Highlights of the remarks by Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, at an Arria-formula VTC “Follow-up to the Arria-formula discussion of March 6, 2020, on the situation in Crimea”
This meeting today is a follow-up to the Arria-formula meeting of 6 March 2020 on the situation in Crimea hosted by Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, in partnership with Ukraine. We regret the absence of Ukraine and some of our Western colleagues today. We would welcome their participation and be glad to give the floor to them. We would be interested in their engagement with real Crimeans, but they chose to avoid it.
Back then, on 6 March, we requested to include on the speakers list for the meeting the representatives of Crimea, who are residing in Crimea. They were denied such an opportunity. Today they will have a chance to speak up. To fence off typical speculations that we know might follow – they do not represent authorities. They are not “agents of Russian special services”. They represent civil society and Media. They were not indoctrinated what to say. We just recommended to them to watch the webcast of the Arria-formula event of 6 March, and to hear fairytales about the life in Crimea today. And we asked them to speak on whatever they choose to. I myself do not know what they will be saying. It is not a dialogue with me. It is a dialogue with them. So please listen to their unedited, uncooked, uncensored presentations.
Comments during the discussion:
Ambassador Heusgen, I am grateful that you came here equipped with numerous questions. I am sure that most of them will be answered by our today’s participants. This is their day, not mine. I think we can spare them from answers on the Budapest memorandum. I am ready to spend a seminar with you, if you wish, and tell you what I think about which parts of the Budapest memorandum were violated, besides the one that you are referring to.
By the way, I am not aware of those parts of Russia that you are now alluding to. They are unknown to me. But let’s keep answers to the end of our meeting and allow our participants to respond to questions. I appreciate that you will be with us till the end. The point of our meeting is dialogue. However difficult it is, whatever opinions we have, however diverging views we express, I appreciate it. Thank you.
The Belgian Ambassador said that this meeting goes in a stark contradiction to the Arria-formula meeting on Crimea on March, 6. I could not agree more. Our point was to give you first-hand information on the real situation in Crimea by those who indeed live in Crimea, not those who supply you with the Ukrainian propaganda about the situation on the peninsula.
I understand that today the German Ambassador was the main source of numerous questions posed to our speakers. I will give you a chance to respond to their replies in a second. But I would like to add two questions of my own. First, I would like to ask our speakers to share their impressions about the referendum that some say was done “under the gunpoint”. And the second question that I would like to pose to them – do they feel that they live under occupation? What is their sentiment about this?
Today we have people here who are ordinary citizens of Crimea trying to share with you in a plain way what they saw and what they feel. But in response they hear some statements that I have a feeling have been pre-recorded somewhere and just reproduced at this meeting. We came here to engage in a dialogue with you and to let you hear the voices of those who are on the peninsula and who are speaking from their hearts. They may be right, they may be wrong, they may have views that you don’t share, but they say what they feel. So, I encourage you to engage in a dialogue with them, even if you disagree with them. The representative of the Czech Republic referred to Crimean Tatars. The Crimean Tatars are in front of you, you can ask them anything and address to them questions that were in your statement.
Ukraine is so often referred to because Ukraine and Crimea are two sides of the same coin. In order to understand what happened in Crimea and why this referendum took place you have to understand what preceded it, have your eyes open to what happened in Kiev and Ukraine in 2014, which led to the referendum. I said that in another statement when we discussed the 75th Anniversary of the Victory. Unfortunately, Ukrainian authorities have nobody to blame but themselves. They really paved the way to that referendum in 2014.
Christoph, you are talking about international law. I don’t want to go too deep into it, but I just want to remind of Kosovo which you so whole-heartedly supported and recognized, and rejoiced when the International Court of Justice passed its opinion on Kosovo that was made independent by a Parliament’s decision, without any referendum.
So, we can talk and argue about the international law. Christoph, you are saying it all to the Crimeans. Provided they are right, and I am sure they are right, the majority of people are happy with the decisions they made. They are living now in Russia and they are not going anywhere else. What can you offer them? What do you want them to do? Go back to Ukraine? Do you think they will agree with you? This is objective, it is not political, I am just talking about how people feel about it, not how it should be. And what international law says about this – it is debatable.
V. Yanukovich is not my hero, and I am not a fan of him. But V. Yanukovich and the opposition reached an agreement that was guaranteed by Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, and Poland. That guarantee was breached the next day by the opposition, which made V. Yanukovich flee. He ran for his life, and maybe rightly so. If he were caught, I am afraid we would not see him alive today. But this is another story.
We are not here to discuss what happened in 2014. Still those events were a departure point for what then happened in Crimea. If it had not happened in Kiev in 2014, the situation would have been different, and today Crimea would be where it was before 2014.
We know that we are not able to prove that point to some of you and that you will insist on the opposite. However, it was not our point to prove anything. In my opinion, the point was to let you hear those who actually live in Crimea. You know, I prefer to discuss lobsters with those who tried lobsters. So these are the people who can give you first-hand account of how they feel about it.
I think we have spoken enough today and had a good dialogue. At least it was a frank one. We came here not to convince anyone. With regard to some of those present here, it is a “mission impossible”.
I would like to make one more little remark on issues raised by some of you, including Nicolas, who said that human rights institutions, UN and others should have unhindered access to Crimea, because now they can assess the human rights situation only remotely. We said on numerous occasions that they are welcome there provided that they do it in accordance with the current situation and the present-day reality.
Christoph said that we should engage with Ukraine on what to do with Crimea. I think the answer to that has been given by Crimeans. It would be simply unfair and a betrayal of Crimeans to discuss their future with Ukraine behind their backs. They made their decision. They said clearly what their choice was.
I would like to thank everyone for the discussion that touched upon not very easy and rather difficult issues. I would like to particularly thank our participants from Crimea. I hope next time we have a similar discussion later at the UN, they will be given an opportunity to engage and debate freely with those who have a different opinion. This is the purpose of any debate – to try find the truth by providing an opportunity to those who stand on the one and the other side and to make their point before the public.
Thank you all for participating. It is my opinion that the event that we had was a useful one. Thank you and good bye.