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EU May Break Own Protocol By Participating In Russia-Backed Crimea Event

Russian UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya is scheduled to give opening and closing remarks at the controversial videoconference on the status of Crimea, which Moscow forcibly seized in 2014.

The European Union and several of its member states may break the bloc's own guidelines on contacts with de facto authorities of the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula by participating in a Moscow-backed videoconference on the situation in the region.

Two diplomats from EU member states, who were not authorized to speak on the record, told RFE/RL that representatives at various levels from up to 19 out of 27 EU member states, as well as the EU’s UN delegation, plan to participate in the event on May 21.

A concept note on the conference, authored by the permanent mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations and seen by RFE/RL, welcomes all "New-York based representatives of the UN member states" to an Arria-formula videoconference on the situation in Crimea. This included people at the level of permanent representatives, deputy permanent representatives and experts, as well as the press.

In March 2014, Moscow seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula after sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries. Moscow is also backing separatists in a war in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,200 people since April 2014.

As part of its response to the annexation, the European Union drew up strict guidelines for all of its diplomats, as well as diplomats of its member states, stating that there can be "no participation in, or attendance of any level at any event that could be identified in advance as only aiming at acknowledgment of Crimea/Sevastopol’s status and de facto annexation.”

An Arria-formula meeting, frequently used by the UN, is an informal arrangement that allows members of the institution to be briefed about international security issues.

In the meeting, Russia's UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya will deliver opening and closing remarks, while proponents of Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula will make panel presentations.

These include Moscow-approved figures, such as Asadullah Bairov, the deputy mufti of Crimea; Anastasia Gridchina, the head of the Ukrainian community on the peninsula; and Ervin Musaev, the deputy director-general of the Crimean TV channel Millet.

The concept note claims that "in order for the participants to have comprehensive information, the Arria meeting will provide an opportunity to listen and learn the real picture of the situation on the ground from those who currently reside in Crimea, being at the same time representatives of various national groups of the inhabitants of the peninsula.”

The EU will also be represented at the meeting, however, as will the German permanent representative. Belgium and France have also signaled that they will attend, though it was not clear at what level.

The levels and numbers of participating EU member states varies, but so far only Bulgaria, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, and the three Baltic states have stated that they will snub the meeting.

Some of the officials RFE/RL contacted voiced fears that the presence of EU diplomats will compromise the nonrecognition guidelines and be used for propaganda purposes, even if they speak out against the annexation in the meeting.

RFE/RL sought comment from the EU about its participation in the meeting but did not receive an answer.

The two-page Russian concept note ahead of the meeting states that "after the coup d’état in February 2014 in Kyiv, inhabitants of several regions of eastern Ukraine expressed their disapproval of the unlawful actions of the then-Ukrainian Maidan leaders."

It also notes that "today's Crimea enjoys all the rights and benefits of a Russian region and all of its population groups enjoy all the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens. Socio-economic situation has improved significantly -- in fact, the peninsula has become one of the fastest developing regions of the country.”

RFE/RL contacted Ukraine's UN Ambassador Serhiy Kyslytsya for comment on the event.

While he didn’t give an opinion on EU countries participating in the meeting, he noted that participants were unlikely to hear "anything new."

"The Russians and their actors will repeat yet another mantra about the 'voluntary reunification of the Crimean people with Russia,' and the international community will reiterate the basic truths," such as the Crimean Peninsula being "temporarily occupied" with Russia as the "occupying power," which Kyslytsya said "must stop human rights violations.”

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.