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"Not yours anyway!" Russia claims transfer of Crimea to Ukraine was ‘unconstitutional’

Halya Coynash

See also :  Russia to declare Baltic Republics’ independence unlawful?

As well as seeking a Russian NGO’s prosecution for warning Russian tourists that Crimea is Ukrainian territory under Russian occupation, Russia’s Prosecutor General has asserted that the 1954 decision of the relevant Supreme Soviets which formally made Crimea part of the Ukrainian SSR did not comply with the Soviet constitution and was therefore illegitimate.  This is not the first such attempt to rewrite geopolitical history

The NGO’s information was true and immediately relevant since Russia is in breach of both Ukrainian and international law through its occupation of Crimea.  The Prosecutor General’s breaking news, sent in a letter to Sergei Mironov, leader of the Just Russia party, was historically questionable and legally quite meaningless, both for Russia and in international law. 

The Prosecutor General’s statement comes six months after Valentina Matveyenko, speaker of Russia’s Federation Council (upper house of parliament) announced that they were preparing a draft bill which would declare the Soviet normative acts on transferring the Crimea from the Russian to the Ukrainian SSR to be of no legal significance.   

At a meeting between representatives of both houses and president Vladimir Putin, she stated that their “analysis of decisions taken in 1954 to transfer the Crimean oblast from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian SSR suggests “the unlawfulness of this voluntaristic act which was adopted in violation of the then Constitution and legislative procedure”.  Therefore in the Federation Council we began preparing a draft bill which will recognize the transfer of Crimea as having no legal force and consequences from the moment of its adoption.”

This is not the only attempt made by Russian officials claim that Crimea should not have been under Ukraine, and that Russia’s invasion and annexation of the peninsula in Feb-Mar 2014 was, so to speak, just righting a historical wrong. 

In June 2014, Russia’s parliamentary speaker, Sergei Naryshkin claimed that it was Ukraine that had annexed Crimea, not Russia.  Naryshkin’s ‘proof’ that Ukraine had allegedly annexed Crimea in 1991 was hilariously faulty, but this was not picked up by pro-Kremlin media and unlikely to have been understood by the wider Russian public. 

It is tempting – and easy – to demonstrate the inaccuracies of assertions about both 1954 and 1991, but essentially a red herring where the very discussion of such arguments plays into the Kremlin’s hands.  Or could, since Russia is playing a very dangerous game questioning past decisions and would doubtless not want questions raised about, for example, Kaliningrad which the Soviet Union claimed after the War.

There are major logistical reasons why Crimea depends on Ukraine, not Russia and should be Ukrainian.  There is also, however, international law and that is totally unequivocal.

The NGO Public Watch which the Russian Prosecutor General wants to see prosecuted for ‘encroaching Russia’s territorial integrity” was informing Russian citizens of the sad and undeniable truth, that their country is occupying a part of another country’s sovereign territory.  The same truth was effectively expressed two days later in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s Resolution on the conflict in Ukraine.

The attempts to rewrite history are presumably directed at the domestic audience, which has already been totally misled about Crimea.  They are as ultimately ineffectual as the hysterical attack on an NGO telling Russian citizens about legal and practical consequences of Russia’s land-grab.  If Russians haven’t already understood them, they will soon enough. 

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