“Are We Victims of Propaganda?”: The Question of a Norwegian Journalist After Visiting Crimea

Translated by Ollie Richardson



Kirsten Engelstad – the author of this article

This autumn I visited Crimea. I listened to what the locals had to say about the events in the spring of 2014 and about their life now. Here are five examples that say that their version of events differs from our, western one:

1. What is portrayed as the “Russian annexation” of Crimea locals call “a reunion with Russia”.

2. According to NATO and 100 member countries of the UN, the referendum of 2014 was illegal — according to the constitution of Ukraine. According to Crimean politicians, there were 151 observers from 23 countries, and also 1240 observers from the different organizations of Crimea present at the referendum. Their expert-lawyers refer to article 138.2 of the Constitution of Ukraine and note that the national referendum, severance with Ukraine, and a reunion with Russia were legitimate after the coup in Ukraine in 2014.

3. According to statements of the West, the severance of Crimea from Ukraine and entry into the structure of the Russian Federation is a violation of the norms of international law.

However, among western experts there is no unity. For example, Norwegian Peter Ørebech, professor of law, refers to Article 73 of the UN Charter, in which it states that the main principle of international law is the sovereignty of the people. He considers that for this reason the people of Crimea should have the right to determine their own destiny, including to decide whether or not they want to live in an independent country or they want to return to Russia, which they were a part of until 1954. Back then Crimea was “handed over” to Ukraine, without taking into account the opinion of the people. Politicians of Crimea claim that the right of the people to self-determination is affirmed in Article 1 of the UN Charter and confirmed in other international treaties.

4. According to statements of the West, the fact that on November 22nd, 2015, Ukraine stopped supplying electricity to the entire population of Crimea – about 2.5 million people – was a quite acceptable response to Russia stopping the supply of gas to Ukraine, after disputes concerning payment for gas that lasted the whole year.

But the Minister of Energy of Ukraine Vladimir Demchishin stated already on March 23rd, 2015, that the country will stop buying Russian gas as of April 1, 2015, because it doesn’t need it anymore. Would what have happened if any country in the middle of winter stopped delivering electricity to half the population of Norway? In Crimea all of this led to the fact that the inhabitants of the peninsula, thanks to improvised solutions, had electricity only for some hours of the day during several winter months.

5. In September of this year one Crimean Tatar was sentenced to two years in prison for terrorist activity. In October several Crimean Tatars were arrested, they were accused of planning acts of terrorism. The Helsinki Committee [for Human Rights – ed] and the western media portrayed this as examples of persecution of the Crimean Tatar minority by the Russians.

The Supreme religious leader of the Crimean Tatars, the mufti Haji Emirali Ablayev, recently declared, however, that now these radical Islamists enjoy minimal support from the Crimean Tatar population. Besides this, he expressed deep satisfaction with the improvement of the position of the Crimean Tatars after the reunion with Russia. This concerns also the departure of the religious cult, the program of compensation for property that they lost during deportation (1944), and the introduction of the Crimean Tatar language as one of three official languages in the education system, media, and leadership.

These five examples show that the conflict over Crimea is much more complicated than our one-sided western representation. Have we also become victims of propaganda? And do we allow ourselves to take this into account?

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