The Autonomous Republic of Crimea (Ukrainian: Автономна Республіка Крим, Avtonomna Respublika Krym; Russian: Автономная Республика Крым, Avtonomnaya Respublika Krym; Crimean Tatar: Qırım Muhtar Cumhuriyeti, Къырым Мухтар Джумхуриети) is an autonomous republic of Ukraine, encompassing the territory of the former Crimean Oblast; a status it gained following a referendum on 20 January 1991. In March 2014, following the takeover of the territory by pro-Russian separatists and Russian Armed Forces, an unauthorized referendum was held on the issue of reunification with Russia; the official result was that a large majority wished to join with Russia. Russia then annexed Crimea to incorporate the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol as federal subjects of Russia.
While Russia and six other UN member states recognize Crimea as part of the Russian Federation, Ukraine continues to claim Crimea as an integral part of its territory, supported by most foreign governments and United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262.
Crimea was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1783 and this was recognised in 1792 when the peninsula was ceded to Russia by the Ottoman Empire under the Treaty of Jassy. Russian rule in Crimea spanned a period of 171 years, punctuated by short periods during political upheavals and wars, which ended on 19 February 1954 when the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet issued a decree that transferred the Crimean Oblast from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, within the Soviet Union. The reason for the transfer, as stated in the decree, was "the integral character of the economy, the territorial proximity and the close economic and cultural ties between the Crimea Province and the Ukrainian SSR.":
Following a referendum on 20 January 1991, the Crimean Oblast was upgraded to the status of an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic on 12 February 1991 by the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and Ukraine became an independent country, Crimea remained part of the newly independent Ukraine, leading to tensions between Russia and Ukraine with the Black Sea Fleet being based on the peninsula.
On 26 February 1992, the Crimean parliament renamed the ASSR the Republic of Crimea and proclaimed self-government on 5 May 1992 (which was yet to be approved by a referendum that had been planned for 2 August 1992 though it was ultimately postponed) and passed the first Crimean constitution the same day. On 6 May 1992 the same parliament inserted a new sentence into this constitution that declared that Crimea was part of Ukraine.
On 19 May, Crimea agreed to remain part of Ukraine and annulled its proclamation of self-government but Crimean Communists forced the Ukrainian government to expand on the already extensive autonomous status of Crimea. In the same period, Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk agreed to divide the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet between Russia and the newly formed Ukrainian Navy.
On 14 October 1993, the Crimean parliament established the post of President of Crimea and agreed on a quota of Crimean Tatars represented in the Council of 14. However, political turmoil continued. Amendments to the constitution eased the conflict, but on 17 March 1995, the parliament of Ukraine intervened by abolishing the Crimean Constitution of 1992, all the laws and decrees contradicting those of Kiev, among which were the laws guarantying representation for the Crimean Tartars and other ethnic groups, and removing Yuriy Meshkov (the President of Crimea) as well as the office of The President of Crimea. After an interim constitution, the current constitution was put into effect, changing the territory's name to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
Following the ratification of the May 1997 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership on friendship and division of the Black Sea Fleet, international tensions slowly eased. However, in 2006, anti-NATO protests broke out on the peninsula. In September 2008, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko accused Russia of giving out Russian passports to the population in the Crimea and described it as a "real problem" given Russia's declared policy of military intervention abroad to protect Russian citizens.
On 24 August 2009, anti-Ukrainian demonstrations were held in Crimea by ethnic Russian residents. Sergei Tsekov (of the Russian Bloc and then deputy speaker of the Crimean parliament) said then that he hoped that Russia would treat the Crimea the same way as it had treated South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Chaos in the Ukrainian parliament erupted during a debate over the extension of the lease on a Russian naval base on 27 April 2010 after Ukraine's parliament ratified the treaty that extends Russia's lease on naval moorings and shore installations in port of Sevastopol and other locations in Crimea until 2042 with optional five-year renewals. Along with Verkhovna Rada, the treaty was ratified by the Russian State Duma as well.
Following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution that ousted the pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on 22 February 2014, there was a push by pro-Russian protesters for Crimea to secede from Ukraine and seek assistance from Russia.
On 26 February 2014, thousands of pro-Russian and pro-Ukraine protesters clashed in front of the parliament building in Simferopol. Two days later, Russian forces occupied airports and other strategic locations in Crimea which the interim Government of Ukraine described as an invasion and occupation. Gunmen, either armed militants or Russian special forces, occupied the Crimean parliament. Under armed guard and with the doors locked, members of parliament reportedly elected Sergey Aksyonov as the new Crimean Prime Minister. The de facto Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov said that he asserted sole control over Crimea's security forces and appealed to Russia "for assistance in guaranteeing peace and calmness" on the peninsula. The central Ukrainian government did not recognize the Aksyonov administration and considers it illegal. Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich sent a letter to Putin asking him to use military force in Ukraine to restore law and order. The Russian foreign ministry stated that "movement of the Black Sea Fleet armored vehicles in Crimea (...) happens in full accordance with basic Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the Black Sea Fleet".
On 1 March, the Russian parliament granted President Vladimir Putin the authority to use military force in Ukraine. The move was condemned by many Western and Western-aligned nations. On the same day, the acting president of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov decried the appointment of the Prime Minister of Crimea as unconstitutional. Russia established de facto control of the territory.
On 3 March, Ukrainian defense sources were reported to have said that the head of Russia's Black Sea Fleet gave Ukraine a deadline of dawn on the 4th to surrender their control of the Crimea, or face an assault by Russian troops occupying the area. However, Interfax news agency later quoted a fleet spokesman who denied that any ultimatum had been issued. Nothing came to pass at the deadline.
On 4 March, several Ukrainian bases and navy ships in Crimea reported being intimidated by Russian forces but vowed non-violence. Ukrainian warships were also effectively blockaded in their port of Sevastopol.
On 6 March, members of the Crimean Parliament asked the Russian government for the region to become a subject of the Russian Federation with a referendum on the issue set for the Crimean region for March 16. The Ukrainian central government, the European Union, and the US all challenged the legitimacy of the request and of the following referendum. Article 73 of the Constitution of Ukraine states: "Alterations to the territory of Ukraine shall be resolved exclusively by an All-Ukrainian referendum." International monitors arrived in Ukraine to assess the situation in Crimea but were halted by armed militants at the Crimean border. Russian forces scuttled a Russian Kara-class Cruiser Ochakov across the entrance channel to Donuzlav Lake on the west coast of Crimea to blockade Ukrainian navy ships in their port.
On 7 March, Russian forces scuttled a second ship, a diving support vessel, to further block the naval port at Donuzlav Lake.
The Crimean parliament released the Ballot Questions for the 16 March referendum. The referendum questions were:
- "Do you support rejoining Crimea with Russia as a subject of the Russian Federation?"
- "Do you support restoration of the 1992 Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Crimea's status as a part of Ukraine?"
Only ballots with exactly one positive response were considered valid. There was no option on the 16 March ballot to maintain the status quo. Although some Ukrainian outlets considered the questions to be equivalent to "join Russia immediately" or "declare independence and then join Russia" the Crimean constitution of 1992 would restore Republic of Crimea's autonomous status within the borders of Ukraine. The current Crimean constitution, which came into effect in 1999 and Article 135 of the Ukrainian constitution, article 10 of which provides for the existence of an "Autonomous Republic of Crimea", provides that the Crimean Constitution must be approved by the Ukrainian parliament. Turnout for the referendum was 83%, and the overwhelming majority of those who voted (95.5%) supported the option of rejoining Russia. However, a BBC reporter claimed that a "huge number of people in the minority population - the Tatars and Ukrainians - abstained from the vote", making it "difficult to tell if the figures added up".
On 18 March 2014, the self-proclaimed Republic of Crimea signed a treaty of accession to the Russian Federation. The accession was granted but separately for each the former regions that composed it: one accession for the Republic of Crimea, and another accession for Sevastopol as a federal city.
Under the Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which is subject to the Constitution of Ukraine, the legislative body of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is the Supreme Council of Crimea. Ukraine's national parliament voted to dissolve this 100-seat parliament in March 2014 as its leaders were finalising preparations for a referendum on whether to join Russia. After the referendum, the members of the Supreme Council voted to rename themselves as the State Council of the Republic of Crimea, and also formally appealed to Russia to accept Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.
According to the Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, executive power is exercised by the Council of Ministers of Crimea, headed by a Chairman, appointed and dismissed by the Supreme Council of Crimea, with the consent of the President of Ukraine. The authority and operation of the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers of Crimea are determined by the Constitution of Ukraine and other the laws of Ukraine, as well as by regular decisions of the Supreme Council of Crimea.
There had been a post of President of Crimea from 1994 to 1995 but it was replaced by a Presidential Representative serving as Governor.
While not an official body controlling Crimea, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People represents Crimean Tatars and could address grievances to the Ukrainian central government, the Crimean government, and international bodies.
During the 2004 presidential elections and 2010 presidential elections, Crimea largely voted for the presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych. In the 2006 Ukrainian parliamentary elections, the 2007 Ukrainian parliamentary elections and the 2012 Ukrainian parliamentary election, the Yanukovych-led Party of Regions also won most of the votes from the region, as they did in the 2006 Crimean parliamentary election and the 2010 Crimean parliamentary election.
Crimea has not been part of any election in Ukraine since the annexation of the peninsula in March 2014.
The Autonomous Republic of Crimea is subdivided into 25 administrative areas: 14 raions (districts) and 11 mis'kradas and mistos (city municipalities), officially known as territories governed by city councils. While the City of Sevastopol is located on the Crimean peninsula, it is administratively separate from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea though tightly integrated within the infrastructure of the whole peninsula.
The largest city is Simferopol with major centers of urban development including Kerch (heavy industry and fishing center), Dzhankoy (transportation hub), Yalta (holiday resort) and others.