Russian Cultural Networks Used to Promote Crimea Celebrations at Home and Abroad

April 23, 2024
  • Gabriel Porc
    Political scientist at Paris Nanterre University
Political scientist Gabriel Porc looks at how the tenth anniversary of Crimea’s annexation was celebrated. He explains how the exhibitions and concerts put on for the occasion were a way to stage Russian power, both at home and abroad, and why they had much more to do with politics than culture.
Сelebration of the tenth anniversary of Crimea's annexation. March 2024. Source: YouTube
On March 16, 2014, the Russian government organized a pseudo-referendum in Crimea in which 96.6% voted for “reunification” – the official euphemism for annexation – with Russia. Two days later, Vladimir Putin signed a new law incorporating Crimea and Sevastopol as entities of the Russian Federation.

March 18, 2024, marked the 10-year anniversary of that historic event. It was an opportunity for the Kremlin to put on a show, especially since it came just a few days after Putin’s reelection as president. A close look at the celebrations offers insights into the cultural diplomacy of Putin’s Russia.

Cultural events were organized and speeches delivered, which were widely promoted on social media. The celebration of the so-called “Crimean Spring” demonstrated the entanglement of culture and politics in today’s Russia.

When cultural events meet politics

On March 16, Sergei Lavrov gave a speech on how the 2014 referendum freed Crimea from the “encroachments of the Russophobic Kyiv regime” and the “neo-Nazis.”

To celebrate the “return of Crimea to the Russian fold” Vladimir Putin attended a concert staged on the Red Square on March 18, where 10 years before he had also addressed Russian citizens.
In his recent speech Putin drew a parallel between Crimea returning to its home harbor and the people living in the Novorossiya regions, who fought for their path home.
Different regions and different means, but a similar outcome: a self-proclaimed victory for Russia, which took what it considers to be its historical territories.

More cultural events were held outside of Moscow, most notably in Sevastopol and Simferopol, Crimea’s capital, where a photo exhibition was opened on Lenin Square. This same exhibition, titled The Crimean Spring. It All Started With Us, then went on a tour across 13 cities in Crimea. It displayed pictures of children born in March 2014, who became the personification of the “successful future of our republic.” The event was attended by Republic of Crimea bigwigs, including leader Sergei Aksyonov, parliament chairman Vladimir Konstantinov and acting internal affairs minister Albert Kurshutov.

All the events commemorating the “Crimean Spring” can be accessed on an eponymous special website set up by Kurshutov’s ministry. They are portrayed as organized by the Crimean authorities: Crimea’s youth unfurling the Russian flag; branded train cars with a “10 Years” logo; screening of the documentary film I’m Home, produced by the TV and radio company “Crimea,” and much more.

The Crimean authorities indeed organized a plethora of events intended for a broad audience. Quite often, they were obviously intended to undermine the Ukrainian government. For example, a document titled “25 Questions about Crimea” published for the occasion addresses several issues, such as “what happened in Crimea in 2014?” and “why is the reunion of Crimea with Russia not ‘Russian occupation?’” In the “25 Questions” the Euromaidan movement is described as a “coup” staged by “extremist organizations” and “neo-Nazis” that “openly demanded ethnic cleansing of the Russian-speaking population.” The “25 Questions,” which can be found on the website of Rossotrudnichestvo, the main Russian agency for promoting soft power abroad, were published in 20 languages.

Legitimizing Russia’s power

Whether through the photo exhibition or videos produced by the main players in Russian cultural diplomacy, such as Rossotrudnichestvo and the Russkiy Mir Foundation, these celebrations were used by the Russian authorities to legitimize the annexation of Crimea and to portray Russia as a great power.

Russia also frames its success in Crimea through the development of infrastructure and the local economy. The videos and exhibitions show the construction of the Crimean Bridge, advertised as the “longest in Europe,” the development of roads with the Tavrida (Federal) Highway across the Kerch Strait, a growing tourism industry with the construction of hotels and sanatoriums, and the provision of internet and mobile communications.
The anniversary was a way to project Russia’s influence abroad, especially in the Global South.
The Crimean Bridge, spanning the Kerch Strait between Russia and Crimea, was built in 2018.
Source: Wiki Commons
The project “Garden of Memory,” organized by an eponymous nonprofit organization and supported by the Russian Ministry of Education, was launched in Crimea and Sevastopol to, as originally declared, plant trees in memory of those killed during the Great Patriotic War (World War II); however, as mentioned in a recent Russkiy Mir publication, it is currently used as a way to pay tribute to the memory and the heroes of the “special military operation” in Ukraine. Note that the project was launched to coincide with the anniversary of the “Crimean Spring.”

It aims to cover all Russia’s regions, as well as 35 countries, such as the Republic of the Congo and Venezuela, that have agreed to join the project and plant trees. Thus Russia intends to involve other nations in commemorating Russians who were killed in the war it is waging against Ukraine. By establishing partnerships on the cultural level with African and South American countries that Russia identifies as members of the “World majority,” it seeks to project its influence abroad, become a beacon to non-Western countries and consolidate its great power status.

Beyond the Kremlin: Organized cultural diplomacy

Beyond the Kremlin, other cultural players also used the Crimea celebrations to stage Russian power and project influence abroad. For instance, Rossotrudnichestvo organized special events at its Russian Houses in Cairo, Baku, New Delhi and Beijing, including exhibitions and the screening of documentary films such as The Bridge and Ghosts of the Crimean War, produced by the state-run TV network RT.

Russia’s public diplomacy also includes nominally private entities that are funded by state-sponsored cultural diplomacy players. The website, subtitled “Russia and compatriots,” run by the Institute for Russia Abroad, which identifies itself as an “autonomous noncommercial organization,” is a perfect example. is funded by Russkiy Mir, which in its turn is funded by the state and acts as a relay point for Kremlin narratives. An article published on for the Crimea anniversary talks about how Ukraine had become a country ruled by “Ukronazis” and how Russia “quickly and effectively solved the problems stemming from all the blockades of the Crimean Peninsula.” Cultural diplomacy is thus networked and conducted by nominally private actors that actually rely on government funding.

Beyond multiple publications on official websites, such as those of ministries and cultural diplomacy players, the Crimea celebrations found its way on social media. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rossotrudnichestvo and Russkiy Mir are fairly active on Telegram, which, along with the Russian social network VK, was used to spread information about the events and the narratives. For example in several posts by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative office in Simferopol, terms such as “russophobic,” “Nazi” and “anti-constitutional coup” were used to describe the Ukrainian regime.

Russia has used the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea to stage its power through cultural networks, both domestically and internationally.
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