For the first time, a whole session of the OSCE Security Forum was devoted to this topic.

The illegal actions by the occupation authorities in Crimea since 2014 have been a major factor of the security situation come-down in the Azov and Black Sea regions, characterized by instability and a deteriorating trend.

This was the start of Anton Korynevych, the Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, speech at the OSCE Forum, Ukrinform reports.

The Ukrainian delegation and partner countries constantly raise the issue of the Crimea occupation at the meetings of the bodies which determine the policy of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. However, for the first time, a separate session was devoted to the situation in the Azov-Black Sea region. This was achieved primarily due to Ukraine’s chairmanship in the Forum, which lasts from April to August.

We have already written that the Russian delegation to the OSCE had tried to block the “inappropriate” speeches of the two principal speakers at the meeting – independent British expert James Sherr and the Permanent Representative of the President of Ukraine to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea Anton Korinevich.

Let’s examine the main theses of the speaker’s speech from Ukraine during a virtual meeting, which was off=limits to journalists.

Threats in the Azov-Black Sea region

Security challenges and threats in the Azov-Black Sea region can be summarized as follows:

  • the political sphere is characterized by Russia’s attempt to overcome international isolation after the military invasion of Crimea. Namely, developing relations with individual Black Sea countries and influencing them in the form of «soft power», unlike direct military aggression against Ukraine and Georgia with the occupation of parts of their territories;
  • military direction is characterized by the comprehensive militarization of the Crimea from preschool education to the deployment of S-400 missile systems as well as the naval Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation improvement, which has been equipped with cruise missiles «Caliber»;
  • the Russian Federation uses the peninsula as the main material and technical base for Russia’s military operations in Syria increases naval exercises and closed maritime areas, including Ukraine’s maritime economic zone around the occupied Crimea. The peninsula also shows signs of reproduction of nuclear military facilities;
  • international legal sphere: termination of the recognition of the powers of the International Commission for the Discovery of Facts under Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions;
  • the Crimean employees’ promotion abroad by the Kremlin and involvement of pro-Russian foreigners in the activities of the peninsula;
  • Crimean residents forced naturalization by the Russian Federation, deprivation of Ukrainian citizens’ and foreigners’ property rights n the peninsula;
  • the economic direction is characterized by the creation of artificial barriers to free commercial shipping and the threat of maritime transport in the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov due to the illegal construction of the so-called «Crimean Bridge»;
  • foreign vessels’ involvement in illegal commercial sea transportation to Crimean ports;
  • gas reserves increase in the Black Sea, that creates an environmental hazard in the depths of the Black Sea, saturated with hydrogen sulfide.
  • tensions growing due to the Russian Federation’s efforts to legitimize the attempt to annex the peninsula and establish its dominance in maritime areas. The prospect of a possible transformation of the Azov and Black Seas into «Russian lakes» is a direct consequence of the Crimea occupation.

What happened to human rights?

The security issues in the Azov and Black Sea regions are not limited to the military component. No less important for understanding and assessing the Russian hybrid war against Ukraine are the large-scale and serious violations of international humanitarian law by the Russian Federation namely on the territory of the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol.

According to several international organizations (OSCE, Council of Europe), the human rights situation in the occupied Crimea has been deteriorated sharply. The reports confirm the large-scale abductions, enforced disappearances, tortures, politically motivated ethnic and religious persecution, and discrimination. Fundamental rights of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, religion and education are violated. The persecution and banning of the media, the destruction of Ukraine’s identity and the Crimean Tatar identity, and the illegal conscription of the Russian Armed Forces are being monitored.

Many of these acts of the occupying power are classified as war crimes and crimes against humanity. They fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

How Russia violates the agreements on conventional armed forces in Europe 

The Russian occupation of the Crimea has led to a sharp increase in the quantity of conventional weapons and military equipment in the Black Sea region, which exceeds the limits which had been set by the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty).

Missile weapons on the peninsula can hit the entire southern part of Ukraine and the territory of neighbour countries. The security of the Black Sea states, two of which have already suffered from foreign aggression, is also under challenge.

The occupied territories of Ukraine and Georgia have been turned into grey areas inaccessible for verification and inspection activities under the CFE Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, the Vienna Document on Confidence and Security Measures and other arms control and non-proliferation regimes. This continues to undermine military transparency, predictability and confidence in the region.

Russia is turning the Crimea into a military base

The predominant political interest of the Russian Federation is the occupied Crimea transformation into a military base along with the Kremlin’s intention to expand beyond the Black Sea.

The militarization of the peninsula was resolved almost immediately after the illegal its occupation.

The Crimea occupation and further militarization led to the expansion of the warships and military aircraft usage in the Black Sea region and far beyond the entire Mediterranean basin. Consequently, such activities have far-reaching security implications not only in the Black Sea region but throughout Southern Europe, as well as in North Africa and the Middle East.

Several illegal military exercises in and around the Crimea confirm an aggressive military stance towards Ukraine and other Black Sea states. Such exercises also cause meaningful long-term negative environmental impacts in the region.

The Sea of Azov is also heavily militarized. The number of warships has been increased significantly. This impacted not only maritime trade and supplies to Ukraine but also poses an additional military threat to Ukraine and worsened the security situation in the region.

The Kerch Strait Bridge illegal construction has significantly enlarged this threat.

Nuclear forces in the Crimea

The occupation power takes steps to resume nuclear activities, in particular, places carriers and other tools which are capable to deliver nuclear weapon. It also actively developes nuclear infrastructure on the peninsula.

Given the strategic location of the Crimea in the region, as well as the fact that Ukraine is a part of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapon as a state that does not have it, the nuclear forces deployment in Crimea is a serious challenge.

UN and OSCE FORCES in the fight against the militarization of Crimea

Taking into account the current volatile security situation in the Black and Azov Seas and the possible negative consequences, the militarization issue of Crimea should be on the agenda of all interested international organizations, including UN and OSCE.

The international community should redouble its pre-agreed actions to restore security and full compliance with international law, OSCE core norms and principles in the Black and Azov Seas. These efforts are to be based on adhering to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, which refrained from the threat or use of force, non-interference in internal affairs, and conscientious fulfilment of obligations under international law.

Ukraine remains one of the main targets of Russian aggression, and Russia does not seem to stop. The more Moscow talks about the desire for peace, the more the Kremlin prepares for war.

What should the OSCE implement in Crimea and at the sea?

The OSCE can play a greater role in monitoring and responding to the security deteriorating and socio-economic situation in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea region.

It has already confirmed the negative impact on the social and economic well-being of Ukrainians living in the areas located on the coast of the Sea of Azov. Reports confirm that «delays and reductions of vessels wishing to sail through the Kerch Strait caused business cuts, including contracts’ cancellation, inability to acquire new contracts due to constant uncertainty» and insurance costs increase. This monitoring is important and should continue daily.

The OSCE regularly bans access to the temporarily occupied areas in the south of the Donetsk region which are adjacent to the Sea of Azov. This is the territory of the established routes for the weapon and labour force supply to the conflict zone. We believe that greater vigilance and accountability is needed for measures related to the militarization of the occupied Crimea and the adjacent territorial waters of the Azov and Black Seas.

The consequences of such a destructive policy for the local population, security of Ukraine and the environment should also be reflected in the reports. The remote monitoring tool is of particular importance for this goal.

Natalia Tolub

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