How Ukraine Annexed Crimea. A Frank Conversation with Nikki Haley
A bit of recent history to set the record straight.
By Arina Tsukanova
First appeared on Strategic Culture.org
The White House supported Haley’s statement on the need for Crimea to be returned to Ukraine, and the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, stated during a briefing that: «With respect to the sanctions, I think Ambassador Haley made it very clear of our concern with Russia’s occupation of Crimea. I think she spoke very forcefully and clearly on that».
It is interesting that Mrs Haley was speaking about the territory of Crimea rather than the people. I wonder how this American imagines the «return» of the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine – with the people or without them? It’s a pity that this question has remained unanswered.
Do the Crimean people regard themselves as Ukrainian? And does Nikki Haley know the answer to this most important question? It is unlikely that the US ambassador to the UN wants to move the people out of Crimea so that she can give the peninsula back to Ukraine. Especially as she would have to move not only the living, but also the dead, since the ‘Ukrainian’ history of Crimea is very short, around a quarter of a century. It is surprising that the citizen of a country whose constitution begins with the words «We the people of the United States…» is doing everything to avoid a conversation at the level of «We the people of Crimea…» But everything really does look different from that position.
From the point of view of the people who live on the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine annexed Crimea in 1991, grossly violating the rules of international law. Crimea became part of independent Ukraine illegally, and repeated attempts by the Crimean people to redress this injustice met with opposition from Kiev.
In order to see this, Nikki Haley just needs to be made aware of a few facts.
In 1990, the Parliament of the Ukrainian SSR adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty, which hid behind the words «Expressing the will of the people of Ukraine…» and spoke of a new state being established within the existing boundaries of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic based on the Ukrainian nation’s right to self-determination. But did the Ukrainian nation have the right to self-determination in Crimea if the number of Ukrainians on the peninsula made up only 25.8 percent of the population?
The answer is obvious – no, it did not. This was the first step in the annexation of Crimea by the Ukrainian state, which, at that point, was the Ukrainian SSR separate from the Soviet Union.
On 20 January 1991, the first Crimean referendum was held on the restoration of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic as a subject of the USSR and as a party to the Union Treaty. (Between 1921 and 1945, the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was part of the RSFSR.) With a high turnout of 81.37 percent, 93.26 percent of the Crimean population voted in favour of restoring autonomy. On 12 February 1991, the restoration of the Crimean ASSR was confirmed by law: the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR accepted the results of the referendum. The Crimean people were clearly self-determining, and this self-determination differed hugely from the self-determination of the Ukrainian nation.
So what did the Ukrainian state do next? On 24 August 1991, the Supreme Court of the Ukrainian SSR, again on the basis of self-determination, declared the independence of Ukraine, arbitrarily identifying the Crimean ASSR as a territory of the newly established state. By doing so, the founders of Ukraine ignored a law requiring a separate referendum to be held in Crimea on the Crimean ASSR’s status within Ukraine. This was done deliberately, since Kiev knew perfectly well that the people of Crimea would never vote in favour of becoming part of Ukraine. At the same time, a huge scam to manipulate history was being prepared: on 1 December 1991, a referendum was held illegally in the Crimean ASSR that did not deal with the issue of Crimea’s status, but retroactively confirmed the Ukrainian Declaration of Independence in the autonomous republic. Moreover, anyone who had ever stepped foot on the peninsula was allowed to vote. This was to make it seem as if the Crimean people supported Ukrainian independence when, for the most part, they actually boycotted the referendum. In this underhand way, Ukraine took its second step towards the annexation of Crimea.
The Crimean ASSR did not agree with the Ukrainian con artists, however. From the start of 1992, the number of protests began to increase – the Crimean people were outraged at the deception and demanded secession from Ukraine. Under pressure from the people, the Supreme Soviet of Crimea adopted the Act of State Independence of the Republic of Crimea, approved its own constitution, and passed a resolution to hold a referendum on 2 August 1992. It was another step towards the self-determination that those Crimeans who felt no connection to the Ukrainian nation were perfectly lawfully and legitimately pushing for. The Constitution of Crimea began with the words: «We the people, who make up the multi-ethnic nation of Crimea and are united by centuries-old ties of a common historical fate, are free and equal in dignity and rights…»
By this time, however, Kiev had already gotten a taste for it. No one was willing to let go of the idea of Ukraine annexing Crimea. The referendum was postponed to a later date (it was held in 1994 in the form of a public opinion poll) and the Constitution of Crimea, under pressure from Kiev, was rewritten dozens of times until the peninsula was tied to Ukraine for good. The first presidential elections took place in Crimea in 1994, but by 1995, both the position of president and the Constitution of Crimea had been abolished. In late 1998, the Ukrainian authorities brought the legislation of the Autonomous Republic of Ukraine completely in line with the legislation of Ukraine. This was the penultimate step in the annexation of Crimea, the final step being to deprive Crimea of its autonomous status by establishing the Crimean Oblast as part of Ukraine.
Over the next decade, Kiev did not dare do this, since any attempt to raise the issue of abolishing Crimean autonomy led to large-scale protests and demands to restore the 1992 Constitution and the statehood of the Republic of Crimea. Creeping Ukrainization was also unsuccessful – moulding Crimea to be more like Ukraine did not work even in light of the 2001 census, which showed that the Russian population on the peninsula had fallen by 512,000. The disappearance of Russian Crimeans cannot be explained by a natural decline in the population, by migration processes or by a shift in identification. The figures indicate something else: Ukraine had simply expunged half a million Russians from the annexed territory in order to build a ‘Ukrainian Crimea’. In 2012, the Svoboda Party, made up of radical Ukrainian nationalists, included the abolition of Crimean autonomy as part of its party policy.
The February (2014) uprising in Kiev was not supported by Crimea, but attempts by Crimeans to oppose it led to tragedy: on the night of 20 and 21 February, buses taking protesting Crimeans home from a chaotic Kiev were stopped by armed nationalists in the small city of Korsun-Shevchenkivskyi. The Crimeans were beaten, tortured, forced to sing the Ukrainian national anthem under threat of death, and made to pick up broken glass from the buses’ windows, which had been smashed with sticks, with their bare hands.
In a referendum on 16 March 2014, the Crimean people once again confirmed their historical choice, just as the United States once did when they broke away from the British Crown. In the US Declaration of Independence, it says that the Creator endowed people with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Just like Americans, Crimeans also want to live, be free and be happy. That is precisely why they spent decades trying to break away from the Ukrainian trident, something they finally managed in 2014 when they returned to Russia.
It seems that Nikki Haley, like millions of her fellow Americans, does not know the history of the Crimean people’s struggle against its illegal annexation by Ukraine, which began in 1990 and ended in 2014. Questioning the choice of the Crimean people in 2014 seems to be the reason why the US permanent representative to the UN Security Council is keeping quiet about the Ukrainian annexation of Crimea in the 1990s. After all, no one in the world could doubt the results of the Crimean referendum held on 20 January 1991. If it is a case of the deliberate distortion of facts, however, then the situation looks a lot worse.
Only an ignorant or a dishonest person could deny the fact that there has never been and never could be any kind of «self-determination of the Ukrainian nation» in Crimea, owing to the fact that Ukrainians living on the peninsula are very much in the minority.
If you were to side with the Crimean people, then the history of Crimea’s reunification with Russia becomes simple and understandable. It is enough to know that for each territory, whether that is the US or Crimea, exactly the same words are key: «We the people…» Because don’t you think that when she says the word «Crimea», Nikki Haley is only talking about the territory without the people?