Crimea and the Black Sea (in)security amid Russia’s war against Ukraine

Foto: Louai Barakat /​ Imago Images

The Center for Liberal Moder­nity (LibMod) dis­cus­sed with Tamila Tasheva, Wil­fried Jilge, Olha Skryp­nyk, Dr. András Rácz and Marie­luise Beck about “Crimea and the Black Sea (in)security amid Russia’s war against Ukraine”.

The Black Sea, the Crimean Pen­in­sula, and the Sea of Azov from a stra­te­gic region in the Euro­pean Union’s Eastern Neigh­bour­hood. The region’s impor­t­ance for defence, trans­por­ta­tion, and trade has risen sharply since Russia’s illegal annex­a­tion of Crimea in 2014, which marks a turning point for the Euro­pean secu­rity order. In the fol­lowing years, Russia heavily mili­ta­ri­zed the pen­in­sula, turning it into a brid­ge­head for its large-scale inva­sion of Ukraine in Febru­ary 2022. We believe that the Kremlin has not given up its aim to occupy Odesa, the biggest city on the Black Sea shore, in order to estab­lish its hege­mony in the region.

Which stra­tegy should Ukraine pursue to de-occupy its sou­thern regions and Crimea? What is the current mili­tary and human rights situa­tion there? How should the EU and other regio­nal actors deal with Russia to ensure long-term secu­rity in the Black Sea basin?

State­ments of the experts, who took part in the discussion:

Dr. András Rácz, Asso­ciate Fellow, Secu­rity and Defense Program, German Council on Foreign Rela­ti­ons (DGAP)

  • Since the annex­a­tion of Crimea, the pen­in­sula has been heavily mili­ta­ri­zed. The number of Russian sol­di­ers incre­a­sed, Soviet air­ports were moder­ni­zed, and anti-missile systems were instal­led. The Crimean Pen­in­sula with the Kerch Bridge is now func­tio­n­ing as a key logisti­cal hub for the Russian mili­tary supply. Besides, Russia is using Crimea for its intel­li­gence acti­vi­ties. As a result, the only “suc­cess­ful” Russian offen­sive in Febru­ary 2022 was the one from the direc­tion of Crimea. Russia is using train systems and mili­tary storage faci­li­ties on the pen­in­sula for the advance of its army.
  • At the same time, an immediate amphi­bious attack on Odesa is rather impos­si­ble. Ukraine pushed the Russian fleet around 200 km away from the coast­line using Western anti-ship mis­si­les and long-range artil­lery. Besides, around 80 percent of Russian forces are focused on Donbas now.
  • Making an agree­ment with Russia about a pos­si­ble grain export route is dan­ge­rous because of the dif­fe­rent moves that must follow each other. If Ukraine demines the coast­line, it is not certain whether Russia will allow free ship­ment or not. In case Russia will not enable the export of grain after the demi­ning, it is unclear how Russia might use the then newly demined terrain. Those kinds of arran­ge­ments and com­mit­ments should be decided cautiously.
  • Calling for peace now means accep­t­ing current Russian ter­ri­to­rial gains. After what hap­pened in Bucha, Irpin, Mariu­pol, any peace will not ease the suffering.

Tamila Tasheva, Per­ma­nent Repre­sen­ta­tive of the Pre­si­dent of Ukraine in the Auto­no­mous Repu­blic of Crimea

  • Male citi­zens from Ukraine are forced into a con­scrip­tion into the Russian mili­tary, meaning they must fight in the Russian army against Ukraine. Up to now, more than 100 sol­di­ers have been con­scrip­ted from occu­p­ied territories.
  • Russia is dis­se­mi­na­ting pro­pa­ganda both on Crimea and in other occu­p­ied ter­ri­to­ries, which is aimed at dis­tor­ting events in Ukraine. Deli­ber­ately false infor­ma­tion is being spread, and school­tea­chers are forced to legi­ti­mize the war in Ukraine and Putin’s spee­ches. Since March 2022, the new Russian “fakes law” is in place. It forbids citi­zens of the Russian Fede­ra­tion and of the occu­p­ied ter­ri­to­ries to speak up against the Russian war. Hence, people in Crimea, who still publish anti-war slogans or protest in other ways against the war, are being detai­ned. It hits the repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of Crimean Tatars most heavily, not only in Crimea but also in the newly occu­p­ied territories.

Wil­fried Jilge, Media­tion Advisor Ukraine, Center for Inter­na­tio­nal Peace Ope­ra­ti­ons (ZIF), Asso­ciate Fellow, German Council on Foreign Rela­ti­ons (DGAP)

  • Russia’s inte­rest in the Black Sea region and the South of Ukraine is based on its long-stan­ding impe­ria­list ideas. The aims of Russia go further than Ukraine – towards the Cau­ca­sian Sea and the broader Black Sea region. The West, and espe­cially Germany, did not see or under­stand those deve­lo­p­ments. Western poli­cy­ma­kers should take signals from auto­crats seriously because those signals explain the stra­te­gic aims with pro­jec­tions into the past.
  • Germany tried to act in a role of a medi­ta­tor since the begin­ning of the war in 2014. Still, a clear ana­ly­sis was missing about what was hap­pe­ning in Crimea and in Donbas. Germany dis­mis­sed its pos­si­bi­lity to influ­ence Russia and missed oppor­tu­nities of earlier diplo­ma­tic respon­ses to esca­la­ti­ons, such as the blo­ckade of the Azov Sea in 2018.
  • The solu­tion to the grain issue is important for Turkey, which acts as a media­tor in the current situa­tion. Pre­si­dent Erdoğan faces the pre-elec­tion cam­paign and is inte­res­ted in a deal that would secure a sym­bo­lic victory and sta­bi­lize the domestic food prices. It is signi­fi­cant to watch Turkey’s reac­tion to Russian exports of the stolen Ukrai­nian grain. Should Turkey accept the stolen grain, its posi­tion as a media­tor will be damaged. Besides, it would result in the con­ti­nua­tion of stolen grain exports.
  • Male citi­zens in the occu­p­ied Kherson region are forced into mobi­liz­a­tion. A lot of male citi­zens flee from the Kherson region, which results in a lack of labour force. The­re­fore, Russia estab­lis­hed a program for Russian citi­zens, which enables them to get a double income if they work in the Kherson region to fill the labour posi­ti­ons there. While this pro­ce­dure breaks inter­na­tio­nal law for hidden demo­gra­phic changes within the region, another problem arises: Only poorly edu­ca­ted Russian workers will fill posi­ti­ons as doctors, etc., which will nega­tively impact the lives of people there.

Olha Skryp­nyk, Chair­per­son of the Crimean Human Rights Group, Coor­di­na­tor of the Group for Human Rights and Inter­na­tional Human­i­tar­ian Law in the Crimea Platform’s expert network

  • The Crimean human rights group con­ti­nues to work on the ground in Crimea and follows the poli­ti­cal per­se­cu­tion and human rights vio­la­ti­ons, espe­cially of the repre­sen­ta­ti­ves of Crimean Tatars. Russia con­ti­nues to per­se­cute jour­na­lists, acti­vists, and lawyers. The Russian regime in Crimea has become even more repres­sive since the start of the war.
  • The school edu­ca­tion on the pen­in­sula is being mili­ta­ri­zed heavily. The buil­dings of many schools are being used by the Russian army as a base for the attack on Ukraine.

Marie­luise Beck, Direc­tor for East-Central and Eastern Europe at LibMod, moderated.

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