Most Crimeans ‘happy to be back in Russia’ – head of French delegation to peninsula

Thierry Mariani (С), a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Parliament ©Maks Vetrov
The Crimean people “seem happy to be back in Russia,” said the deputy of the French National Assembly at a press conference in Moscow on Saturday, after paying a two-day visit to the region. The French delegation confirmed Crimea is a peaceful region.

A delegation of French lawmakers visited Crimea on July 23-24. 

MP Thierry Mariani, who led the group of 10 politicians, said the citizens of Crimea were “reassured” they “don't have to face the same situation as the people who live in the regions of Lugansk and Donetsk” – the eastern areas of Ukraine devastated by war waged by the Kiev authorities against the rebels there.

© Taras Litvinenko

“What we want to say is that the majority of people we have met, various contacts, seemed happy to be back in Russia,” he said at the press conference organized by TASS.

“Crimea is an absolutely peaceful region,” said French MP Claude Goasguen. The people in Crimea cannot be criticized for the fact that the referendum brought peace to them, he added.

Goasguen stressed the Crimean authorities had the absolute right to organize the referendum last year, explaining “the coup in Ukraine was staged not by the people from Crimea, but by those in Maidan.”

The referendum on March 16, 2014, had a record turnout of over 80 percent, with 96.7 percent of Crimean residents voting in favor of the peninsula's reunification with Russia.   

The French lawmakers’ Crimean trip was the first visit by Western politicians to the region since it became part of Russia.

When Crimea reunited with Russia, the EU joined the US-led economic sanctions against Moscow designed to punish Russia over the Crimean and Ukrainian question. The sanctions, which caused multibillion losses to European economies, were accompanied by a sharp decrease of political contacts with Moscow on all levels, so the visit of the French politicians has been something of a bombshell.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the French Liberation newspaper he was “shocked” by the MPs’ visit, saying it “risks violating international law.”

READ MORE: MPs’ Crimea visit – ‘not all well within French political class over anti-Russian sanctions’

“I think, and this will be my conclusion, that the reactions to our trip are a bit out of proportion. I'd like to ask: 'What are some people afraid that we see?” Mariani said.

“A parliamentarian in a democratic country and a democrat sees a major obligation in fighting misinformation, especially at the state level,” said Goasguen, adding he would advocate resuming a dialogue between Russia and France.

Mariani condemned international economic sanctions against Russia, comparing them to the “useless” American blockade of Cuba.

READ MORE: No grounds to keep Russia sanctions in place – French MPs visiting Crimea

“At a time when we put an end to a useless blockade in another part of the world, we set up a similar blockade in a European region that is closer to us,” Mariani said.

The Crimean Peninsula was part of Russia from 1784 until 1954, when the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev – a native of Ukraine - handed it over to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.