. The answer to it, according to Ukraine’s plan, has to be found precisely through the continuous efforts of the Crimea Platform.
UKRAINE’S TACTICAL TASK AT THE CURRENT STAGE
In the recently approved Strategy for Deoccupation and Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, the Crimea Platform is assigned the role of a key foreign policy tool to achieve this goal.
The new international venue should also be a constant reminder to both the invader and the rest of the world that Ukraine has not resigned itself to the Crimea annexation attempt and is not only not going to do so, but also intends to make sure that Russia is held fully accountable for its actions.
To this end, within the framework of the Crimea Platform, negotiations will be held in five key areas, the first of which is the policy of non-recognition of Russia's attempt to annex Crimea.
Unfortunately, we must state that seven years into the illegal occupation of Crimea, the world has become accustomed to this, while some countries, albeit cautiously, in one way or another sometimes step beyond formal non-recognition.
Therefore, the loud collective reminder that Russia's crime against international order remains such seven years on, and that no country is allowed to alter the borders of another state by force, is relevant today despite the existing or potential geopolitical shifts.
According to Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, even before the official launch, the Crimea Platform is fulfilling one of its main tasks – it has already destroyed Russia's narrative claiming that the Crimea issue is "closed."
"This is exactly what the Kremlin wanted – to have everyone gradually forget about Crimea and come to terms with the status quo. To prevent this is a key tactical task of the Ukrainian state at the current stage of history," he stressed in a comment to Ukrinform.
Kuleba believes that given the already confirmed number of countries set to participate in the summit, the creation of an international expert network, and attention to the initiative of Ukrainian and foreign media, the Crimea Platform has put Crimea back on the top of the national and international agenda.
The foreign minister’s opinion, in turn, is confirmed by President's Permanent Representative to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Anton Korynevych. In his recent interview with Dom TV, he said that 22 foreign delegations had already visited the checkpoint at the de-facto border with the occupied peninsula, while none of them had come there before. That’s because Donbas remained in the main focus on the international agenda as regards the Ukrainian issue.
RUSSIA “THROWING FITS”
The chief of Ukrainian diplomacy predicted in December last year that Russia would be hindering Ukraine's attempts, by creating a Crimea Platform, to actualize the issue of illegal occupation of Crimea. Kuleba stated that this initiative this year would be one of the epicenters of Russia's hybrid war against Ukraine.
In a comment to Ukrinform, the minister confirmed he was right in his prediction.
"You can't imagine how much effort Russian diplomats and agents around the world have been making, trying to discredit the Crimea Platform or disrupt participation of other countries," the minister said. "I can't name specific countries, but sometimes it's about outright blackmail, when а Russian ambassador to country X comes to the local foreign ministry and openly ‘stomps his feet’ there, threatening ‘consequences’ for the country agreeing to participate in the Summit."
Members of the Media Initiative for Human Rights nonprofit, who have been studying the evolution of the Kremlin's response to the Ukrainian initiative, also concluded that the platform had justified itself in advance simply because, for the first time in the history of the Crimea issue since 2014, it’s not Ukraine who has to react but Russia.
"It’s not Ukrainian officials who are rushing in all directions, voicing contradictory statements, first claiming that this is a “sham event” and a “Sabbath," then vowing to declare war in return. From this perspective, the Crimea Platform has already succeeded in mobilizing the international community to support the policy of non-recognition of the Crimea annexation attempt and forcing Ukraine to define its own policy on Crimea and improve legislation (although the latter is still in progress), as well as forced Russia to react, that is, to convulsively invent answers, each of which is worse than the previous one,” the NGO wrote in their report early June.
At the same time, the foreign minister has assured that Ukrainian diplomats are not sitting idly by, while Russia is trying to prevent the number of participants in the Crimea Platform Summit from increasing. Instead, diplomats are fending these attempts off in their host countries and their Kyiv HQ.
"After all, we are not new to this matter – Russia has long been making similar efforts at the UN and other international organizations when the Crimea issue was considered. Nevertheless, over more than seven years of occupation, a wide range of foreign partners have consistently reaffirmed their support for Ukraine. It will be the same with the Crimea Platform,” Kuleba is convinced.
PRO-ACTIVE PARTNERS COULD TAKE THE HELM OF KEY DIRECTIONS
A number of foreign diplomats accredited in Ukraine have already expressed strong support for the initiative ahead of the Crimea Platform summit.
"[W]e know that more needs to be done to hold Russia to account (for the Crimea annexation attempt – ed.) And this is why the United States is a strong supporter of the Crimea Platform. And we will work closely with the Government of Ukraine to support it," said U.S. Embassy Chargé d'Affaires a.i. Kristina Kvien, who addressed the inaugural forum of the Crimea Platform Expert Network.
In turn, British Ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, said a return to normal relations with Russia was impossible as long as the latter continued to destabilize Ukraine and hold its territory. The ambassador has also called for continued international pressure on Russia.
At the same time, Eskender Bariev, member of the Crimean Tatar People's Mejlis and head of the Crimean Tatar Resource Center, points out that even among the partners who have already confirmed their participation in the Crimea Platform summit, the approach to its operations is "ambiguous."
"Some countries are ready to be more specific and take tougher measures to support Ukraine, while some states seek to be more diplomatic in the issue of Crimea deoccupation," he told Ukrinform.
In this case, the Foreign Ministry has its own action plan. According to the Foreign Minister, Ukraine is working to establish permanent coordination mechanisms of the Crimean Platform in all key areas: non-recognition policy, sanctions, security, human rights, environmental and economic issues related to the Russian occupation.
"We call on the most pro-active partners to take the lead in each of these key areas," Kuleba said.
TENTATIVE OPTIMISM AND HOPE
When Ukrinform asked Eskander Bariev if he was aware about the attitude to the Crimea Platform in the occupied Crimea, he first mentioned the inscription that recently appeared along the highway leading to Simferopol: "We are waiting for the Crimea Platform."
He said Ukrainians living in the occupied Crimea had long been waiting for more concrete actions on the part of both Ukraine and international partners.
At the same time, the member of the Mejlis noted that not all Crimean residents dare to talk about it in the face of possible repercussions from the occupying power. In this context, he recalled that the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation had recently toughened responsibility for public calls for extremism.
"That is, from the standpoint of Russian law, involvement, in this case, with the Crimea Platform could be seen as not just a call for encroachment on Russia’s integrity, but as participation in such encroachment," he explained.
Another Crimea woman, who spoke with Ukrinform, noted that, in her experience, the woke part of the population in the occupied peninsula is interested in the Crimea Platform, while mediocre residents aren’t really aware of political processes so they might not even be aware.
"For the Crimea people to turn their heads towards Ukraine, it must become an economically strong self-sufficient state," the interlocutor has told Ukrinform.
She herself is tentatively optimistic about the initiative.
"Time will show. I believe its success depends equally on Ukraine’s actions and the pressure on the part of international partners. But even this may not be enough to bring the occupation of Crimea to an end – certain favorable conditions have yet to be created," the woman shared her opinion.
THE PROCESS HAS STARTED. AND MORE IS YET TO COME
At the same time, the chief of the Crimean Tatar Resource Center unequivocally declares that "the process has started," and promises to keep working so that it grows like a snowball and yields actual results.
In this sense, Bariev believes the Crimea Platform has a task of becoming more than "just a forum where a charter or declaration is adopted" and to operate consistently after the Summit is over.
"I think our further actions are a synergy of efforts of the expert community from all countries along with government and parliament officials aiming to make sure that in any country supporting the Crimea Platform, legislators could pass decisions by means of which we could bring the end of the occupation closer," he says.
According to Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's serious and systematic attitude to the deoccupation of Crimea, not only at the international but also at the national level, should be evidenced by the launch of the Crimea Platform Office, which President Volodymyr Zelensky will present to the foreign guests of the Summit on August 23.
"I believe this is a very right and fair thing because in this way we are sending a signal to our partners: when Ukraine calls on you to act together, it’s not just asking for support. We are working every day to resolve the problems of the Russian occupation of Crimea and finally restore international rights, returning the peninsula under Ukraine’s control," says the foreign minister.
Despite certain reservations, generally optimistic forecasts about the Crimea Platform were expressed by the media, as well as Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, Refat Chubarov, and leader of the Crimean Tatar people, Mustafa Dzhemilev.
"The Russians are avoiding discussions on Crimea in an ultimative form. So the very existence of the Crimea Platform will be one of the mechanisms that will not only get on Russia’s nerves but also produce ideas and actions that could turn into something systemic and wholesome," Chubarov said in an interview with the Apostrophe outlet.
Meanwhile, Eskander Bariev is convinced that, with the help of the Crimea Platform, "we will see our true friends with whom we can develop joint actions in the field of economy, finance, human rights, etc. to put pressure on the occupier."
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who chairs the organizing committee for the preparation of the Crimea Platform Inaugural Summit, doesn’t hide his confidence that Ukraine’s diplomatic initiative will become a venue that will develop tools to contribute to bringing the occupation of Crimea to an end.
"As people say, the dogs bark but the caravan moves on. There’s no doubt that this caravan will arrive in Ukrainian Crimea sooner or later. And the participants of the last summit of the Crimea Platform will definitely snap a family picture by the columns of the Ukrainian Chersonesus (a cultural and historical heritage site in Crimea – ed.),” Kuleba projects.
And although no one is able to name the date when this may happen, we all know that the long road begins with the first step.
On the way to the deoccupation of Crimea, such a step will be made on August 23.
Nadiia Yurchenko, Kyiv
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