Russia, Hosting Two Major Summits, Says Crimea Issue ‘Closed’

Patrick Goodenough | July 10, 2015 | 4:20am EDT
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President Vladimir Putin holds a photo op in Ufa, Russia on Thursday, July 10, 2015 with fellow BRICS leaders, foreground, and leaders of SCO members and observer states, including Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Photo: Russian Presidency)

( – Underlining Russia’s contention that it is anything but isolated internationally over its actions in Ukraine, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that leaders at two summits hosted by Russia this week did not raise concerns relating to its annexation of Crimea.

Pointing to final documents being released at the end of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) leaders’ summits, Lavrov told reporters that they were silent on Crimea, which he said was a “closed” issue.

“None of our partners declare their non-recognition of the referendum’s results, which became the basis for Crimea’s reunification with Russia,” he said, referring to a March 2014 Moscow-supported referendum in the Ukrainian region which the West rejected.

Lavrov said the leaders gathered for the twin summits in the remote southern city of Ufa called for implementation of the “Minsk” ceasefire agreement negotiated between Ukraine government and Russian-backed separatists, but that does not relate to Crimea.

“In the documents, which you will see in a few hours, the leaders of BRICS as well as the leaders of the SCO reinforce our common stance on the need for full and scrupulous implementation of the Minsk agreements, which are unrelated to the Crimean issue,” he said.

“The issue with Crimea is closed, everyone realizes that, even those who cannot stop talking about it,” Lavrov added. “It was closed by the people of Crimea, and Russia’s decisions were taken on the basis of the clearly expressed will of the Crimean people.”

Immediately after the referendum, in which the two million inhabitants of the Russian-majority Black Sea peninsula voted overwhelming to join Russia, President Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that the referendum “would never be recognized by the United States and the international community.”

Shortly thereafter the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution – by a 100-11 vote, with 58 abstentions – calling on countries not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status, or take any actions that may be interpreted as such.

Putin’s annexation of Crimea triggered U.S. visa bans and asset freezes on senior Russian figures and sanctions against a key bank.

Sixteen months later, however, Lavrov’s comments underscored the fact that that, despite U.S. and European sanctions and other punitive measures, Russia is not effectively isolated in the international community.

With members including the world’s first (China), second (India), fifth (Brazil) and ninth (Russia) most-populous countries, the BRICS account for two-fifths of the world’s population.

The SCO bloc comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Pakistan (the sixth most populous country) and India are about to be offered membership to the SCO, while other observer members, including Iran and Afghanistan, are waiting in the wings to join them.

Apart from Russia, which voted “no,” the other BRICS and SCO countries all abstained in the March 2014 U.N. vote calling on countries not to recognize the Crimea referendum and status change. (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan did not vote.)

Reacting to Lavrov’s remarks, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said the Crimea question was not “closed.”

“No country for which human rights, international law and global security are not hollow concepts, will ever recognize Russia’s occupation of Crimea or the criminal decisions adopted by the Russian Federation,” he told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

“Russia closed off Crimea from the world,” Klimkin said. “Russia has also closed off Crimea for those on the peninsula who want to live in freedom and prosperity on their native land.”

Meanwhile one of Lavrov’s deputy foreign ministers, Sergei Ryabkov, said Thursday that the notion Russia will ever give up Crimea in order to have the Western sanctions lifted was mistaken.

“To think that Russia will change its policy under the sanctions, if they remain in force, is one of the biggest mistakes of a modern foreign policy pursued by the United States and the European Union,” the Itar-TASS news agency quoted him as saying in Moscow.

“The sanctions imposed over Crimea may last forever because Moscow will never change its stance on Crimea,” he said.

Moscow’s narrative of a benign incorporation of Crimea into the Russian Federation in keeping with its people’s wishes is far removed from that held by the U.S. government.

“In February [2014] the [Russian] armed forces unlawfully entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula,” the State Department said in its recently-released country reports on human rights.

“In March Russian occupation authorities staged a ‘referendum’ on Crimea’s political independence and fabricated the results in an effort to legitimize Russia’s planned annexation.”

“The international community denounced the occupation and refused to recognize the country’s purported annexation of Crimea,” the report stated.

The report also accused Russian “occupation authorities” of persecuting some religious and ethnic minorities, including Tatars, “and others who opposed the occupation, in many cases forcing targets to flee the peninsula.” It said 18,000 Crimeans had been displaced as a result of Russia’s actions.

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