• Is the Kremlin Really Afraid of a Farmer?

    Birthdays are typically lavish affairs in Ukraine. But not for Volodymyr Balukh, who will spend his third birthday in prison for the simple act of displaying a Ukrainian flag in Crimea. On February 8, the Ukrainian farmer turns 48.

    His case shows how Moscow harshly punishes Ukrainians in Crimea who have the temerity to protest against the Kremlin’s illegal annexation of the peninsula.

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  • US and EU Need to Take on Crimea Sanction Sneaks

    Despite a comprehensive sanctions regime established by Western governments barring foreign investment in Crimea, many foreign companies nonetheless maintain operations there. Recent reports reveal that a number of companies such as Visa, MasterCard, Volkswagen, Auchan, Metro Cash & Carry, DHL, and Adidas are still willing to continue business as usual despite the reputational risk.

    The companies’ sanctions-busting behavior is driven by their commercial interests: they are reluctant to lose a significant share of the Russian market. According to Sergey Aksyonov, Crimea’s self-proclaimed prime minister, nearly 3,000 foreign firms are currently operating in Crimea. Aksenov has encouraged foreign companies to invest in Crimea, as there are ways companies can circumvent sanctions and conceal their identities.

    In fact, there are several recurring techniques that Western companies use to avoid sanctions.

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  • The Forgotten Story Behind Crimea’s Only Displaced University

    “We could hear explosions during classes and the sound of helicopters flying overhead. But no one understood what was happening or how long it would last,” recalls Anna Gladchenko, a 23-year-old student at the Donetsk National Medical University in Ukraine.

    When war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, 150,000 college students and 10,000 faculty and staff were thrown into an uncertain situation.

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  • Why Are We Letting Russia Destroy a 16th Century Palace in Crimea?

    There are compelling grounds for fearing that Russia’s restoration work on the world-renowned Khan’s Palace in Bakhchysarai could forever destroy this vital monument of Crimean Tatar cultural heritage. While Russia denies the accusations, photos smuggled off the site are alarming, as are the construction company’s and architectural firm’s lack of experience in restoration work.

    The Khan’s Palace in Bakhchysarai was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List in 2003, but the follow-up work for establishing its international status remains unfinished. According to Edem Dudakov, the former head of the Crimean Committee on Inter-Ethnic Relations and Deported Peoples, if the work now underway continues, the complex which includes the palace itself, a hall for receiving visitors, two mosques, a harem, and other buildings, will lose any chance of gaining UNESCO recognition in the future.

    The wanton destruction of the site should be considered a major attack by an occupying force on a monument of considerable historical and cultural importance for Crimean Tatars and Ukraine.

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  • Setting the Record Straight on Crimea

    It is ironic that Diane Francis views my characterizations of the Crimea annexation as touting the Kremlin line. Everything I've written about the Russian takeover of Crimea, from this March 2014 column comparing it with the Anschluss, to the October 4 column that displeased Francis, could land me in jail in Russia. Crimean Tatar activist Rafis Kashapov was sentenced to two years' imprisonment in 2015 for denying, as I consistently do, that Crimea is part of Russia.

    I acquired the freedom to write these columns by leaving my country. That was no small price to pay, so I'm disinclined to waste that freedom on the sloppy treatment of facts, which are often inconvenient to both sides of a conflict.

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  • Crimea’s Virtual Blackout Means Anything Goes

    On Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the Russian authorities are suppressing freedom of speech so that no one will really know what has happened there. Journalists in particular are under threat.

    The case of Ukrainian journalist Mykola Semena is one example of the situation in Crimea, which Russia has illegally occupied since 2014. His opinions were published in 2015 by Radio Liberty, a US government-sponsored news outlet that the Russian authorities dislike. His crime: he discussed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and supported a blockade of the peninsula. On April 19, 2016, Semena’s house was searched by the FSB, the Russian security service. Within a couple of days, they brought charges against him. His case is in Russian court now, and he faces a sentence of up to five years in prison.

    Since then, Semena’s health has been deteriorating—because of the terrible circumstances and because he is in his sixties. According to a conclusion by the Kyiv Institute of Neurosurgery, the journalist needs an operation. The International and European Federation of Journalists issued a statement urging the Russian authorities to allow Mykola to leave Crimea for treatment in Kyiv. Nevertheless, the sick journalist did not receive permission to do so.

    Semena’s situation is just the tip of the iceberg. Russia’s repression of free speech in Crimea is systemic. Restrictions were put in place immediately after the arrival of Russia’s "little green men” in the spring of 2014. I was there at that time and saw it firsthand.

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  • How Ukraine Can Win Back Crimea

    The Crimean Tatars are finally receiving the attention they deserve, and that Ukraine must give, if it is to regain Crimea and again be a unified country.

    On April 19, 2017, the International Court of Justice at The Hague issued a provisional ruling calling for an end to racial discrimination against Crimean Tatars, as well as ethnic Ukrainians, in Russian-occupied Crimea.

    Predating this, in March 2014, parliament adopted a decree guaranteeing Crimean Tatars “protection and the realization of their inalienable rights for self-determination within a sovereign and independent Ukrainian state.”

    As directed by this decree, on April 7, 2017, a draft law was introduced in parliament to grant Crimean Tatars the status of “indigenous people of Ukraine.” Giving them this status would provide them with the legal right to fight for their rights on the international level against Russian annexation.

    Russia laid the first building blocks for the now three-year illegal annexation of Crimea by playing on the historic inequities that have existed in Tatar-Ukrainian relations.

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  • US Lawmakers Remain Firm on Russia Sanctions

    US sanctions on Russia, imposed in response to the annexation of Crimea in 2014, must not only be maintained, “they should be tightened,” according to Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH).

    As recently as March 20, Russia has performed military drills practicing “offensive and defensive operations,” in Crimea, Chabot said, adding: “The fact that Russia has successfully claimed another country’s sovereign territory as its own and then carries out unprecedented offensive military drills there [is] absolutely unacceptable.”

    Chabot suggested that “in the last number of years America’s traditional leadership role around the world has often times been lacking.” He went on to describe a “power vacuum around various parts of the globe” that Russian President “Vladimir Putin and other bad actors have taken advantage of.” He called Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 an “egregious example of that power vacuum.”

    The West cannot afford to stand idly by, said Chabot.

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  • Polyakova Quoted by Newsweek on Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Policy

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  • A New Approach to Reintegrating Eastern Ukraine and Crimea

    Russian aggression is not likely to go away soon. As a result, Ukraine needs to revise the current framework guiding its economic disengagement from the occupied regions of the Donbas and Crimea. Economic disengagement limits the risks of financing terrorism with money coming from mainland Ukraine, and makes sure that the occupied areas of Donbas don’t turn into an economic grey zone and center of smuggling. It is also important to counter the Kremlin’s policy, which seeks to preserve control over the occupied areas of the Donbas without taking any economic responsibility for the region.

    Disengaging from the occupied areas of the Donbas will be complicated; prior to Russia’s aggression, the region generated 16 percent of the country’s GDP. Despite the overall ban on Ukrainian business relations with the region, there are a number of important exemptions.

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