5 Years After Crimea Referendum, Was the World’s Response Enough?
14 March, 2019

This March marks half a decade since Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The Russian Federation maintains its self-proclaimed position of legitimacy. The international community however, regards the referendum leading up to the event, as illegitimate and a stark violation of globally accepted standards.

READ MORE: Crimea is Crucial for Understanding the History of Ukraine – Serhii Plokhy

Simon Ostrovsky – an American journalist who was among the first to broadcast the events in Crimea to global audiences – states this self-proclaimed legitimacy and complete denial of wrongdoing is part and parcel of Russian strategy towards foreign policy.

Russia's "green men" without insignia who invaded the Crimean peninsula in February-March 2014. The events led to an illegal referendum and subsequent annexation of Crimea by Russia. Photo credit: EPA

 Russia's“Deny Deny Deny” Strategy

In response to the 2013-2014 Euromaidan Ukrainian revolution, Russia launched a military intervention in February 2014, which eventually led to the annexation of the Crimean peninsula (located in southern Ukraine). After initially denying responsibility, Russia attempted to justify their actions in the guise of a referendum weeks later, on March 16. This referendum was deemed illegal and unacceptable according to international standards.

Russian soldiers in the village of Perevalne, outside Simferopol on March 19, 2014. Photo credit: EPA

Ostrovsky described the events in Crimea as “unprecedented,” adding that “no country, as far as I can remember” has had “the audacity to conduct a secret operation the way that Russia annexed Crimea.” Russia has habitually denied any wrongdoings throughout the conflict.

READ MORE: Inside Annexation: How Russia Seized Crimea

Ostrovsky’s analytical delineation of this attitude, provides insight and a contextual framework by which to view the issue. Arguing that the ambiguity of the situation and the chaos that ensued, allows Russia to embody a sort of “deny strategy”. This “deny strategy” has helped contribute weight to the Russian’s rhetorical argument.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (second right) and defense minister Sergei Shoigu (third right) pose for a photograph during the World War 2 victory celebrations on May 9, 2014 in Sevastopol, Crimea. Photo credit: EPA

This claim can be swiftly substantiated. In the weeks following the military intervention in Crimea, Russia denied involvement. Ostrovsky describes the attitude as analogous to a “poker face,” ironically adding “wasn't our guys, we weren't involved, not a single Russian soldier was there.” Russia has since admitted to the annexation of Crimea, with their president Vladimir Putin confessing responsibility while giving an interview on Russian television a few months after the intervention began. However, with regard to the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine – within which there are approximately 100,000 fighters, Russia maintains to claim its innocents. Most believe this claim to be an obvious lie. Ostrovsky communicates “It's not surprising Russia still denies involvement” as it's all part of the same ‘deny strategy’.

READ MORE: The True Cost Of Remaining Ukrainian in Crimea

Ostrovsky also states that there is some good news with regard to this “deny strategy.” Nobody believes the falsehoods. Stating that this is reflected in media perspectives as well as in “policies of the departments of foreign affairs” throughout western countries. This is evidenced by sanctions imposed by the USA on March 6, 2014 in response to the Crimea crisis, well before Russian confession. This was swiftly followed by sanctions issued by the EU and Canada on March 17.

American journalist Simon Ostrovsky (L) speaks to Hromadske's Nataliya Gumenyuk in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 3, 2019. Photo credit: HROMADSKE

The Global Response

Since the crisis 5 years ago, concerns over the appropriateness of the international response have been made consistently. Many argue that despite sanctions from the U.S., the EU and Australia (just to name a few), the corresponding reaction has not been commensurate with the extremity of Russian action. When Simon Ostrovsky was asked if he was concerned over the international response and a continuation of Russian control, he replied that it depends on your analytical timeframe. Articulating that despite seeing a possible situation where “Crimea spends a very long time under the control of the Russian government”; Russian influence is waning. Taking into account historical context, the probable trajectory of Russian power is diminishing slowly but surely on a global scale.

Ukrainian military air base in Bilbek, outside Sevastopol, Ukraine, on March 4, 2014. Photo credit: EPA

Crimean Tatar activists' demonstration against Russia's annexation of Crimea in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 26, 2018. Photo credit: EPA

Furthermore there is an argument to suggest that the sanctions have been more successful than most accept. Some have stated that sanctions helped contribute to the collapse of the Russian ruble and the financial crises in 2014 and 2015, forcing Russia to change their approach in Ukraine. However, many deny this argument. The continuation of Russian occupation in Crimea, as well as the war in eastern Ukraine provide ineradicable evidence against the claim. The debate as to whether the response has been appropriate on an international level is highly contested, with an ideal response eminently hard to muster.

READ MORE: How Russia is Destroying Crimean Archaeological Sites

/Interview by Nataliya Gumenyuk, text by Max Rogers