INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Putin admits military takeover of Crimea in 2014
, March 28, 2015
A little over a year ago, Crimea was incorporated into Russia following what was said to be a spontaneous uprising by the people of Crimea against Ukraine and a referendum on union with Russia organised by the Supreme Council of Crimea.
There was an overwhelming referendum vote in favour of union.
Crimea has been part of Ukraine since 1954. It had earlier been part of Russia, but was transferred to Ukrainian control during the Soviet era because it has an extensive land border with Ukraine, but none with Russia itself.
From the time of Stalin’s forced deportation of the Crimean Tatars in the 1940s, it has been predominantly ethnically Russian.
Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1989-90, Ukraine became an independent nation.
Russia guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the 1994 Budapest Declarations, promising to respect Ukraine’s control over Crimea. In turn, Ukraine agreed to relinquish its nuclear weapons and permit a large Russian naval base to remain within Crimea.
After the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, was forced by popular protests to resign in February 2014, he fled to Russia, and almost simultaneously, armed militias seized control of Crimea, and declared Crimea independent of Ukraine.
At the time, President Vladimir Putin claimed that Russia had no hand in the Crimean unrest. On March 4, 2014, he told journalists that the idea of annexing Crimea “is not being considered”.
Two weeks later, after Crimea had effectively been annexed, Putin gave a major address to members of the Russian State Duma (Parliament) in the Kremlin.
Mr Putin declared that the former Ukrainian president had been overthrown by neo-Nazis and anti-Semites, and that, in response, the people of Crimea has spontaneously risen up against the Ukrainian government.
He said, “Russia’s Armed Forces never entered Crimea; they were there already in line with an international agreement.…
“Those who opposed the coup were immediately threatened with repression. Naturally, the first in line here was Crimea, the Russian-speaking Crimea. In view of this, the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and lives, in preventing the events that were unfolding and are still underway in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkov and other Ukrainian cities.
“Naturally, we could not leave this plea unheeded; we could not abandon Crimea and its residents in distress. This would have been betrayal on our part.
“First, we had to help create conditions so that the residents of Crimea for the first time in history were able to peacefully express their free will regarding their own future.”
A referendum controlled by the pro-Russian Supreme Council of Crimea, with opponents silenced, voted overwhelmingly for independence from Ukraine.
Putin added, “I will state clearly — if the Crimean local self-defence units had not taken the situation under control, there could have been casualties as well.”
He added, “We have always respected the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian state.”
However, in an interview given this year, marking the first anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, Putin told a very different story.
A short promotional video for a forthcoming feature movie, Homeward Bound, showed Putin being interviewed about the Crimean crisis.
The Russian president recounted that he had held a meeting of his national security leadership on February 23, 2014, to discuss the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, which had led to the resignation of President Yanukovich.
Putin authorised Russian military and security forces “to save the Ukrainian president’s life”. He added, “As we were parting, I told all my colleagues: ‘We will have to start work to return Crimea to Russia’.”
Copies of the video are on the web site of Radio Free Europe.
Within days, people wearing military uniforms, but without military insignias, had occupied all the key buildings in Crimea, surrounded Ukrainian military barracks in the region, and blockaded Ukrainian naval vessels in the port of Sevastopol.
On instructions from the Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian military did not fight back, and eventually were evacuated from Crimea.
In further confirmation of Russia’s direct military role in the annexation of Crimea, Radio Free Europe, an authoritative source of information on East European affairs, reported that the medals that the Russian military awarded to service personnel — whom Putin had denied were involved in the Crimea annexation at all — says the operation “for the return of Crimea” began on February 20, 2014.
Putin adviser Vladislav Surkov was in Crimea the week before then, and the first pro-Russian demonstrations on the peninsula materialised on February 21, 2014.
All this shows that Putin orchestrated the annexation of Crimea, despite his repeated claims to the contrary. His responsibility for the continuing war in Eastern Ukraine and in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in Eastern Ukraine, cannot be doubted.