Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Russia’s parliamentary speaker, Sergei Naryshkin has asserted that it wasUkraine that annexed the Crimea, not Russia.
Naryshkin’s statement is astoundingly inaccurate, but amusement at a politician’s foray into history would be misplaced. Moscow, one senses, has understood that there’s no getting away from the word “annexation” and is trying to hijack it.
The government-linked press agency RIA Novosti simply reports Naryshkin’s words, before providing a seriously distorted account of recent events. According to the report, Naryshkin “blamed Ukraine for annexing the Crimea in 1991.
“Back in January 1991 there was a referendum in the Crimean oblast which disputed the Crimea’s transfer to Ukraine. 93 per cent voted for this with an 81 per cent turnout. It was effectively then, 23 years ago, that the annexation of the Crimea was carried out. It was admittedly peaceful, but it was really an annexation,” Naryshkin said, speaking in the State Duma on Wednesday May 11. He noted that this was unfortunately made possible in part by the “irresponsibility of a number of Russian politicians”.
In Soviet times, that last sentence would have made many politicians tremble, probably with good cause. Those days may have gone, but you are unlikely to find Naryshkin’s words criticised in the mainstream media.
The referendum he refers to was over whether the “autonomous republic” status removed in 1945 (before the Crimea formally became part of the Ukrainian SSR in 1954) should be reinstated. There was overwhelming support for the Crimea becoming an autonomous republic within the Soviet Union. Ukrainian scholarNatalya Belitser writes that “after much heated debates and, perhaps keeping in mind the possible bloody and violent consequences of rejecting demands similar to those made in other parts of the ailing Soviet Union, on February 12, 1991, the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet adopted a law providing autonomous status for Crimea within the borders of Ukraine”.
The Soviet Union was ailing but still kicking, and any interpretation of these events as showing that Ukraine annexed Crimea is nonsense.
On August 24, 1991, three days after the failure of the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, Ukraine’s parliament declared independence. That decision was put to a nationwide vote on December 1, and 54.19 per cent of Crimeans voted in favour of Ukrainian independence.
There have been plenty of moments since when Crimea’s status has been placed in question, but public opinion polls never found a majority in favour of secession from Ukraine.
RIA Novosti provides none of the information above. Instead, after repeating Naryshkin’s words without comment, it gives a contentious version of events under the title, “How Crimea joined Russia”.
A few choice excerpts: “Mass protests called EuroMaidan took place throughout Ukraine and in January  turned into confrontations between armed radicals and the law-and-order agencies. The street battles during which the opposition repeatedly used firearms and Molotov cocktails resulted in dozens of casualties. “
“There was a violent seizure of power on February 22. The Verkhovna Rada, having violated the agreement reached between President Viktor Yanukovich and the leaders of the opposition, changed the constitution and the leadership of parliament and the interior ministry, and removed the head of state who was later forced to leave Ukraine, fearing for his life.”
The version of events culminating in Russia’s annexation of the Crimea is presented in a form suspiciously similar to that hurriedly added to a new school history textbook.
A large number of unarmed protesters were gunned down by police snipers in February and the Verkhovna Rada session referred to on February 22 was required because Yanukovich had already fled. The details which RIA Novosti gives – and those which it and the history textbook omit – can easily be checked in a large range of sources. Many of them, including the snipers, received wide coverage in the Western media. They were and continue to be muffled or distorted in the Kremlin’s rhetoric and Russian media.
Russian history for domestic consumption is increasingly taking on all the caricature-like contours of Soviet socialist reality.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of IWPR.
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