An historic event – the reunification of the people of Russia and the people of Crimea – took place several days ago. All Russians and Crimeans have been waiting for this for many decades.
To understand the reason behind such a choice, it is enough to know the history of Crimea and what Russia and Crimea have always meant for each other.
In 1783, this peninsula became a part of Russia. In 1954 Crimea, along with Sevastopol, was transferred by a personal initiative of the leader of the ruling Communist party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
What matters now is that this decision was made in clear violation of the USSR constitutional norms that were in place then. People, of course, wondered why it occurred, but on the whole, this decision was treated as a mere formality, because the territory was transferred within the boundaries of the Soviet Union.
Moreover, at that time it was impossible to imagine that Ukraine and Russia may split up and become separate states. However, this happened in 1991, and Crimea became a part of the Republic of Ukraine.
For more than 20 years of its membership in Ukraine, the people of Crimea faced some pressure on their rights and freedoms. First of all, it concerns the right of self-determination.
After an unlawful and violent upheaval in Kiev in February 2014, when the current leaders of Ukraine took power as a result of a coup d’état with the help of political nationalists and extremists, the situation became worse.
Some groups controlled by the authorities from Kiev have tried to overthrow the legitimate government of Crimea, organised criminal prosecution of the leaders of this peninsula.
In these circumstances, the authorities of Crimea, focusing on the protection of the life and rights of their own citizens, had to make a hard decision to organise a referendum on the most important issue – to stay in Ukraine or to secede from it.
An overwhelming majority of Crimeans (83 per cent) came to polling stations to raise their voice. More than 96 per cent of them spoke out in favour of reuniting with Russia.
These numbers speak for themselves. We can say that this was a unanimous choice of the people of Crimea.
Some Western countries led by the US claim that this referendum is illegal and cannot be recognised by the world community. This can only be regarded as a use of “double standards”, a thing which is often used by our partners in world politics.
In this context it is logical to ask them: “What about Kosovo, the Falkland Islands and Mayotte?” Everybody who knows these cases will never argue about the legitimacy of the referendum in Crimea.
Let me briefly remind you about them.
Kosovo’s separation from Serbia stemmed from NATO military action against Yugoslavia (in 1999) without the approval of the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, the International Court of Justice later ruled positively on the issue of legitimacy of Kosovo secession.
Upon a referendum in the Falkland Islands in 2013, the US and EU recognised that these territories belong to the UK, despite strong objections from Buenos Aires, which claims them to be a part of Argentina.
According to the results of a national referendum in 1974, all Comoro islands except Mayotte voted for independence from France. But the will of the people of Mayotte to stay under French rule justified actions from Paris, which led to accession of this island to France.
This was also recognised by Western countries, though the UN and African Union refused to do it.
In all these cases, the main argument of the US and EU was about the realisation of a right of people for self-determination guaranteed by the UN Charter.
If we take this argumentation, then it seems very strange why these countries fiercely oppose the fact that the people of Crimea also have the above-mentioned right.
It is also impossible to ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population in Crimea are Russian. Today, the total population of Crimea is 2.2 million people, of which almost 1.5 million are Russians, 350,000 are Ukrainians who predominantly consider Russian their native language and about 300,000 are Crimean Tatars.
The most recent public opinion surveys conducted in Russia show that 92 per cent of Russians support Crimea’s reunification with Russia. This is a very high figure, which shows that Crimea is really a sensitive issue for all Russians.
And the last point. We regard the fraternal people of Ukraine as our true friends and one of our closest neighbours. We have a common history, culture, religion and language.
Many Russians have relatives in Ukraine and vice versa. We have numerous ties in all areas. Almost all people in Russia are deeply concerned about what is happening in Ukraine now.
The current political, economic and social turmoil in Ukraine is a tragic event not only for Ukrainians but also for Russians.
We believe that some day we will see a strong, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine.
This fully meets the interests of both Ukraine and Russia.
Evgeny Merkulov is the Press Secretary of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the Kingdom of Cambodia.