Russian Annexation of Crimea

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:18 am on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies) 10:18 am, 24th April 2019

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies.

It is quite unbelievable that the events in the Maidan, in which hundreds of peaceful protesters were murdered by the Yanukovych regime, happened only five years ago, because the sequence of events that his flight to Russia set in motion have changed so much. As for the justifications for the invasion, the most prominent of which seems to have been the idea that Crimea was somehow being returned to the Russian Federation, it is as if the decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet in 1954 was some sort of bureaucratic error that could be corrected only by the application of blunt military force.

The point was well put by John Howell, whom I thank for securing this debate: the invasion had less to do with the rights of Russophone Ukrainians living in Crimea than with the most brutal of geostrategic realities, namely that Russia needs a Black sea port, its “place in the sun”, just as much now as when Her Imperial Majesty the Empress of All the Russias first annexed it for her Empire in 1784. One could equally say that the presence of Ionian colonists in the 7th century BC means that it should be made an outpost of the Hellenic Republic. If it were predicated on the rights and needs of the people who live there, the Russian Government’s record of maltreatment towards those people would not be so prominent, which is a point that was well put by the hon. Member for Henley in his discussion of the Tatars.

The only extremism we have seen in Crimea is the clampdown on ethnic and religious freedoms enjoyed by the residents of what is a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional place. Just as Crimea’s Tatar population has seen persecution, so has the Ukrainian-language community, with the closure of several Ukrainian Orthodox churches, and the arrest of Archbishop Klyment last month, and the persecution of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. This attack on the most basic rights and democracy in Crimea leads me to my last point, and I hope hon. Members will allow me to indulge in a little introspection.

The Russian invasion of Crimea was followed by a referendum that fraudulently stated that 97% of participants had voted to be subsumed into the Russian Federation, although the real number was closer to 55%, and there was open intimidation at polling stations, so many would be forgiven for not taking part. As someone who has campaigned for the independence of my own country all my adult life and saw the independence referendum in Scotland as a final point in a democratic process that should be held up as the gold standard for this type of constitutional referendum, I say that that standard was not even close to being met in Crimea. Colleagues agreed and disagreed with me during the Scottish referendum, but we all agreed on the process. That was not true in the case of Crimea. Furthermore, when my country does become independent, it will not be to the detriment of the rights and lives of my fellow Scots.

I ask the Government of the Russian Federation to have the courage of their convictions. If the principle of self-determination is so important to them, why do they not extend it to their own subjects and allow status referendums inside the Russian Federation? I am sure the Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvashs, Chechens, Avars, Udmurts, Dargins, Tuvans, Ossetians and Kalmyks, among others, would be delighted to be asked about their participation in the Russian Federation. To begin with, I would settle for Russia returning Crimea to Ukraine and withdrawing its forces and military completely.

I pay tribute to the recent electoral process in Ukraine and I thank the ambassador, who is in the Public Gallery today, for the commendable work that she does across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in promoting peace and democracy within the Ukrainian state.