“As the US is lifting Cuba blockades, I see no reasons for Europe to keep Russia sanctions in place,” Mariani told reporters after speaking at the Crimean Parliament in Simferopol on Thursday. He added that he felt the effect of sanctions as the delegation’s mobile phones stopped operating because European companies refuse to provide service in the area.
The Crimean status referendum held on March 16, 2014 made it possible for the Crimean peninsula to avoid the scenario unfolding in eastern Ukraine, he said.
Mariani noted that he “observed the devastation and the people’s suffering with horror” while he was visiting war-torn Donbass two months ago.
“We congratulate you that you managed to avoid that,” he said at a meeting with Crimea’s Parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov. “We welcome the courage of the Crimean Parliament because it was able to make this decision despite the difficult situation and a great risk of escalation [of tensions],” he added.
He reiterated that the visit of the French delegation aims to understand the situation in Crimea. He added that his first impression was great weather and no military personnel on the streets.
“I’m very happy to be here,” he told the Crimean lawmakers in Russian adding that the visit of the delegation caused an uproar in France.
He said the current visit proves the freedom and independence of the French lawmakers. “Regardless of our political orientation, we adhere to the views of Charles de Gaulle, who believed that above all is the will of the people.”
Yves Pozzo di Borgo, a member of the Senate from the Centrist Union, representing the city of Paris, was quick to recognize that the reality on the ground in Crimea does not reflect the media or political narrative in Europe.
“I am very happy that I came here, because listening to you [residents of Crimea], I understand the position, which is not expressed anywhere – in any of the media in Europe, in none of the Parliaments of Europe, nor in the European Parliament or the Council of Europe, nor the OSCE,” di Borgo said.
Konstantinov, in turn, thanked the French delegation for making “a courageous political step” by visiting Crimea. He said that he is “proud” of the fact that the referendum was made possible and that the “lawmakers stood up for protection of their people for the first time for many years.”
He added that during those days the Crimean residents “lived through turmoil.”
“The outcome of the referendum was a reaction of the whole Crimean community to the events in Ukraine,” he said.
“Ukraine was like a boiling pot and the people were frightened of the situation in Kiev. After the funerals of people killed in Kiev, a wave of spontaneous protests swept through Crimea…The task set before the parliament was not to let the protests grow into unconstrained actions. A civil war seemed to be the main threat those days.”
Crimea rejoined Russia last March following a referendum where more than 96 percent of people voted in favor of reunification. The decision to hold a referendum was sparked by the refusal to recognize the new coup-imposed government in Kiev as legitimate. Crimea, which is home to an ethnic majority Russian population, feared that the new leadership would not represent their interests and respect their rights.
Considering Crimea’s decision illegal, the US and EU accused Moscow of annexing the peninsula and imposed economic sanctions on Russia. Following the escalation of violence Donbass, the Western states imposed further sanctions on Russia with Moscow responding with retaliatory restrictions.
Last April, Kiev launched a military operation in the country’s southeast after the Donetsk and Lugansk regions refused to recognize the new administration in Kiev. According to a recent UN report, the conflict has killed nearly 6,500 people, wounded over 16,000 and left 5 million people in need of humanitarian aid in the past year.
On Thursday Mariani told Rossiya’24 news channel that the public opinion in France is gradually shifting in Russia’s favor.
“The public opinion in France is changing step by step,” Mariani said. “We’ve had that story involving the Mistrals and many people in France think it is simply stupid, as a commodity that was promised was not delivered eventually and the contract was disrupted.”
“I think public opinion is making a gradual evolution,” he concluded. “I hope our trip to Russia will speed up this evolution, as the French government will have to give a bigger measure of attention to this opinion at a certain point.”