The “countdown for the de-occupation” is running, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said at the first Crimea Platform summit last month, where 46 summit participants, including 14 national leaders, stressed the possibilities for Ukraine to regain full control of the peninsula.
The question is whether successive summits will be able to bring the issue of Crimea back on the European agenda. In seven years since the occupation, international efforts clearly haven’t undone Russian annexation.
Moscow, which has so far failed to obtain international recognition of the annexed peninsula, has done everything to normalise its presence in Crimea. By passportisation, by military presence, by detaining critics and opponents of their occupation – and by inviting Western politicians for flying visits to the shores of the Black Sea.
The chances, observers in Kyiv and the West say, are slim that Russia will come back to the negotiating table any time soon, especially because Moscow looks on the situation from a position of military power.
It is only a matter of time until foreign investment or economic activity, how dubious they might be, will return if sanctions are loosened.
The platform is an admirable attempt, seven and a half years after Russian troops landed, to get ahead of such a scenario. But where can this initiative realistically lead? Was it a powerful enough message to be heard in the corridors of the Kremlin?
A bone of contention in the aftermath of the summit was that Eastern European and regional allies turned out in force, but many Western countries did not send their highest-ranking officials, like Germany, France and the United States.
According to some diplomats participating in the summit, there were rumours about intense behind-the-scenes Russian lobbying of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western European leaders to derail Ukraine’s summit plans.
Germany, France, Spain and Italy did not send their foreign ministers to the platform launch and Russia has certainly sensed this diplomatic discrepancy.
Of course, one could say you don’t need to poke the bear if it’s not needed. Zelenskiy got a farewell visit from outgoing Chancellor Merkel the day before the summit and the pleasure of a courtesy visit to the White House in the weeks after. But realistically, this does not equal strong support for the initiative itself.
From the EU side, European Council President Charles Michel was present. He did not mince words on the persecution of Crimean Tatars by Moscow or the fact that ‘Crimea is Ukraine’.
But Moscow knows how EU foreign policymaking works. In the end, it’s the member states that count.
And Brussels is not ready to go further than renewing existing sanctions.
“The EU’s hands are tied as long as Russia is not willing to come to the negotiation table to talk about de-occupation of the peninsula,” a high-ranking EU official told EURACTIV.
“Because what else could we do? Take our strategic autonomy, transport it to Ukraine and push the Russians into the Azov Sea?” he asked.
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Look out for…
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]