An envoy’s response
Undoubtedly, in a democratic society in the modern world of the 21st century, every person has the right to express his or her thoughts on different issues.
But at the same time, it is unthinkable for a person who represents a big country and who was not a direct witness or participant in the developments in Ukraine during the recent period to spread obviously untruthful and distorted information. Let me clarify several statements in the above mentioned interview that most flagrantly distorted the situation in Ukraine.
First, as for the issue of the so-called referendum in Crimea held on March 16, it is clear that almost the entire world community, including leading international organizations like the UN, OSCE and Council of Europe (the Russian Federation is a member state in these organization) don’t recognize its legitimacy, which was confirmed by the results of a vote at a meeting of the UN General Assembly on March 27, 2014, where 100 UN member states supported a resolution backing the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The so-called referendum was nothing but a planned act of aggression by the Russian leadership aimed at the annexation of Crimea, an integral part of Ukrainian territory, into the Russian Federation, violating the norms and principles of international law and fundamental tenets of the UN and OSCE.
Moreover, the issue of holding some kind of plebiscite in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea has not been on the agenda since September 2013 at least. The only issue that was under discussion in Crimea was related to the extension of the authority of the government of Crimea. The so-called referendum was organized in only two weeks, contrary to the Constitution and Ukrainian law, as well as international standards.
Taking into consideration the huge number of Russian armed forces in Crimea, illegally deployed during three weeks to the tune of more than 20,000 military men, it is hard to believe it when the Russian ambassador says that during the so-called referendum in Crimea “people freely voted, without pressure from the military.” (Officially Russia denies the presence on the Crimean Peninsula of its troops, except for legal representatives of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and calls these well-equipped and armed men Crimean “self-defense” forces.)
Second, it is not sensible for the Russian ambassador to compare the situation of minorities’ rights in Ukraine with some historic events in Korean-Japan relations. It is a well-known fact that Ukraine, as a multinational country, respects minorities’ rights, including the linguistic rights of the Russian minority.
Let me present some figures. The Russian minority in Ukraine - 17.3 percent of the total Ukrainian population - has 1,256 general education schools with Russian-language classes and 1,176 newspapers in the Russian language. The Ukrainian minority in Russia (1.4 percent) has only 10 general education schools and seven newspapers in the Ukrainian language. TV and radio programs in Russian account for 5 to 74 percent of the total broadcasting in Ukraine, depending on the region. In Russia, the Ukrainian minority has only one radio station.
It is also worth emphasizing that representatives of international organizations that have visited Ukraine recently ascertain no threats to minorities’ rights, including the Russian minority, in my country. But the opposite situation in regards to minorities’ rights is taking place at present in annexed Crimea, where the self-proclaimed authorities don’t admit representatives of international organizations to conduct monitoring of ethnic groups.
Moreover, on March 24, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Astrid Thors, during a stay in Ukraine, reported numerous appeals that she received from minorities living on the Crimean Peninsula with information about violation of their rights by the self-proclaimed authorities of Crimea. In this regard, the HCNM expressed concerns of a possible exodus of refugees from the Crimean Peninsula to other regions of Ukraine.
Third, we don’t accept any suggestions from the Russian side concerning the developments of the internal situation in Ukraine and consider them an interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine.
Concluding, I would also like to acknowledge the meeting of foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. Before that, Russian officials refused to communicate with their Ukrainian counterparts. I believe that this step will herald the beginning of a settlement between Ukraine and Russia by diplomatic means and not with Kalashnikov machine guns.
*The author is the Ukrainian ambassador to South Korea.
By Vasyl Marmazov