It has been six years since the beginning of the Russian takeover of the Crimean Peninsula that took place on February 20 - March 26, 2014, a move that Poland has consistently condemned. It is also the sixth anniversary of the event which led to the protracted War in Donbas, Eastern Ukraine.
“In line with the UN General Assembly resolution nr 68/262 of March 27, 2014, we [Poland] staunchly support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. We stress the constant obligation to non-recognition, now and in the future, of the illegal annexation of Crimea,” reads the official statement of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued on Monday.
“The illegal annexation of Crimea carried out by the Russian Federation constitutes a serious challenge to international security and the rule of law that upholds the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states,” the statement reads.
“We staunchly oppose the illegal action that is being undertaken by the Russian Federation, aimed at the preservation of the annexation. The militarisation of the Crimean Peninsula and the city of Sevastopol bears a negative effect on the security of the Black Sea region, whereas the limitations imposed on navigation through the Kerch Strait is a violation of international law,” the statement continues.
“We express our deep concern for the deteriorating situation in the range of human rights on the whole of the territory occupied by the Russian Federation, including the persecution of the Tatar minority and the Ukrainophonic community. We call on the Russian Federation to enable international human rights organisations unrestrained access to Crimea,” the ministry wrote.
Crimea’s long history of fluctuating ownership
The Crimean peninsula became part of the Russian Empire in 1783 and was subsequently transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. Following the collapse of the USSR, the peninsula remained part of the independent Ukrainian state.
On December 5, 1994 the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Britain and the United States signed the Budapest memorandum to provide Ukraine with security assurances in connection with its accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state. The four parties signed the memorandum, containing a preamble and six paragraphs one of which reaffirms the obligation of signatories to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
Amidst the chaos surrounding the ousting of the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, during the so-called Euromaidan protests in 2013, the Russian Federation staged a largely non-violent takeover of the peninsula that took place between February 20 and March 26, 2014, and thus there was a violation of the Budapest memorandum on the part of Russia.
Taking advantage of the large ethnic Russian population, Russia incited anti-Ukrainian rallies and demonstrations and subsequently sent in troops in unmarked uniforms to secure the area. Due to a lack of armed resistance, the Russians quickly seized the territory, including the crucial naval base in Sevastopol.
Despite the international outcry at the illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory and the imposition of sanctions upon the Russian Federation, Russia refused to back down and was reported to boost its military presence in the occupied territory. Numerous reports of reprisals against the local opposition, including the Tatar minority, have continued to appear ever since the takeover. Russia continues to insist its actions were intended to protect the ethnic Russian population and that the peninsula’s long history with the Russian Empire meant that Crimea was merely “coming home”.