To return the Crimea to the orbit of Russian policy, Moscow needs to be smart, tactful and consistent. It has every right to render all-round support to its cultural influence and military presence in the Crimea. Fearful of this, the Ukrainian authorities are often ready to back any country in their economic and cultural advance in Ukraine but find it very difficult to embark on joint projects with Russia.
Just over 20 years ago, on June 30, 1992 the government bodies of Ukraine and the Republic of the Crimea delimited their powers on the peninsula. The story of the Crimea over the last few decades has been one of dashed hopes and illusions that failed to materialize, yet they still persist in people’s minds.
During the final stage of the existence of the Soviet Union the Crimea regained the status it had lost in the 1940s when the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was abolished. The Crimea has never felt a part of Ukraine, even though in 1954 the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it from Russia to Ukraine. At the time this decision met with serious opposition. For instance, the first secretary of the Crimean Regional Party Committee voluntarily resigned in protest. In an effort to come up with some sort of peaceful solution, the Ukrainian authorities gave the Crimea autonomy in the early 1990s. The presidential elections in 1993 were won by independent candidate Yuri Meshkov, who had no connections to any clans. His rule was marked by failed attempts at change and dashed hopes. Unfortunately, at that time Russia was fully immersed in its own domestic problems and was unable to give the Crimea any help.
Without Russian backing and having embarked on dubious political adventures, Yuri Meshkov was deposed as a result of the direct interference of the Ukrainian government, which resorted to all the means at its disposal to replace him, cancelling the Constitution and calling into doubt the Crimea’s republican status. In the 1990s the Crimean government was in turmoil and criminal gangs were fighting to carve up the peninsula among themselves. This was the time when the Ukrainian central authorities were steadily clamping down on any manifestation of political dissent, cultivating reptilian politicians. In 2004-2005 Viktor Yushchenko attempted to plant Orange politicians in the Crimea but they were rejected by the local population. Eventually, the central authorities had to come to terms with the fact that local elections in the Crimea had brought to power the “For Yanukovych” alliance, represented by the Party of Regions and the Russian Community of the Crimea.
However, the people who once promised to promote the Russian language and the special status of the Crimea have done little to bring about this aim, resulting in massive disappointment with the policies of Viktor Yanukovych, whose accession to power was largely due to the people of the Crimea. As a result there was a certain period of time when the peninsula found itself under a state of emergency linked to the appointment of the late Vassily Dzharta as head of the Council of Ministers of the Crimea. This period did not last for long. For now the Crimea is once again in transition in anticipation of the parliamentary elections in October. All these fits and starts have almost eliminated political free will on the peninsula. If there is any left, it is only tied up with the fact that the Crimeans continue to pin their hopes on Russia.
One of the worst problems there is related to the issue of the Crimean Tatars. There are about 250,000 of them on the peninsula now. Unfortunately, they are willingly following in the wake of those who want to set them at loggerheads with the Russian majority in the Crimea. Ethnic Ukrainians who live on the peninsula have no idea what “Ukrainian independence” really means. The vast majority of them are people of Russian culture. The Crimean Tatars often take up an anti-Russian stance.
Russian non-profit organizations, including cultural organizations, are also active in the Crimea. Most recently, the Crimea hosted the grand festival The Russian Word for the sixth time. It traditionally starts on June 6, Alexander Pushkin’s birthday and Russian Language Day, and ends on June 12, The Day of Russia. This festival is the only event of its kind in the Crimea that unites people who are working to promote better Ukrainian-Russian relations and the special status of the peninsula. Sadly, in recent times attempts have been made to reduce this festival to a concert show.
The Crimea has a rich history. Our institute initiated events linked with the 225th anniversary of the great journey of Catherine the Great in Novorossiya (New Russia), including the Crimea, which had also been incorporated into the Russian Empire. Her journey boosted the development of the region’s economy and culture, and small villages began to gradually turn into beautiful cities.
To return the Crimea to the orbit of Russian policy, Moscow needs to be smart, tactful and consistent. It has every right to render all-round support to its cultural influence and military presence in the Crimea. Fearful of this, the Ukrainian authorities are often ready to back any country in their economic and cultural advance in Ukraine but find it very difficult to embark on joint projects with Russia. In my opinion, this is the first obstacle that needs to be overcome. Russia should give every support to attempts to establish branches of its universities on the peninsula. They should develop from average educational institutions into exemplary cultural and educational centers and become beacons of Russian culture in the Crimea.
During the Orange years, the Ukrainian government did much to reduce the status of the Russian language on the peninsula. Until recently, advertisements on roads and geographical place names were only written in Ukrainian.
The task of the Russian Consulate General in the Crimea is to show respect for all Crimeans and politically, to support all those who love Russia and are working for the special status of the Crimea and the Russian language on the peninsula and the rest of Ukraine. It is this, rather than an obsessive struggle with radicals, provocateurs and other “enemies of the people,” that should become the foundation of Russian policy on the peninsula.