Crimea has a special history. Until the late 18th century it belonged to a Turkic people, the Crimean Tatars, whose khans were allied with Ottoman Turkey. The Khanate was conquered by Russia in 1776, and annexed to the Russian Empire by Empress Catherine II in 1783. Many Russian colonists settled in Crimea, while many Crimean Tatars emigrated.
In 1921 the Soviet leadership made Crimea an autonomous republic (ASSR) within Russia (the RSFSR). However, the cultural autonomy of the Crimean Tatars was suppressed under Stalin.
In 1944 the whole Crimean Tatar population was deported to Central Asia on suspicion of disloyalty. Many died on the way. In 1945 Crimea was made an ordinary province of Russia.
Then in 1954, after Stalin’s death, Khrushchev transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine, on the grounds that its economy was more closely connected to Ukraine.
Crimean Tatars return to homeland
For many years the Crimean Tatars campaigned for the right to return to their homeland. But it was only in the late 1980s, under Gorbachev, that they were finally allowed to return. Others had long since occupied the land and houses where they used to live, so they established makeshift settlements. The return of Crimean Tatars caused alarm among the Slavic (Russian and Ukrainian) population of Crimea, who feared that they would be dispossessed.
Disputes over land on the southern coast of the peninsula sparked violent ethnic clashes in 2004.
Besides the land question, there are other contentious issues, such as the political representation of the Crimean Tatars and the status of their language.
Other confrontations have been triggered by police attempts to remove Crimean Tatar settlements and by criminals killing Crimean Tatar traders for refusing to pay protection money.
Tensions between Simferopol and Kyiv
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the establishment of an indepdendent Ukrainian state, another aspect of the Crimean problem involved relations between the regional authorities in Crimea’s capital Simferopol and the central government in Kyiv.
In the early 1990s Crimea had a special autonomous status within Ukraine. Crimea was the only region of Ukraine where Russians formed a large majority—about two-thirds of the population. Many Russians thought that the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954 was unjustified, and wanted to see Crimea either again part of Russia or a separate republic with close ties to both Russia and Ukraine. Neither of these options was acceptable to the majority of Ukrainians.
Tension between Simferopol and Kyiv rose following the 1994 election of secessionist Yuri Meshkov as Crimea’s president. However, Meshkov did not take decisive steps to secede from Ukraine. This was partly the result of conflict between Meshkov and other local pro-Russian politicians, but the crucial factor was probably the unwillingness of the Russian government to back Meshkov.
Ukrainian parliament reasserts Kyiv’s control
In 1995, the Ukrainian parliament reasserted Kyiv’s control over Crimea, annulling the constitution that Crimea had adopted in 1992 and abolishing the Crimean presidency. By overreaching, the Crimean authorities lost most of the prerogatives that they previously enjoyed.
In 1995-96, the Ukrainian and Crimean governments and parliaments succeeded in negotiating a mutually acceptable solution. A new constitution adopted by the Crimean parliament in November 1995 was amended to bring it into accordance with the Ukrainian constitution, and in June 1996 the Ukrainian parliament reaffirmed Crimea’s status as an autonomous republic within Ukraine.
Role of OSCE
The OSCE, which hosted a conference on Crimea in Locarno (Switzerland) in June 1995, played an important mediating and advisory role in resolving the dispute. Conflict prevention with regard to Crimea was the main mandate of the OSCE Mission to Ukraine, which monitored the situation in the country from 1994 to 1999. In 1999, with the improvement of inter-ethnic relations, the OSCE and Ukraine agreed to close the OSCE Mission to Ukraine and established “the OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine ” to develop programs in support of democratization.
Recent projects include:
- A review of legislation to bring it into line with international human rights standards
- Support to the office of the Ombudsman
- Assistance to the judiciary
- Media freedom
- Military reform
L-r: Lubomir Kopaj, OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine, Yuriy Kluchkovskyy, member of the Ukrainian parliament and Oleksandr Chupakhin, member of Central Election Commission of Ukraine at a conference in Kyiv, November 29, 2010. (OSCE/Oksana Polyuga)
Ukrainian armed forces personnel helped remove the last melange from the Kalynivka storage site in the Vinnytsya region of Ukraine in January 2010. (OSCE/Leonid Kalashnyk)
The OSCE implemented its largest donor-funded project to date in removing toxic rocket fuel components called melange from Ukraine. The most recent train with 760 tons of melange was shipped from Ukraine to Russia for disposal in September 2013. The project was funded by the U.S., Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Spain and Sweden. The last of the 16,000 tons of melange was removed in March 2014. See final press release.
Tatars' reintegration faces additional challenges after Crimea's annexation by Russia
Reintegration of the Crimean Tatars in Crimea remains problematic. The new constitutional arrangements adopted in Crimea in 1995 were a step backward, as Crimean Tatars lost the representation that they were previously guaranteed in the Crimean parliament.
After the Orange Revolution, a power-sharing agreement marked a step forward in interethnic relations in Crimea, providing Crimean Tatars with two local ministerial posts as well as the position of deputy prime minister. The agreement also provided for the establishment of native-language media.
The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People worked to restore the national and political rights of the Crimean Tatar people. Representatives from the Mejlis met with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and asked his office to research and prepare recommendations on the restoration of the rights of the Crimean Tatar people. The research results were presented at the 2013 International Forum on Restoration of Rights of the Crimean Tatar people to their Homeland.
Political realignment add to inter-ethnic tensions
The Party of Regions entered into an alliance with Russian nationalists in Crimea in 2006, strengthened by support from central government authorities after Yanukovych became prime minister in 2010 and then president. The Russian nationalists justification and/or denial of the 1944 ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars has increased Tatar-Russian tensions.
Crimean Tatars are praying in the center of Simferopol during a meeting devoted to the 59th anniversary of deportation of the Crimean Tatars from Crimea. 18 May 2003. (©AP/Wide World Photo SSR. EPA Photo EPA/ Sergey Svetlitskiy/sd)
Russia's annexation of the Crimea in March 2014 (see below) put the Tatar's, who genrally aligned themselves with Ukraine, in an uncomfortable position.
Situation of national minorities in Crimea
The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities published a needs assessment report titled "The Integration of Formerly Deported People in Crimea, Ukraine" in August 2013. The report provided an analysis of the situation of national minorities in Crimea and offered recommendations for easing inter-ethnic tensions and increasing the integration of Crimean society, as well as attempts to raise awareness of the issue.
Ukraine Foreign Minister Kozhara, then OSCE CiO, stated in September 2013 that while the report (and its recommendations) might be correct under European law, they were not correct under Ukrainian law.
Anti-Tatar violence in Crimea
Anti-Tatar attacks on Mosques and Muslim religious sites have taken place in Crimea, such as the arson of two mosques in October 2013. A settlement of Tatars who had been squatting in Molodojnoc, outside of Simferopol, was attacked by a mob in 2012. There were no arrests for any of these crimes.
Yanukovych's downfall leads to Russian annexation of Crimea
Responding to the change of authority in Kyiv, pro-Russian groups moved to seize power in Crimea. By the end of February 2014, Russian military forces had taken effective control of the Crimean peninsula. The pro-Russian Crimean parliament voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia, and held a referendum March 16 with 97% in favor of joining Russia. Russia's parliament had already expressed willingness to accept the predictable results of the referendum, i.e., to join Russia. Putin signed an order to approve the draft treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Crimea on adopting the Republic of Crimea into the Russian Federation. Ukraine's Acting President Turchynov termed the referendum illegitimate and unconstitutional, and said Ukraine would never accept Russian annexation of Crimea.
The UN Security Council met on the situation in Ukraine. Deputy UN Secretary General Eliasson visited Kyiv to assess the situation.
OSCE CiO Burkhalter sent his Special Representative for Ukraine Guldimann and High Commissioner on National Minorities Thors to Crimea. See report on Personal Envoy Guldimann's press conference. CiO Burkhalter stated on March 11 that the Crimean referendum was illegal in its current form and called for alternative ways to address the Crimean issue.
Ambassador Tim Guldimann, Personal Envoy of the Swiss OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Ukraine, briefing OSCE participating States and senior OSCE officials, Vienna, 3 March 2014. (OSCE, Jonathan Perfect)
Eighteen OSCE participating states sent 35 unarmed military observers to Ukraine, destination Crimea, at the request of the Ukrainian government, as a confidence-building measure under Chapter 11 of the 2011 Vienna Document. This was the first time this OSCE mechanism had been activated. This step was taken at a joint meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council and Forum for Security Cooperation on March 4. The observers were prevented from entering Crimea by armed groups (Russian military personnel without insignia or militias controlled by Russia) who controlled the entry points to the Crimean peninsula.
UNGA dismisses annexation as illegal
Resolution has no enforcement power
The UN General Assembly adopted in March 2014 a resolution proposed by Ukraine and backed by the U.S. and EU, with 100 votes in favor, 11 votes against, and 59 abstentions, describing the referendum in Crimea as having no legal validity and calling on states not to recognize the change in Ukraine's borders.
Putin visits Crimea
Russian President Putin visited Sevastapol in Crimea May 9 to attend a Victory Day parade commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany, underlining the annexation of the territory by Russia.
Economic Relations of Crimea since annexation
President Poroshenko signed a law on economic operations in Crimea on August 14, 2014. This law created a free customs zone within the free economic zone of Crimea. The free economic zone is created without agreeing it with the relevant local government or executive power agencies. National taxes and duties are not collected on the territory of the free economic zone. Goods which were made, processed or were in free turnover on the occupied territory of Ukraine until the law on ensuring the rights and freedoms of citizens are considered goods with a Ukrainian status that can be freely moved to other territory of Ukraine without the application of the tariff and non-tariff regulation of foreign economic operations until January 1, 2015. This guarantees the protection of property and non-property rights of individuals and companies on the territory of the free economic zone of Crimea according to Ukrainian law.
Implications of annexation of Crimea
Most powerful fleet on the Black Sea
Russia now has unfettered use of Sevastapol and other bases on the peninsula, their shipyards and defense industry, and whatever it wanted of the Ukrainian Navy. This gives Russia the most powerful fleet on the Black Sea. In addition, Russian Navy Commander Chirkov has stated that thirty new warships will be added to the Black Sea Fleet over the next six years.
Extension of Russia's maritime boundary in the Black Sea
Russia can claim a vastly greater exclusive economic zone with potential gas and oil resources, while depriving Ukraine of possible energy independence.
Incoming President Poroshenko asserts Ukraine will never accept Russian annexation of Crimea
Poroshenko reiterated at his June 2014 inauguration as Ukraine's president that "Russia occupied Crimea, which was, is and will be Ukrainian soil." This sentiment has been mirrored by Ukraine’s Prime Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who urges “there could be no slightest way of normalizing or getting back to business in the relations between Ukraine and Russia without returning to status quo and establishing full Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea.”
International recognition of Crimea
The majority of the international community has vehemently rejected Russia’s annexation of Crimea as illegitmate, and consider Crimea an administrative division of Ukraine. UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262 entitled “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine” was supported by 100 UN member states (11 rejected, 58 abstaining) and seeks to uphold Ukraine’s territorial integrity and denounces Russia’s annexation of Crimea as illegitimate. This resolution was adopted on March 27, 2014.
UNESCO has confirmed Crimea as part of Ukraine. In October 2014, the agency voted with 22 out of the 25 member countries (Russia, China, and Cuba rejecting) to approve non-recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The European Union also maintains a policy of non-recognition towards Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The EU has denounced pro-Russian violence in Ukraine from inception, and has condemned the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity by Russia.
Still, others consider Crimea to be under a Russian federal district. On March 17, 2014, shortly after Crimea’s vote for integration into Russia, President Vladimir Putin signed an order officially recognizing Crimea as a sovereign and independent state.