Russian Annexation of Crimea

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 9:30 am, 24th April 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Interestingly, in the other place, Lord Ahmad said that those sanctions had been very good at sending a clear and united message that Russian aggression in Ukraine would not be tolerated. However, I am not sure that they have had that much effect in practice: for example, Russia has been able to get round the arms embargo. The only sanction that has had some impact on the state of Russia has been the measure to deprive it of access to the financial markets in London and elsewhere.

I will now examine the impact on Ukraine of the annexation of Crimea, and will first deal with the illegal imposition of Russian law. Contrary to its obligations as an occupying power under the fourth Geneva convention, Russia has imposed its legislation in the occupied territory of Crimea. What is extremely dangerous is that Russian laws have been applied retroactively to acts and events that took place in Crimea prior to its occupation. This is not a dry legal debate; it has severe implications for the people of Crimea. For example, the policy of automatic naturalisation means that all Ukrainian citizens who remained in the occupied territory have had Russian citizenship forcibly imposed on them, which is a big change for them. Moreover, Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea complicated the question of citizenship for children born after February 2014, since it is difficult for parents to register a child as a citizen with the Ukrainian authorities. Eight campaigns conscripting Crimean residents into the Russian Federation armed forces have been held since the beginning of the occupation. During the latest campaign, which ended in December 2018, approximately 2,800 men from Crimea were enlisted, bringing the overall number of Crimean conscripts to almost 15,000. As draft evasion is punishable under Russian criminal law by up to two years in prison, Crimean citizens are de facto forced to enter the Russian armed forces.

The atmosphere of fear, intimidation and physical and psychological pressure has forced 35,000 to 40,000 Ukrainian citizens, including an enormous number of Crimean Tatars, to leave Crimea and settle in other areas of Ukraine. The 2018 human rights report by the US Department of State states that the actual number could be as high as 100,000, as many remained unregistered. To replace those who left the peninsula, up to 1 million Russians have been brought in from Russia and resettled in Crimea.

Religious freedom has also been compromised, with 38 parishes administered by the Orthodox Church of Ukraine closing down in the occupied Crimea. Eight parishes of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine remain on the peninsula, but they have been constantly targeted by the occupying authorities since Russia seized control. It is not just individual churches that are affected. Russia has launched legal proceedings to seize the land where the only Orthodox Church of Ukraine cathedral in Crimea is located. Mosques and the Jewish community have been targeted, too. In March 2014, Reform Rabbi Mikhail Kapustin of Simferopol was forced to leave Crimea after denouncing Russian actions. His synagogue had been defaced by a swastika and, a month later, vandals defaced Sevastopol’s monument to 4,200 Jews killed by the Nazis in July 1942.

Russia has set out systematically to eliminate Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages and culture. No schools are now left in Crimea with a curriculum entirely in Ukrainian and Crimean languages. Contrary to the 2017 order of the International Court of Justice, which requests that Russia ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language, the number of children studying in Ukrainian has decreased from 14,000 in 2013-14 to 172 in the 2017-18 school year.

Russia has banned the highest representative body of Crimean Tatars—the Mejlis—under false allegations of extremist activity. Despite the clear meaning of the 2017 International Court of Justice order to

“refrain, pending the final decision in the case, from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to conserve its representative institutions”,

two years have passed and Russia continues to maintain its ban. Members of the indigenous Crimean Tatar minority, many of whom vocally oppose the Russian occupation, have faced particularly acute repression by the authorities. In 2018, 367 infringements of the right to a fair trial were registered. More than 90 people, mostly Crimean Tatars, have been detained and/or sentenced under politically motivated charges, with some being transferred into Russia across an internationally recognised border. In detention centres, they are being mistreated and tortured as punishment or to extort confessions.

On 12 December 2018, Russia detained the amputee Crimean Tatar, Edem Bekirov. He has diabetes and four shunts in his heart. Since then, he has been denied urgently needed medical care. He now has an infection in the open wound where his leg was amputated. He is not allowed to go outdoors. His blood sugar level and blood pressure have gone up. He sleeps in a sitting position. The Russian FSB rejects his alibi in favour of a secret witness. Recently his detention was extended until June.

From 2014 to 30 June 2018, 42 people were victims of enforced disappearances, including 27 ethnic Ukrainians and nine Crimean Tatars. It is believed that Russian security forces kidnapped individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instil fear in the population and prevent dissent. The Russian occupation continues to deny access to international human rights monitors to Crimea—access that is in line with United Nations resolutions.

Ukrainian cultural heritage is also under threat. One very big world heritage landmark and four landmarks submitted for consideration to UNESCO are located in the occupied territory. Having illegally announced the right of ownership for 32 historical buildings of the Khan’s Palace array, the Russian occupying power has undertaken an unprofessional and incompetent reconstruction. That may seem insignificant in comparison with the life of the individual suffering from diabetes, but it has a personal association for me, as I was an archaeologist before I came into the House and it is sad to see such things happening. The removing of valuable cultural artefacts from Crimean museums to Russia continues.

That is as nothing compared with the Russian militarisation of the peninsula, which has continued at pace. Russia has substantially reinforced and modernised its Crimean military land, air and naval components. The militarisation of Crimea is a threat not only to Ukraine, but to the security of the whole of Europe. At any moment Russia can provoke a military conflict in the Black sea region with NATO.