With Ukraine’s summer offensive proceeding slower than hoped, plans for the liberation of Crimea may to some seem a little premature to the foreign observer.
This is not the case in Ukraine itself – almost one-in-two Ukrainians plans to visit and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov promised that he will celebrate his next birthday in June 2024 on the liberated peninsula.
But the task ahead is huge – after the monumental military effort required to wrest back control of the territory illegally-annexed by Russia in 2014, Ukraine needs to restore governance to an area of land the same size as many small countries.
Then there are the questions it raises? What to do with any Russians who decide to stay? What about Ukrainians with Russian passports? What about collaborators? Does Ukraine demolish the Crimea Bridge or keep it standing?
Tamila Tasheva, permanent representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, explained to Kyiv Post how the authorities see the strategy of reintegration of the peninsula.
According to them, this plan has approved by a majority of Crimeans who managed to read the document despite persecution from Russia.
What’s the plan?
Ukraine began working up a plan for the liberation of Crimea long before Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022.
The previous year, President Zelensky announced a decree titled: “On the Strategy of Deoccupation and Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol.”
This became a guide for the plan currently being put into effect but needed significant revisions as, in 2021, a diplomatic solution to Russia’s occupation of the peninsula was still the most likely scenario envisaged by Kyiv.
The full-scale invasion radically shifted this perspective and the new plan had to accommodate the new reality – Ukraine would have to take back Crimea by force.
The final version of Kyiv’s new action plan for the reintegration of the Crimean Peninsula will be presented on August 23.
“We understand that Crimea will be liberated in the near future,” Tasheva tells Kyiv Post.
“Accordingly, we need to be ready for this process.”
Permanent representative of the President of Ukraine in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Tamila Tasheva. PHOTO: Ukrinform.
What will it address?
Crucially, the plan will not address how to liberate Crimea or issues of security – these are strictly the remits of Ukraine’s defense and law enforcement sectors, information on which is not public.
Instead, the plan will focus on the restoration of Ukrainian governance in Crimea.
Initially, military administrations will carry out this work and then, when martial law in Ukraine is ended, these will become military-civilian administrations.
“We are working on the priority steps needed after deoccupation, that is, after the liberation of the territory,” Tasheva says.
“These are actually reintegration steps.”
How big is the task?
Absolutely huge and the government has already started recruiting for the task – according to estimates, 50,000 civil servants will be required to establish governance across all the areas required to run the peninsula.
According to Tasheva, 1,000 applications for positions have already been received.
“These are people who are already active civil servants who have work experience as well as others who have absolutely no public service experience at all,” she said.
What are the first steps?
One of the first tasks will be to decide the fate of infrastructure built by or taken over by Russia since Moscow illegally invaded in 2014, much of it military installations.
Some of it could be kept and utilized by Ukraine, most notably the naval infrastructure that currently maintains Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
Ukraine’s navy – which currently consists only of handful of small boats – is in dire need of rebuilding, a need that will only increase post-liberation. But as this is a military matter, it won’t be covered in the upcoming plan.
“The armed forces of Ukraine will independently decide on the future of Russia military infrastructure in Crimea,” Tasheva says.
In a hugely symbolic move, the Crimea Bridge – Putin’s $3.7 billion flagship infrastructure project linking Crime with the Russian mainland – will be demolished.
Ukraine will also conduct an inventory of state and communal property and determine the damage caused by the Russian occupation.
It will also be necessary to determine the future fate of buildings erected by residents of the Russian Federation or the occupation authorities.
During this stabilization phase, elections will not be held.
Under Ukrainian plans, the Crimea Bridge will be demolished. PHOTO: AFP
What about collaborators?
The issue of collaborators will be an urgent issue that needs addressing as many of those in senior positions across all sectors will have gained their posts through collaborating with the Russian occupying authorities.
“There will be criminal responsibility for those officials who made management decisions on the territory of the peninsula,” Tasheva says.
“Those who actively implemented the occupation legislation on the territory of Crimea, those who betrayed the oath – the law enforcement bloc, the military, the judicial bloc.
“And especially those who actively violated human rights, committed war crimes.”
Tasheva stresses that not all Ukrainian citizens who stayed in Crimea since 2014 will be viewed as collaborators.
“We are not going to persecute them just for the fact that they lived there,” she says.
The same applies to Ukrainians who took Russian passports during the occupation.
Tasheva says the Ukrainian government recognizes that these Ukrainians could not have survived without a Russian passport issued in occupied territories, a document Ukraine does not officially recognize.
“This is the legal position that Ukraine has declared in absolutely all international courts,” she says.
“And we call it (distribution of Russian passports) a crime of colonization and a crime of imposed citizenship.”
The exception will be those who took a passport of the Russian Federation to get a job with the occupation authorities.
What will happen to the Russians?
As far as Ukraine is concerned, Russians living in Crimea have had every opportunity to leave Crimea – Zelensky has personally repeatedly called on them to leave the peninsula while the Crimea Bridge is still standing.
As such, any that remain after liberation will face a tough time.
“They are complicit in the crime of colonization,” Tasheva says.
“If they don’t leave, there are legal procedures in international legislation, in Ukrainian legislation, to expel them from the territory if they crossed the border illegally.
“Of course, they will have the opportunity to appeal such an action and contact the Ukrainian migration authorities, where they will explain the reasons for which they entered the territory of Crimea.
“Perhaps they have some reasons why they violated the legislation of Ukraine. Let them prove it.”
One of the more sensitive issues is how to reverse the psychological effects of living under Russian occupation for nearly a decade.
Ukraine has to transform Crimea into a Ukrainian socio-political and cultural space and harmonize interethnic and interreligious relations.
At present there is little public information about this aspect of the plan.
The next important step for Crimea is economic revival. The priority direction is the revival of the peninsula’s tourism potential.
The authorities expect that over time, big business will come to the peninsula, including certain tourist chains, hotel chains, and so on.
They especially want to see representatives of the IT sphere in Crimea.
"Our vision is that it will be a kind of Silicon Valley with a developed IT business, with opportunities for an educational component," says Tasheva.
According to her, Crimea is also suitable for technologies related to renewable energy sources, given its natural conditions.
Status of Crimea
This question is still up for debate. Currently, Crimea is an Autonomous Republic.
Having received this status in the early 90s, it gave the authorities of the peninsula freedom of action in many political issues. But it also helped the Russian Federation to implement its occupation plan.
Will Crimea retain this status after liberation? Most likely, no. But whether a new status will be created or whether the peninsula will become a region, no one can answer for sure now.
Tasheva says that at this moment in time, this issue is not urgent in the reintegration strategy but it will definitely be raised after the liberation of Crimea.
Emine Dzhaparova, a Crimean Tatar activist and first deputy minister of foreign affairs, said in an interview with the Kyiv Post that the creation of the National Crimean Tatar Autonomy is the right way.
“Ukraine expects membership in the EU, while the Crimean Tatars expect the right to determine their future on their land because we were born as the people on this land and, of course, we want to determine our future,” Dzhaparova said.
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