By Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, Sept 25, 2017 (and further below, six comments by Roger Annis on the propaganda war against Crimea)
SEPT 25, 2017–The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has today issued a 48-page report purporting to analyze the state of human rights in Crimea. The report covers the period from February 2014 to September 2017. It largely consists of a litany of twisted and factually false assertions against Crimean and Russian authorities.
The UN office accepts the legality of the February 21, 2014 coup in Ukraine, it rejects the results of the March 16, 2014 self-determination vote in Crimea, it condemns the self-defense actions of the population of eastern Ukraine in resisting the coup, and it calls Crimea a territory “occupied” by Russia. Hence, this report on Crimea and similar, earlier reports by the same UN agency on Ukraine are largely exercises in filling in the blanks of a pre-determined script. Western journalists will read the first few pages of the report and then fire off their scripted stories of ‘Russian annexation’ accompanied by ‘human rights abuses’.
A few hesitant criticisms of Ukraine are thrown into the report for the sake of appearance of ‘neutrality’, but it’s all very polite. Here, for example, is how the report describes in its executive summary the cutting of water and electricity supply by Ukraine to Crimea in 2014 and 2015, respectively:
- The right of the Crimean population to an adequate standard of living has been affected [sic] by measures taken by Ukrainian authorities or implemented on mainland Ukraine, including the interruption of water and energy supplies to the peninsula. Under international humanitarian law, the Russian Federation as the occupying power is obliged to ensure to the fullest extent of the means available to it sufficient hygiene and public health standards, as well as the provision of food and medical care to the population. At the same time, this does not exonerate Ukraine from its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights not to interfere with the enjoyment of the rights it enshrines, and from respecting the requirement under international humanitarian law to ensure that the basic needs of the population continue to be met under conditions of occupation [sic].
This is the latest in many reports produced by the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU). It was established by the OHCHR in March 2014 upon the request of the UN Secretary General, acting on a request by the post-coup government in Ukraine (the government was no doubt counselled on this request by its international advisors).
Three articles by me in 2014 and 2016 analyze the methods and outcomes of previous such reports on Ukraine by the OHCHR and by the broader human rights industry. You can read those articles at the weblinks listed below.
The OHCHR is not an independent agency; it acts at the behest of the large Western countries. One need only look at Haiti for proof. For the past 13 years, the UN Security Council has conducted a violent and illegal military occupation of Haiti. The occupation is directed by the U.S., Canada and large countries of the EU, with Brazil given an outsized role in day-to-day military operations.
A large number of foreign countries contribute foot soldiers to the military occupation of Haiti through national military contingents operating in the name of the UN. Not only does this provide invaluable military experience in patrolling and containing civilian populations, these foreign countries are well paid by the UN to do so, allowing them to purchase military equipment that might otherwise be difficult to finance.
The criminality of the UN-OHCHR operation in Haiti went on full display in October 2010 when UN soldiers from Nepal introduced through reckless neglect the cholera bacterium into Haiti’s largest river system. The ensuing epidemic killed more than 10,000 Haitians, infected hundreds of thousands and overwhelmed Haiti’s weak and fragile medical services (largely furnished by charities at the best of times). One would expect the UN to make reparations for the cholera disaster it caused, but one would be naive in assuming this. Haitians together with U.S. legal advocates have bitterly fought the office of the UN Secretary General, demanding that it accept responsibility for the actions of its Haiti occupation regime. Finally, in December 16, 2016, Ban Ki-Moon ‘apologized’ for the cholera epidemic and promised financial compensation. Haitians are still waiting for the promised compensation.
Are there human rights violations in Crimea? I’m not aware of a single country in the world that can claim to have a perfect record. But this UN report on Crimea, like previous such reports on Ukraine, manipulate facts and interpretations to create the illusion that, yes, things are very bad in Crimea; all the while positively downplaying comparisons to Ukraine, where the situation is far, far worse. Thousands of people have died in Ukraine from a cruel civil war being waged by the right-wing regime in power in Kyiv. Seveal million people have been displaced from their homeland by that same war. ‘So what?’, respond the human rights bright lights of the UN. ‘What about Russia,’ they parrot.
Previous articles on UN ‘human rights’ reports on Ukraine:
Human rights accomplices to human rights violations in eastern Ukraine, by Roger Annis, Aug 19, 2016 (analysis of the July 2016 ‘human rights in Ukraine’ report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch)
Another confusing and misleading human rights report by United Nations observers in Ukraine, by Roger Annis, July 19, 2016
More obfuscation in latest UN report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, by Roger Annis, Nov. 23, 2017
Discussion on Crimea
The following are six contributions written by me to an exchange on a pro-peace email listserve in Canada.–Roger Annis
1. Sept 19, 2017
The early writer on this email thread has nicely summarized the key events in 2014 surrounding the referendum decision of the Crimean people (on March 16) to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia. I consider the referendum to be a vote of political self-determination fully consistent with the United Nations’ charter description of political self-determination. Article 1, section 2, of the Charter of the United Nations reads:
The Purposes of the United Nations are… 2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
Let me add some historical references that I think further reinforce Crimea’s case.
The original decision of the Soviet Union in 1954 to attach Crimea to what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was an administrative decisoin in which the Crimeans were not meaningfully consulted and which many historians argue was illegal according to the constitution of the USSR. One of the few English accounts to explore the issue of the constitutionality of the 1954 decision is the book The Crimea Question: Identity, Transition and Conflict, by Gwendolyn Sasse, Harvard University Press, 2007 (find more information on the book in the ‘Books’ section of the New Cold War.org website)
Polls following the March 2014 referendum vote consistently show high levels of satisfaction with the vote result. One of those polls (late 2014) was conducted by a German firm and entirely funded by the Canadian government! But you didn’t hear about that poll on CBC or read about it in the Globe and Mail. It is supremely ironic to see Western governments and Western commentators hold in esteem the 1954 decision of the USSR over the clearly demonstrated will of the Crimean people as expressed in the 2014 referendum.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990-91, the people of Crimea sought several times, by referendum, to affiliate to a rejuvenated USSR or to secede and rejoin Russia. These efforts were refused by the newly independent Ukraine and by the corrupt regime in Russia of President Boris Yeltsin.
One of the demands of the Crimean autonomy movement in post-1991 Ukraine was for official recognition of the Russian and Tatar languages. This was repeatedly refused; Ukraine was and remains an officially unilingual state.
I wonder how many people in Canada would put up with arguments telling First Nations people or Quebecois to forget about their historical greivances and ‘move on’. Or worse, tell them to shut up if a government openly to their national rights illegally took power in Ottawa. Anyone making such arguments people would rightly be laughed out of the room. Yet the people of Crimea area expected top ‘put up and shut up’. According to Western disciplinarians, the Crimean people were supposed to scuttle away in fright in the face of the violent threats of the extreme-right in Ukraine. ‘So what if the president you elected was overthrow in an illegal coup. Shut up and go home. We’re in charge now.’ Western opinion counselled to Crimeans submission and surrender. Happily, Crimeans are made of sterner stuff than to bow to such bad advice, if not threats. A world otherwise filled with imperialist diktat could learn a thing or two from the Crimean people.
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2. Sept 20, 2017
‘What ifs’ over Crimea leave me cold. ‘What if Crimea had conducted a more transparent vote in March 2014?’ ‘What if Crimea had adopted a wait-and-see stance following the Maidan coup instead of opting for a secession vote from Ukraine?’ Etc, etc.
In February 2014, the people of Crimea were confronted with the violent–extremely violent–overthrow of the president for whom a large majority of the peninsula had voted in 2010. The new coup regime was threatening violence and military intervention against Crimea if protests against the coup did not cease. And not just any violence. The military arm of the new coup regime was comprised of neo-Nazi paramilitary brigades (the regular army quickly proved ‘inadequate’ in eastern Ukraine as soldiers routinely refused orders to fire on citizens). The neo-Nazis brigades were fresh off provocation/sniper shootings on Maidan Square on February 20 in which dozens of pro-Maidan protesters and police were killed. Shortly after the coup, provocative sorties by the neo-Nazi paramilitaries began into Crimea.
Faced with that grim picture, and with 25 years of frustrations in dealing with Ukrainian authorities under its belt, the elected and constitutional Autonomous Republic of Crimea held a referendum vote on March 16, 2014. What was Russia to do? Turn its back? That was out of the question, for many legitimate reasons.
The sniper massacre on Maidan Square (thoroughly documented in the research of Ukrainian-Canadian Ivan Katchanovski at the University of Ottawa) presaged even worse violence. Neo-Nazis clubbed or burned to death more than 40 anti-coup protesters in Odessa on May 2, 2014. The previous month, the coup regime opened a civil war in eastern Ukraine, with the neo-Nazi legions in the lead, that continues to this day. That war has killed more than 10,000 and displaced several million. In retrospect, the people of Donbass ask themselves why they were not in a position to move as quickly and decisively as did the people of Crimea to defend themselves from violence. Now THERE is a ‘what-if’ worth exploring.
Crimea’s rejoining to Russia is called an ‘annexation’ by Western ideologues. Behind the ‘annexation’ accusations lies a callous indifference to those who have died and to those who continue to suffer throughout Ukraine. It’s also an excuse to do nothing about the harsh sanctions that the West has slapped against Crimea. As we saw in the Trump-the-madman’s performance before the UN General Assembly on Sept 19 with respect to North Korea, sanctions are a one-way street to war. Shame on citizens in Canada and on their weak-kneed political leaders for not speaking out against the sanctions against Russia-Crimea. Nothing good will come of sanctions, not for Russia and not for Canadians.
No, Russia had no imperial ambitions over Crimea. Its actions there and in Ukraine were entirely reactive and defensive. Russia negotiated a treaty with newly independent Ukraine some 23 years before 2014 that gave the city of Sebastopol an autonomous status and granted Russia exclusive use of its historic naval base there. It was the coup of 2014 that blew up that treaty, not the referendum of March 16. If one is looking to find countries whose foreign policies are designed first and foremost to serve corporate interests exploiting people and resources in foreign lands, the Russia is not the place. Try Canada, alterntively. I co-authored a lengthy article in February 2016 that explains why Russia does not fit the ‘imperialist’ descriptor and why this is important for understanding today’s world.
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3. Sept 20, 2017
With respect, idle speculation about Crimea does not inform.
There are xenophobes in Crimea, I’ve no doubt. As there are in Canada. But unlike in Ukraine, xenophobes in Crimea have not killed hundreds and thousands of people. And, above all, again unlike Ukraine, they are not present in the high echelons of the Crimean government, police and armed forces. They do not determine the official ideology of the Russian state. Ukraine, on the other hand, has declared official anti-Russia and ‘decommunization’ policies which include demolishing historic monuments, renaming streets in honour of WW2 Nazi collaborators, and banning and censoring Russian-language media, books and films.
Claims of discrimination against Crimean Tatars are typically gratuitous, merely echoing the unsubstantiated claims of Western journalists and ideologues. Here are some facts about the Tatars:
- As mentioned by me earlier, the Tatar language is now one of three official languages of Crimea, complete with resources for consequential services (schools, media, print publishing).
- In April 2014, Vladimir Putin issued an official policy for the WW2 deportation of Crimean Tatars. An apology had been issued in the latter period of the Soviet Union, but it was shallow and had little substantive meaning, particularly on the very thorny issue of the right of return. Putin’s apology was far more substantive (he is no fan of the former Soviet Union, but neither does he renounce its historic existence and significance). There are ongoing issues in Crimea that will be familiar to Canadians who know of the deportations of Japanese-Canadians in 1941 or of Palestinians in the Middle East, notably the right of return and, unlike what transpired to Japanese-Canadians, the right of return of houses and other property that was confiscated. If you inquire into present-day Crimea (and you would need Russian language facilitation), you will find lively and ongoing debate on these and many other issues between Crimean Tatars and their civil and political organizations with the Russian and Crimean governments.
- The only two polls specifically of Tatar opinion of which I am aware were conducted by a Western firm in late 2014 and a Russian firm in 2017. The 2014 poll showed about half of respondents were satisfied with the decision to rejoin Russia, while approximately 30 per cent said they didn’t like it while 20 responded with ‘don’t know’ or ‘not sure’. I’ve little doubt that the satisfaction rate rose after that as the new language and cultural policy unrolled and as Crimea’s economic conditions improved. Indeed, a poll in early 2017 by the Russian Federation’s Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs showed a 60 per cent approval rating for President Vladimir Putin.
Concerning Crimea’s economic development, notwithstanding the harsh Western sanctions against the peninsula, Crimea’s economy is decidedly improving. Substantial Russian investment is pouring in, including into tourism; the building of the first road, rail and natural gas bridge to Crimea from the Russian mainland (to open in early 2019); and building a new electrical generation and distribution network due to Ukraine’s criminal, terrorist cutting off of electrical supply (the neo-Nazis blew up electrical transmission lines in November 2015 and the Kyiv regime responded with ‘nice job’).
A cynic might argue ‘Of course Russia would pour investment into Crimea.’ To which I would reply, ‘Of course Russia would pour investment into Crimea.’ There is money to be made, and the force of events obliges the Russian government to satisfy Crimean expectations in the reunification. A Newfoundlander might comment, ‘Gee, we had to wait decades until an entirely unanticipated discovery of oil allowed us to achieve some degree of parity within the Canadian federation.’
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4. Sept 21, 2017
I saw the reference by Anton Bebler to Tatars and the 2014 referendum (Anton Bebler, The Russian-Ukrainian Conflict Over Crimea). I checked, and he provides one source: an unsigned, three-paragraph news item quoting a Tatar leader who has sat for many years as an appointed figure in the Ukrainian Parliament (see below). One paragraph in the news item quotes the Tatar figure: “Only 34.2% of Crimeans took part in the pseudo-referendum. These data were sent to the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation.” The article actually says nothing of Tatar participation in the referendum. Bebler’s reference is nothing resembling a standard expected in academic publishing. It is all too typical of writers on the subject who begin their writing with preconceived conclusions, ie ‘Russian annexed Crimea’, then go looking for proof. As you see, the proof is thin gruel.
The Qurultay which you reference was an institution established in the early 1990s to advocate for Tatar rights. (Its executive branch was titled the Mejlis.) Over the years, the authority of the Mejlis declined as it became conservatized and bureaucratized. During the 2000s, members of the Mejlis received appointments to the Ukrainian Rada (Parliament) by the electoral machine of former president Victor Yushchenko. (Half of Rada deputies are appointed (!), by parties which receive five per cent of the vote or more, proportional to their vote result.) By 2014, more representative and dynamic Tatar civic and political organizations had arisen. The leading spokespeople of the Mejlis sitting in the Rada (including Mustapha Dzhemilev, a “leader of the Crimean Tatars” as Bebler names him) were quite comfortable with the right-wing coup in 2014. Dzhemilev told a BBC interviewer in April 2014 that post-coup Ukraine was far more democratic that Russia.
Polling of Tatars has shown low support for the ‘Ukraine’ option. This goes a long way to refuting a big piece of the Western propaganda narrative over Crimea, namely Tatar discontent. But Western media studiously avoids reporting such facts (or going to Crimea to talk directly to the people there) because that would get in the way of their ‘Russia annexation’ script.
By the way, opposition by many First Nations people in Quebec to the two Quebec sovereignty referendums of 1981 and 1995 was a card up the sleeve of the Canadian government in its denial of the right of the Quebec people to freely vote on their political future. As it turned out, the government didn’t need to play the card, including in 1995 when the ‘yes’ side narrowly won by 54,000 votes (out of the 4.6 million that were cast). The similar Tatar ‘card’ gets lots of play, but not because it is fact. Quite the contrary.
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5. Sept 21, 2017
I don’t think Russia was or could have been prepared for the Ukraine crisis or the uproar over Crimea. The outcome–the coup of Feb 21, 2014, then the plan to hold a Crimea referendum–sent it scrambling.
Russia’s role during the Maidan movement was a diplomatic one. Energetic, yes, but I would not call it an intervention. Russia had a strong interest in dissuading the Ukrainian government from entering into an economic association (subordination to) the European Union. It succeeded in convincing the Yanukovych government to do a last-minute pulling back in November 2013 from EU association by virtue of offering a much better trade and loan package than was what on offer from the EU. But as we know, Yanukovych’s decision to pull back sparked deeper protests. The protests were not mouonted only by the extreme-right. Yes, the extreme-right fueled the violence and determination. But many Ukrainians were oblivious to the lessons of Greece and were willing to roll the dice on an (austerity) deal with the EU. For millions, a deal would mean easier and more guaranteed access to leave Ukraine and work in Europe.
The second big diplomatic initiative by Russia was also successful. It was the agreement of Feb 19, 2014 to hold early elections in Ukraine. But that was sabotaged by the extreme-right (the sniper massacres of Feb 20) and by the interference being run by the U.S. The EU and Russia stood by helplessly as the Feb 19 deal was sabotaged. (I cannot judge whether the EU was sincere in that agreement. They certainly dropped it once presented with a de facto coup, and turned to ‘blame Russia’ for the civil war in the east.)
Following all this, and with violent intervention against Crimea imminently threatened, yes, Russia moved quickly and decisively to facilitate the Crimea referendum. I deny that this was an ‘annexation’. It was an emergency situation in which the people and elected representatives of Crimea were pushing hard for a vote and would not take ‘no’ for an answer from the Russian government. Also, there was strong pressure operating on the Russian government from the Russian population. Given the sabotage of the Feb 19 agreement and given who was now in power in Kyiv, Russia had no reason whatsoever to believe that a compromise was possible that would allow for a meaningful future for Crimea in Ukraine.
There was nothing else the Russian government could have done in Ukraine short of some kind of muscular political intervention. That would have resulted in an even worse disaster. The civil war that was carried to the east by Kyiv beginning in April 2014 (or the earlier threats to do so in Crimea) could not have been predicted until they happened. Which is another proof of the fact there wasn’t the slightest inkling of a Russian military intervention into Ukraine in early 2014.
The problem was out of Russia’s control. It was dependent on the survival of the Yanukovych government. I can think of five things which stood in the way of Yanukovych’s survival once the extreme-right and its neo-conservative allies decided to overthrow him:
- The extreme violence of the ultranationalists and extreme-right.
- Support, or acquiescence, for that violence from the West; including muscular intervention by the U.S. and (especially after the coup) its NATO allies.
- The corruption and erosion of support of Yanukovych and his majority support in the Rada following his election in 2010.
- Illusions by the Ukrainian people in what an economic and political agreement with the EU would bring, ie that it would bring harsh austerity.
- A weak and fractured Ukrainian left. The left did not have an alternative to offer, and it was confused or divided as to the wisdom or not of a violent overthrow of Yanukovych. (His overthrow also meant effectively stripping the Rada of its power. A new election to it was held in October 2014).
Experience in a series of countries should now teach that no matter how bad a national government, an overthrow orchestrated from abroad or without a clear and positive direction forward can only result in disaster. Iraq in 2003, Haiti in 2004, Libya in 2011, Mali in 2012, Egypt in 2013, Syria beginning 2011/12 (attempt, thankfully prevented), Ukraine in 2014 and Brazil in 2016–the list is long and it’s all bad.
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6. Sept 22, 2017
The entire Western press has campaigned on the ‘Russia annexed Crimea’ and ‘Russia invaded eastern Ukraine’ theme for the past three and a half years. The same media told the world in 2003 that Iraq possessed chemical weapons. It is telling the world today that Syria and North Korea are mortal threats. I just listened to my morning CBC program interview a talking head on Korea. He didn’t say a word about the near-genocidal Korean War of 1950-53 and how since then, the U.S. has not relented one iota in its war stance towards the Korean people. For decades, following 1953, the U.S. supported ruthless dictatorships in the south.
Just because media outlets say or write things over and over again, it doesn’t make their words into truth.
One of the worst offenders in the anti-Russia buildup has been The Guardian. I don’t know what has possessed this otherwise liberal newspaper to be rabidly, embarassingly anti-Russian. Some family or political grudge on the part of its editors? Cold War-era holdovers? I can only speculate. But these liberal outlets (including the Toronto Star, New York Times, etc) are among the most dangerous of propaganda outlets re Russia because many people know they are being lied to by the more right wing press. People hope against hope that the liberal press, at least, retains some semblance of truth telling. Alas, not at all on the Russia file.
The reason for the hostility to Russia is simple. NATO and the West are shocked, shocked that they confront a powerful country in Russia that will not take orders. Including the fact that Russia backs defiant peoples in a two-bit little peninsula called Crimea and a little place called Donbass in eastern Ukraine. It will not sacrifice them, notwithstanding its very strong desire to return to normal relations with the big imperialist countries of the West.
 Much ado was made in early 2015 when the radio and television licence of the Tatar-language ATR network was not renewed by Crimean authorities. My article at the time exposed that this was a staged spectacle by the anti-Russia owner of ATR: A ‘spectacle’ erupts over the licensing of a pro-Ukraine television channel in Crimea, by Roger Annis, New Cold War.org, April 7, 2015.
Ukraine’s president signs controversial education law [further infringing minority languages]
Associated Press, Monday, Sept 25, 2017 (full text enclosed)
MOSCOW — Ukraine’s president has signed a controversial law on education, causing fury in Hungary which is threatening to block Ukraine’s efforts to integrate with the European Union.
The law that President Petro Poroshenko signed late Monday [Sep[t 25] restructures Ukraine’s education system and specifies that Ukrainian will be the main language used in schools, rolling back the option for lessons to be taught in other languages. Russia, Moldova, Hungary and Romania expressed concern over the bill when it was drafted, saying that it would infringe of the rights of ethnic minorities.
Ukrainian officials have rejected the suggestion that minority languages will be sidelined. Poroshenko said in a statement on Monday that the law “strengthens the role of the Ukrainian language in education” but also protects the rights of all minorities to get education.
Language has been a politically charged issue in Ukraine where 30 per cent of those polled in the 2001 census called Russian their mother tongue. Separatists [sic] who occupied [sic] large swathes of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east in April 2014 argue that they took up arms against a threat to encroach on their right to use Russian. Ukraine’s pro-Western government that took over [sic] shortly before that pledged to respect all minorities, and some of its most prominent figures are native Russian speakers.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto on Tuesday called Poroshenko’s signing of the law “a shame and a disgrace.”
“We guarantee that all this will be painful for Ukraine in the future,” Szijjarto told Hungarian state news wire MTI in Singapore, where he was on an official visit, vowing to block Ukraine’s efforts to integrate with the EU. There are about 150,000 ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine.
In a separate statement, Hungary’s Ministry of Human Resources, which oversees education, called on Ukraine’s education minister to hold consultations with the Hungarian minority in western Ukraine, who were left out of the legislative process before the language law was approved. “Ukraine’s leadership is steering its own country not toward Europe, but toward a dead end,” the ministry said.
Russian officials have condemned the law, saying that it violates Ukraine’s international obligations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that Russia views some of its provisions contradicting modern standards.
In Romania, the president last week last week canceled a visit to Ukraine in protest and has also called off a trip to Bucharest by Poroshenko. The 2001 census listed an estimated 400,000 Romanian speakers in Ukraine.