Amendments to the Russian criminal code will soon impose penalties of up to five years for talking about any changes to the territory of Russia. The amendment, which will take effect May 9, will make it illegal to openly speak about Crimea returning to Ukraine. It will also, for that matter, make it illegal to speak of Crimea becoming independent or have any other discussion on the status of Crimea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has already signed the order bringing Crimea into Russia, so the law will affect Crimean citizens automatically. As long as the law lasts, no Crimean may ever do exactly what Russia supported them in doing when pro-Russian Crimeans voted to leave the nation they were unhappy with to join with another.
The news was reported by Ukrainska Pravda, a popular Ukrainian Internet Newspaper, Monday. Such websites are also liable to prosecution in Russia under legislation introduced shortly after Putin was elected. Bill 89417-6 passed quickly through the levels of government and was voted into law almost unanimously under the auspices of protecting children and preventing terrorism and suicide, although critics asserted that the law was a response to the anti-Putin demonstrations that had taken place during the election period and used social media to organize.
The legislation was first used officially to blacklist not only opposition voices but a number of online independent news sites earlier this month. The news websites, according to the Russian government, contained “calls to illegal activity and participation in mass events that are conducted contrary to the established order.” The law is also broad enough to blacklist any social media site if that site does not comply within 24 hours of notification that it contains an item of offensive content.
An Amendment to the internet censorship law are also up for review in the near future. The amendment would stiffen penalties for internet offenders.
It is less likely Crimeans will learn of these laws since Russian occupation, because soon after Russians were invited into Crimea, they discontinued Ukrainian channels, and in some cases replaced them with Russian channels.
Putin completed the annexation of Crimea last Thursday when legislation hastily drafted to recognize the legality of Crimea’s March 16 referendum and incorporate the peninsula into Russia passed its final stages in the Russian government.
Crimeans–at least a large percentage of them–had been calling out for Russia to enter their land and help them leave Ukraine and become part of Russia. The common rhetoric voiced by this pro-Russian demographic was that they would leave the “tyranny” of Ukraine and join with their “brothers” in the “Russian family.” A mass propaganda campaign was carried out in Crimea likening Ukraine’s interrim government to Nazis, illustrated with bold red, black and white swastikas, which were plastered around Crimea’s cities.
Shortly after the Ukrainian parliament cancelled a 2012 law that had allowed minority languages to be recognized as official in Ukraine, many in Crimea began to demonstrate and call to become part of Russia. Russian forces entered Crimea late last month in response to this call, and blocked Ukrainian forces from entering the peninsula to enforce national law. Along the entry points to Crimea were two entrenched battle lines–Ukrainian and Russian. Although Russia sent around 10,000 military troops into Crimea, according to U.S. estimates–nearly double the amount permitted by a Ukraine-Russia treaty–the Russian government did not admit that the forces acting in Crimea were Russian forces. Instead, the Russia government asserted, they were “Crimean defense forces.”
Surrounded by these pro-Russian forces, Crimea held a hasty referendum to validate a vote by the Crimean parliament 10 days earlier to join Russia. The ballot did not have an option for remaining part of Ukraine and not all Crimeans were invited to vote. Some of those who were invited boycotted for various reasons, including the illegality of the referendum, the lack of an option they would support, and despair that their vote would not matter measured against the majority opinion–and may create grounds for reprisal if the Russians took power officially. The results of the ballot were a 97 percent vote in favor of joining Russia.
With Russia’s help, Crimeans may have been free to make their last free choice.
This article could be found illegal in Russia. You could be arrested for possessing it.
By Day Blakely Donaldson
Voices of Ukraine