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Little green men

18 March 2019 was the fifth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The process began in February 2014, as soldiers wearing Russian combat fatigues and carrying Russian weapons began seizing important installations in the peninsula. Russia initially denied they were Russian soldiers but later said they were.


After Russia had gained full control of Crimea a referendum was held in which voters were not given the chance to choose the status quo, conducted in polling stations under armed guard. Russian journalists reported that they had been allowed to vote.

97% had voted to join Russia, according to Russian official results, on a turnout of 87%. Later a member of the Russian Human Rights Council mistakenly posted the real election results, showing that about 55% had voted to join Russia on a turnout of 40%, according to reports.

On 27 March, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on states not to recognise the annexation.

The annexation Moscow violated, among other agreements, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances for Ukraine, whereby Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons that were on its territory on independence in exchange for undertakings from Russia, the US and the UK that its territorial integrity would be respected.

A range of sanctions was imposed on Russia by the EU, the US and allies over the annexation, including:

  • economic sanctions, including restrictions on access to financial markets
  • an arms embargo
  • restrictions on the export of oil extraction technology
  • targeted sanctions against certain individuals
  • diplomatic sanctions – exclusion from the G8 and suspension of voting rights in the CoE

Council of Europe

On 7 April 2019, Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General, said that Russia should have its voting rights in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe restored; otherwise Moscow might quit the organisation by summer 2019, according to Jagland. The 47-member council oversees the 1949 European Convention on Human Rights and its associated court and some argue a Russian departure would deprive Russians of one of the last protections against authoritarian government.

Recent developments

Stability remains elusive in eastern Ukraine and Russia has moved to shore up its hold on Crimea. Russia is building a road and rail bridge across the Kerch Strait, connecting Crimea to Russia.

On 25 November 2018 Russian border patrol ships attacked and seized three Ukrainian Navy vessels attempting to enter the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea through the Kerch Strait, in a move that looked designed to gain complete control of the Sea of Azov. In December suspicions that Russia has nuclear arms in Crimea were reported.

These developments suggest that, while the conflict in the eastern mainland regions of Ukraine may be resolved, Russia does not intend to restore Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea.

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