Leigh Turner

Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Ukraine

2nd April 2014

Why Ukraine matters and what happens next

CrimeaHeavily armed Russian troops seize Crimea, part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine with a population similar to Latvia and an area larger than Israel.  President Putin says Crimea “has always been an inalienable part” of Russian territory; and announces its permanent annexation.

How should we respond?

I’ve just returned to Istanbul from four weeks working in London on the Ukraine Crisis.  I was posted in Ukraine from 2008-2012, and in Moscow from 1992-95.  I have Ukrainian and Russian friends, and strong affection for both countries.  Seeing up close what the Foreign Secretary has called the deepest political crisis of the 21st century has been fascinating and disturbing.

As Prime Minister Cameron has said, the attempt by Russia to annex Crimea using military force sends a chilling message across Europe.  It strikes at the heart of the international rules-based system on which all our security depends.

Perversely, by its actions, Russia is causing precisely the instability it says it wants to combat.

The Assistant Secretary General of the UN recently visited Ukraine.  He said he saw no evidence of any widespread or systemic violations against ethnic Russians.  The OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities has said there is “no evidence of any violence or threats to the rights of Russian speakers” in Crimea.

That’s right. The pretext for Russia seizing Crimea – to “defend” Russian speakers somehow threatened by someone – is nonsense.  They made it up.

So who is actually threatening people in Ukraine?  Well, the deployment of Russian troops in Crimea, as seen in videos of professional soldiers entering the Crimean parliament, has led to injuries, and the death of at least one Ukrainian soldier.  And now the UN have concerns about human rights in Russia-controlled Crimea, including arbitrary arrest and torture, and about the Tatar community there.

There was no “arbitrary arrest and torture” in Crimea before Russian troops went in.

Before Russia seized Crimea, the name of the Crimean parliament was spelt out in the Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar languages.  Now, the name is only in Russian.

Since Russian troops went in, human rights in Crimea are going backwards.

So what do people in Crimea think?

We don’t know.  On 16 March, Russia organised a “referendum” in Crimea, designed to show that Crimeans wanted to be part of Russia.  But we have no idea how people actually voted.  We don’t know what the results would have been if a free campaign and debate had been allowed; or if voters had had a choice between two meaningful questions.

But we do know that a reputable poll in February 2014 found that only 41% of Crimeans wanted reunification with Russia; and that in the last internationally observed election in Crimea, the “Russian Unity Party” received 4% of the vote.

A few years ago in Crimea I chatted in Russian to a taxi driver – a former Black Sea Fleet sailor who had chosen to retire to Crimea in the 1990s.  He was perfectly happy with the status quo of Crimea as an autonomous republic within Ukraine: “it’s not an issue”, he said.

Andrei Zubov, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, wrote on 16 March that Russia wanted to limit Ukraine’s ability to decide its own future in the same way that the Soviet Union constrained the sovereignty of Warsaw pact “involuntary allies” such as Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland.

I have the greatest respect for the people of Ukraine.  It is they, not outsiders, who should decide the future of their country.

And no country wants Russia or anyone else to gain the impression that military force is a cost-free way to gain influence or territory.

That’s why the UN Security Council voted on a resolution on 15 March condemning the referendum as “unconstitutional” and “illegitimate”, leaving Russia isolated.  That’s why 100 countries in the UN General Assembly voted last week for a motion saying Russia’s Crimea referendum had no validity, while just ten voted with Russia.

That’s why the OSCE is putting impartial observers on the ground in Ukraine – to help establish the facts about human rights in Ukraine.

Ukrainian journalist Vitaliy Portnikov wrote on 7 March: “You [Russia] have won Crimea and you have lost Ukraine.  You have lost Ukraine forever.  Farewell.”  On 19 March, Russian business daily Vedomosti wrote: “By joining Crimea, Russia is definitively losing Ukraine…  Kazakhstan and Belarus, where there are also large Russian minorities, cannot feel secure.”

This is where the illegal annexation of Crimea has left Russia: isolated in an international community shocked by Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty.  Mistrusted by its closest neighbours.  Facing partners determined to redefine their long-term relationship with Russia, including on long-term energy supplies.

This is a sad thing to see, after twenty years of the UK and others trying to help Russia develop its economy and integrate into the international system.  Most Russians, like people anywhere, want nothing more than stability, peace and a decent standard of living.

Russia seizure of Ukraine’s sovereign territory has put all that at risk.

It’s time for Russia to return to the course of de-escalation, dialogue and co-operation.  The UK and the international community are open to pursuing that channel with them.

11 comments on “Why Ukraine matters and what happens next

  1. Very well put. Enjoyed your candor and your ability to sum things up succinctly when you were here in Kiev.

  2. European countries must boycott cultural and tourist contracts with Crimea, the tourist industry being the largest and most significant in that area. The economic sanctions must be effective for Putin to realise that he can’t always have his own way by means of intimidation.

  3. Great summary of current affairs in Ukraine and Europe in general. I only wish that British foreign policy reflected this new found respect for the Ukrainian people and state 20 years ago. Hopefully now, finally Britain and Germany in particular will accept that the only way to make Europe stable and prosperous is to destroy the Russian imperialistic dream decisively and finally. Until Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and Moldova are all full eu and NATO members (with all that entails) and Russia is a real liberal democracy with evenly distributed wealth and power we will never be fully safe in Europe either politically, economically or militarily.

  4. Absolutely true, Mr. Ambassador! The saddest thing is that Putin managed to make Russian people see Ukrainians as enemies. On the other hand Ukraine became stronger fighting against Putin’s aggression.

  5. Brilliant Leigh. There’s not a thing wrong here, there can always be a debate about opinions but there’s not a thing here that can be called factually incorrect. The facts are established, the ramifications and logic thereafter are laid out in a way that it is impossible to intelligently or credibly dispute. In fact, I’d like to see somebody try… Excellent writing. Hope you’re well Sir!

  6. Hi Leigh,
    It seems we not only share our first name, but also our opinion of exactly what has happened in Crimea and Ukraine. I’m married to a Ukrainian, have five children who are part Ukrainian and I’ve recently been elected Holova of the Ukrainian community, here in Nottingham. We have been devastated by what is going on and fear it is not over yet. We’ve raised money for the Heavenly 100 and I’m going to Kyiv next Friday 11th April to hand it over and see Maydan for myself. Please keep up the good work supporting Ukraine and telling the truth about what is happening. We both know what a great country Ukraine is, and if left to make its own decisions, how much potential there is there. All the best and Слава Україні ! Leigh Harrison.

  7. Turkey and Ukraine,

    As a recent ambassador to Ukraine, and now our (Commercial) Man in Istanbul, Leigh Turner will need no advice from myself. My only pretext for writing is that I have been been living intermittently in Kyiv since 2002, and during the most violent period of the ongoing crisis was staying in a flat right on the Maidan..

    But thoughts I’m airing with friends here, local and ex-pat are:-
    1) About half of the Black Sea coast belongs to NATO nations, Turkey being far the biggest.
    2) Technically, therefore, it should be quite feasible for the West to offer humanitarian aid to southern Crimea. I have in mind a convoy of landing craft carrying water, food, medical and media correspondents — but no armaments.
    3) ‘Turkey has a history of defending the interests of its ethnic kinspeople’ Some of Crimea’s Tartars might wish to test this by being evacuated across the Black Sea.

  8. Ли Тренер мне всегда нравилось читать ваш блог.
    Ситуация в Крыму это захват территории Украины Россией. Стоит учесть контингент Украинских войск в Крыму и сколько “доблестно” сражаясь вернулись в Одесский военный округ.В Украине приход к власти оппозиции не законными методами, которые к стати на выборах набрали мене 30% голосов избирателей из 100%, вызывает негативные чувства у многих юридически грамотных людей, а тем более у офицеров вооруженных сил. Вы пишите, что нет не нарушаются права русско язычных граждан Украины вы ошибаетесь, если хорошо думаеш по украински и был на майдане – можешь стать Міністром охорони здоров’я України, если тебе не нравится “национальная гордость” майдан (собравшиеся люди на котором нарушали нормы права, законы и совершали преступления) то ты провокатор, титушка, агент ФСБ и т.д.
    Самое странное все помнят оранжевую революцию и её последствия или забыли ? Украина наступила на грабли второй раз которые ей подставили и как всегда всё отразится на простых гражданах Украины.

  9. Mr. Turner cogently details the objectives achieved by the EU using new tools of supremacy: economics, media, revision of history and psychological manipulation of Russian leadership and the Ukraine public.
    All the prospective EU members previously part of the Federation-ultimately intended for conscription into the Common Market-with varying levels of participation, now “mistrust” Russia. Energy independence-just when “Fracking” and Black Sea Oil deals have been offered now become security imperatives, and Kazakhistan and other Nations are incentivized to begin the same process of “revolution”. Re-examine use of force to gain territories remembering Syria,Palestine,Iraq,Afghanistan & role o fSaudi&Iran.

  10. 93 countries refused to vote against Russia out of 193 countries in the world. So 100 did. That makes a slight majoirty? Many were strong-armed by the US but Iraq, Afghanistan, Brazil, China and other BRIC countries refused to vote yes. It was the American backed coup in Kiev that caused Russia to finally take back Crimea (it had been lost by Russia when Russia was at its weakest in the early 90s).

    This isn’t any business of the British unless they want to lead the Charge of the Light Brigade over again in their minds. I hear the British people themselves are not getting their britches in a twist about the issue.

    There is no reason for British government officials to provide the UKIP with its best reason ever to clean house in London, which is the stupid creation of another cold war based on one-sided anti-Russian propaganda.

    About the “They won Crimea but lost Ukraine forever” remark, it’s just spin. One can argue the opposite. Everyone in Ukraine wants to vacation in Crimea at least once a year. They once could do this while turning their backs on Russia and posting on the Kremlin owned social media sites how much they think Russia is backward and overly conservative. Now many are deleting their posts so they won’t be on any blacklists at the border with Crimea.

    Now Ukrainians will want “to go to the Russia” every summer. Nobody ever wanted to go to Sochi before. But Crimea is a different story.

Comments are closed.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.

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