Ukraine vows to bring back Crimea as international leaders affirm support for Kiev – EURACTIV.com
An international summit initiated by Ukraine reaffirmed Monday (August 23) commitments to unoccupy Crimea, seven and a half years after Russian troops occupied the strategic Black Sea peninsula.
A “countdown to disoccupation” is underway, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in Kiev, urging international allies to support the effort.
Speaking at the first summit of the Crimean platform, Zelenskiy promised to “do everything possible to return Crimea, so that Crimea, along with Ukraine, becomes part of Europe”.
“For this, we will use all possible political, legal and above all diplomatic means,” Zelenskiy said, adding that Kiev needed “effective support at the international level”.
The initiative is a new consultative format launched by UUkraine, aim consolidate efforts to bring Crimea back under Ukrainian control and increase international pressure on Russia.
Senior officials from 46 countries and blocs attended the summit, including all EU members and all 30 NATO members as well as the United States.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after a military invasion, but the peninsula is internationally recognized as part of Ukraine, which wants to regain full control.
The issue “should not disappear from the international agenda for seven years,” Zelenskiy urged, adding that Ukraine had offered to focus on “practical work and coordination of efforts on very specific issues”.
According to Kiev, these would include strengthening sanctions and protecting human rights, as well as overcoming the environmental and economic consequences of the occupation, ensuring free navigation in the Black and Azov Seas.
“The occupation of the Crimean peninsula has started in Moscow, we will definitely start the desoccupation of Crimea in Kiev,” Zelenskiy said.
He called on countries to appoint representatives who will liaise with the established office of the Crimean Platform and coordinate its work.
A joint declaration, signed by the 46 summit participants, including 14 national leaders, highlighted the possibilities for Ukraine to regain full control of the peninsula.
In his closing remarks, Zelenskiy said he “clearly stipulated Russia’s non-recognition of the illegal annexation of Crimea and contained commitments to consider imposing additional political and diplomatic sanctions on Russia in the event new aggression “.
Last week, Russia imposed sanctions on Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, his deputy Emine Dzhaparova and Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council secretary Oleksiy Danylov, among others, a move Kiev has made. qualified as revenge for the organization of the forum.
Russia, although initially invited, had stressed that it would not engage in talks on a return of Crimea to Ukraine, as it sees the meeting as a provocative event and an alleged attack on Russia’s territorial integrity. .
Moscow called on participating countries to withdraw their support or give up their participation in the summit, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called a “witches’ sabbath”.
Senior Western officials at the summit reiterated their messages of support for Ukraine.
“We do not and will not recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia, we will continue to firmly apply our policy of non-recognition and we will oppose any violation of international law,” the president said. of the Council of the EU, Charles Michel. Kiev, adding that the EU’s position on the issue remains “unshakeable”.
However, the EU chief stressed that “unfortunately Russia continues to act in a way which multiplies the negative impact of annexation”.
“The continued militarization of the peninsula strongly affects the security situation in the Black Sea region. This should be reversed, ”stressed Michel.
Although participating countries sent relatively high-level representatives to Kiev, some reduced their attendance at the event. German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not attend, although she did come for a bilateral meeting with Zelenskiy.
When asked if her decision was made to please Russia, Merkel said the purpose of her visit on the eve of the meeting was “to discuss both the Minsk accords and the Normandy format” , which includes Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was due to attend the meeting but was replaced by Economy Minister Peter Altmaier “due to the current situation in Afghanistan”.
France was also represented by its Minister of the Economy.
Michel criticized the “terrible” human rights violations of citizens in Crimea and the persecution of the Crimean Tatar ethnic population “due to Russia’s efforts to forcibly integrate the peninsula into its continent”.
“The Crimean Tatars continue to be persecuted, pressured and their rights seriously violated – all of this and the ongoing destructive actions against the cultural heritage of the peninsula must stop,” he added.
The Crimean Tatars, who made up nearly 15% of Crimea’s 2.3 million inhabitants, opposed the takeover of Moscow, and around 30,000 Tatars have fled Crimea since 2014.
There are already more than a hundred political prisoners on the peninsula, some of them sentenced to prison terms ranging from 12 to 18 years, amid a relentless crackdown by the Russian authorities.
Moscow, which has banned the main representative body of the Crimean Tatars and certain religious groups considered to be Islamic terrorist organizations, has firmly rejected accusations of discrimination against the Crimean Tatars.
The summit was opened by a Ukrainian singer of Crimean Tatar descent, Susana Dzhamaladinova, known as Jamala, who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016 with a song about the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 by order of Stalin.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]