Listen to the podcast: Ukraine's Take on the Dutch Referendum Results and Crimean Annexation
On April 7, 2016, the Brussels office of The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), hosted a public discussion with Olena Zerkal, the Ukrainian deputy minister of foreign affairs for European integration; and Andrej Plenković, vice-chair of the committee on foreign affairs in the European Parliament, and chair of the EP delegation to the EU-Ukraine parliamentary association committee. The discussion focused on the future of Ukraine after two years of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and was moderated by Ian Lesser, GMF’s senior director for foreign and security policy, and executive director of the Brussels office.
While the annexation is not recognized by the West, and Russia is faced with economic sanctions, the militarization of the peninsula continues, and human rights are violated on a daily basis. As Lesser pointed out in his opening remarks, the dispute is of high importance for the international community as a whole, esspecially for the transatlantic community in terms of security, stability, and respect for human rights in the region.
Deputy Minister Zerkal expressed her concern with the situation:
“The two years of the illegal annexation of Crimea [has] shown us that we cannot feel secure even in the 21st century.”
She highlighted the major issues that the population in the region is facing, such as internal displacement of inhabitants, discrimination of both Tatarians, and Ukrainians as they are forced to obtain Russian passports, and registration of property. All these issues constitute clear violations of the international humanitarian law in the occupied territories. She also warned about the security implications of the occupation, including the tremendous increase in the amount of weapons of mass destruction, and the continuous process of Russian aggression in the region. Zerkal reminded the audience of the disputes in Moldova, Transnistria, and Georgia, and remained pessimistic in regard to the potential clashes in the future, saying that she was “not sure that Ukraine will be the last” country to face conflict in the region.
— Ukraine EU Office (@ukraineoffice) April 7, 2016
Meanwhile, Plenković made it clear that nobody could predict or imagine the illegal annexation before it happened in 2014, but was positive about the response of the European Union, and its institutions that developed a coherent, and consistent position towards the aggressor. The policy of no recognition also concerned the United States as the dispute presents a major threat to the continent. Instead of a prosperous and peaceful neighborhood, the EU found itself in a position where “we ended up with a ring of fire,” said Plenković. Plenković told the audience that “the illegal annexation of Crimea, and the war in Donbass, cannot and should not be decoupled, mainly because the aggressor is the same.”
“It is not that in Crimea we have someone from Mars and in Donbass someone from Venus,” he said.
The speakers agreed that the engagement of key international actors in a constructive manner is crucial not only in the current state of crisis management, but also in the long-term process of peaceful reintegration of Ukraine, and normalization in the region. The discussion was followed by an engaging question and answer session, in which various interesting points were raised by the audience, including the results of the referendum in the Netherlands, Ukrainian internal political and economic challenges, and differences between the American, and European institutional, and financial commitments to Ukraine.
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