Freedom in the World 2023 - Crimea*

/ 100
Political Rights -2 / 40
Civil Liberties 6 / 60
7 / 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.
* Indicates a territory as opposed to an independent country.


Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed or occupied territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.


In early 2014, Russian forces invaded the autonomous Ukrainian region of Crimea and quickly annexed it to the Russian Federation through a referendum that was widely condemned for violating international law. The occupation government severely limits political and civil rights, has silenced independent media, and employs antiterrorism and other laws against political dissidents. Many Ukrainians have been deported from or otherwise compelled to leave Crimea. Members of an Indigenous minority group, the Crimean Tatars, many of whom continue to vocally oppose the Russian occupation, have faced acute repression by the authorities.

Key Developments in 2022

  • In February, the Russian Federation initiated a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, temporarily threatening Kyiv and other major cities and occupying a swath of additional territory in the southeast. Crimea was used as a base for the Russian offensive, and Ukrainian forces responded with several attacks on the peninsula in the latter half of the year.
  • The Russian government enacted new laws in March that imposed heavy penalties for spreading false information about or “discrediting” the Russian military. Occupation authorities in Crimea used these measures to persecute residents for expressing opposition to the invasion.
  • Also during the year, Russian military authorities forcibly enlisted Crimeans and deployed them outside the peninsula, in violation of international law.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 0 / 4

Under the administrative system established by Moscow, the Crimean Peninsula is divided into the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol, a port of more than 500,000 residents. Sevastopol’s political institutions largely mirror those of Crimea proper.

The head of the Republic of Crimea is elected by its legislature, the State Council of Crimea, for up to two consecutive five-year terms. Lawmakers choose the leader based on a list of nominees prepared by the Russian president. In October 2014, the legislature unanimously elected Sergey Aksyonov as the head of the republic in a process that did not conform to democratic standards. (Aksyonov had led Crimea since February 2014, when a group of armed men forced legislators to elect him prime minister at gunpoint.) He was unanimously reelected in 2019.

Tightly controlled Russian presidential balloting was organized in Crimea in 2018, but residents have not been able to participate in Ukrainian presidential elections since the Russian occupation began in 2014.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 0 / 4

The State Council consists of 75 members elected to five-year terms. Two-thirds of the members are elected by party list and one-third in single-member districts. Legislative elections held in 2014 and 2019 under the Russian-organized Crimean constitution were contested exclusively by candidates who backed the Russian occupation, and Ukrainian parties were banned. The ruling party in Russia, United Russia, lost some support in 2019, taking 60 seats, down from 70 previously. The ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia secured 10 seats, and the Communist Party won 5.

Undemocratic elections for Russia’s State Duma were held in Crimea in 2016 and 2021, but residents have not been able to participate in Ukrainian parliamentary or municipal council elections since the Russian occupation began in 2014. Crimea’s 12 seats in the Ukrainian parliament have been left vacant.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 0 / 4

The Russian occupation authorities have tailored the electoral system to ensure maximum control by Moscow. Legislators electing the chief executive are limited to candidates chosen by the Russian president. In the legislative elections, legitimate opposition forces are denied registration before the voting begins, leaving voters with the choice of either abstaining or endorsing pro-Russian candidates.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 0 / 4

Ukrainian political parties are banned, allowing United Russia and other Kremlin-approved factions to dominate the political system. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), local police, and pro-Russian “self-defense” units use intimidation and harassment to suppress any political mobilization against the current government or the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Political activists who support Ukrainian sovereignty in the territory or are aligned with Russian opposition figures like Aleksey Navalny have experienced police surveillance, arrests, and sentencing to lengthy terms in Russian penal colonies. In March 2022, after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began the previous month, the Russian parliament enacted new laws that criminalized “false” or critical speech about the Russian military, effectively outlawing opposition to the war and exposing political dissidents to another form of repression.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 0 / 4

Because Ukrainian political parties are not allowed to compete in elections and Russian authorities tightly control the political and electoral systems, there is no opportunity for a genuine political opposition to form, compete, or take power in Crimea.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 0 / 4

Chief executive Sergey Aksyonov was originally installed by Russian security forces, and subsequent elections have been carefully controlled by the Russian government, which pressures residents to vote. Among other abuses, during the 2018 Russian presidential election and 2019 local elections, public employees were threatened with termination if they did not vote. During the 2021 State Duma elections, school principals were expected to pressure their subordinates to register to vote and cast ballots for United Russia.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 0 / 4

Occupation authorities deny full political rights to all Crimea residents, but Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians are regarded with particular suspicion and face greater persecution than do ethnic Russians.

The headquarters of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatars’ representative body, was closed by the occupation authorities in 2014. The Mejlis’s incumbent chairman, Refat Chubarov, and Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev have since been banned from the territory. The Mejlis was officially banned by Crimea’s Supreme Court in 2016. Some figures associated with the Mejlis have been prosecuted in absentia by Russian-controlled courts, while others have been arrested and imprisoned. In September 2022, Mejlis first deputy chairman Nariman Dzhelialov was one of three people convicted for allegedly planning to sabotage a gas pipeline near Simferopol; he was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

The prohibition on Ukrainian political parties leaves ethnic Ukrainians with limited options for meaningful representation, and the intensified repression surrounding Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 made public expressions of Ukrainian political identity even more dangerous.

Women formally have equal political rights, but they remain underrepresented in leadership positions in practice, and government officials demonstrate little interest in or understanding of gender-equality issues. After the 2019 elections, women held 21 percent of the seats in the State Council.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0 / 4

All major policy decisions are made in Moscow and executed by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s representatives in Crimea or the local authorities, who were not freely elected and are beholden to the Kremlin.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0 / 4

Corruption is widespread in Crimea and occurs at the highest levels of government. Generally, efforts to investigate and prosecute corruption are inadequate. Some elements of the Russian-backed leadership, including Aksyonov and the speaker of the State Council, Vladimir Konstantinov, reputedly have ties to organized crime. In recent years, the Russian FSB has arrested a number of Crimean officials as part of an ostensible antigraft campaign; many of the arrests were related to allegations that local authorities embezzled Russian funds meant to support the occupation. However, some have also been linked to infighting between Crimean and Russian officials over control of the peninsula’s assets.

In July 2022, Crimean military commissar Yuriy Lymar was placed under house arrest and charged with taking bribes to excuse residents from military service.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0 / 4

With strict controls on the media and few other means of holding officials accountable, residents struggle to obtain information about the functioning of their government. Budget processes are opaque, and input from civil society, which is itself subject to tight restrictions, is limited.

Since the launch of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russian authorities have restricted access to basic information about the war, including accurate casualty figures. Crimean mobilization and conscription data are not made public.


Add Q
Is the government or occupying power deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory so as to destroy a culture or tip the political balance in favor of another group? -2

Since the occupation began, the Russian government has taken decisive steps to solidify ethnic Russian domination of the peninsula and marginalize the ethnic Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar communities. The elimination of the Ukrainian language from school curriculums and the closure of most Ukrainian Orthodox churches since 2014 are indicative of this attempt to Russify the population.

Political persecution has contributed to an outflow of ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, and many who chose to retain Ukrainian citizenship after 2014—when Moscow instituted a policy of mass Russian naturalization for all residents of Crimea, in violation of international law—have since been deported.

Russian and local pro-Russian officials’ policies and actions in Crimea have led to an influx of hundreds of thousands of people from Russia, including Russian troops, civilian personnel, and their families. People displaced by fighting and deprivation in eastern Ukraine—home to many ethnic Russians—have also come to Crimea. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Crimeans have been forcibly conscripted into the Russian armed forces since 2014, and many have been deployed far from the peninsula, all in contravention of international law regarding occupied territories.

In September 2022, the Russian president signed a decree initiating a partial mobilization of reserve troops, consisting of former conscripts and contract soldiers who had completed their original terms of service, and the order extended to Crimea. Consequently, an unknown number of mobilized ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars were sent to fight and die in mainland Ukraine.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 0 / 4

Media freedom is severely curtailed in Crimea. In addition to other restrictive Russian laws, a penal code provision prescribes imprisonment for public calls for action against Russia’s territorial integrity, which has been interpreted to ban statements against the annexation, including in the media. In March 2022, the Russian parliament passed and Putin signed a package of laws that imposed penalties of up to 15 years in prison for either discrediting or spreading “false” information about the Russian military and its activities.

Journalists in Crimea risk harassment, arrest, and imprisonment for carrying out their work. Vladislav Yesypenko, a freelance journalist associated with US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was sentenced in February 2022 to six years in a penal colony, later reduced to five years on appeal, for supposedly possessing and transporting explosives. He had reportedly been tortured by authorities after his 2021 arrest. Iryna Danilovych, an activist and citizen journalist, disappeared in April 2022; about two weeks later, her family learned that she had been arrested. She was convicted in December and sentenced to seven years in prison on a dubious charge of carrying an explosive device. Vilen Temeryanov, a Crimean Tatar journalist with the independent news website Grani, was arrested on terrorism charges in August 2022 and remained in detention as of December.

Independent and pro-Ukraine media outlets do not openly function on the peninsula. A 2015 reregistration process overseen by the Russian media and telecommunications regulator Roskomnadzor effectively reduced the number of media outlets in Crimea by more than 90 percent. The occupation authorities have cut Crimea off from access to Ukrainian television, and Crimean internet service providers must operate under draconian Russian media laws. Russian authorities continued to block a number of Ukrainian news sites and interfered with Ukrainian radio signals by transmitting Russian programming on the same frequencies in 2022.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 0 / 4

The occupation authorities forced religious organizations to reregister under new rules after seizing control in 2014, sharply reducing the number of registered groups. Authorities have also confiscated numerous properties in Crimea from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. All 22 Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations were deregistered after the Russian Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the group had violated laws against extremism. In 2020, authorities began issuing prison sentences to adherents for their activity.

Most Muslims in Crimea are Crimean Tatars, and mosques associated with the community have been denied permission to register. Muslims have also faced legal discrimination and accusations that they belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist movement that seeks to establish a caliphate but does not advocate violent methods to achieve it. Hizb ut-Tahrir operates legally in Ukraine but is designated as a terrorist group in Russia. Those prosecuted for alleged membership in Crimea are denied due process, with authorities relying on testimony from anonymous witnesses, including FSB agents. More than a dozen Crimean Tatars were sentenced to prison on such charges in 2022 alone.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 0 / 4

Schools must use the Russian state curriculum, and schoolchildren in Crimea are exposed to Russian military propaganda. Some have also received basic military training in recent years.

Instruction in the Ukrainian language has been almost completely eliminated. In a 2017 ruling, the International Court of Justice ordered Russia to ensure the availability of education in Ukrainian, but the authorities did not comply with this order. Access to education in the Crimean Tatar language has been more stable, declining only slightly since 2014.

After the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, occupation authorities began dismissing and prosecuting teachers in Crimea for allegedly discrediting the Russian military, for example by expressing opposition to the war or contradicting official propaganda narratives.

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because Russian authorities have established near-total control over the education system, using it to indoctrinate students and suppress views that diverge from official narratives about the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 0 / 4

The FSB reportedly encourages residents to inform on individuals who express opposition to the 2014 occupation of Crimea or the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and a climate of fear and intimidation seriously inhibits private discussion of political matters. Social media comments are reportedly monitored by authorities. The FSB frequently opens criminal cases against those who criticize the occupation and the oppression of Crimean Tatars.

After the 2022 invasion began, Russian authorities effectively banned critical discussion of the war or alleged war crimes by the Russian military. By November, the Crimean Human Rights Group (KPH) had documented at least 151 cases of Crimeans being charged with discrediting the Russian armed forces. Many involved antiwar posts on social media.

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 due to increased surveillance and punishment of residents who expressed negative opinions about the invasion of Ukraine.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 0 / 4

Freedom of assembly is severely restricted. Public events cannot proceed without permission from the authorities, and the Crimean government lists only 366 locations where they can be held. Permission to hold demonstrations is frequently denied, and when protests do proceed, participants are often arrested. Authorities have at times handed activists advance-warning notes threatening them with administrative or criminal prosecution if they held planned events. Crimean Tatar activists have been known to receive such notes before the anniversary of the Stalin-era mass deportations and Crimean Tatar Flag Day.

In 2022, demonstrators engaged in a series of small or single-person protests against the war in Ukraine and were detained for allegedly discrediting the Russian military.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 0 / 4

The occupation authorities, including the FSB, repress all independent political and civic organizations. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are subject to harsh Russian laws that enable state interference and obstruct foreign funding. NGO leaders are regularly harassed and arrested for their work.

In March 2022, Abdureshyt Dzhepparov, coordinator of the Crimean Contact Group for Human Rights, was sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention, ostensibly for a 2019 social media post that compared Soviet and Nazi German propaganda. In April, Roskomnadzor blocked access to the website of the Kyiv-based ZMINA Human Rights Centre. In May, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office designated the KPH as an “undesirable” organization, requiring it to disband and criminalizing any collaboration with its activities.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 1 / 4

Trade union rights are formally protected under Russian law but limited in practice. As in both Ukraine and Russia, employers are often able to engage in antiunion discrimination and violate collective-bargaining rights. Occupation authorities have threatened to nationalize property owned by labor unions in Crimea.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 0 / 4

Under Moscow’s rule, Crimea is subject to the Russian judicial system, which lacks independence and is effectively dominated by the executive branch. Russian laws bar dual citizenship for public officials, and Crimean judges were required to obtain Russian citizenship in order to retain their positions after the annexation.

In recent years, Russian judges have been transferred from Russia to work in Crimea. These officials regularly hand down politically motivated judgments against residents who oppose the occupation and the war against Ukraine.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0 / 4

After the illegal 2014 annexation, Russian authorities replaced Ukrainian laws with those of the Russian Federation. Russian criminal code amendments in 2020 allowed for harsher punishments against those accused of “violating” or “alienating” Russian territorial integrity. Many detainees and prisoners are transferred from occupied Crimea to Russia, in violation of international law, and Crimean residents have faced trial in military courts located in Russia. Similarly, in 2022, there were some reported cases of activists being seized in newly occupied portions of Ukraine and transported for detention and trial in Crimea.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions, harsh interrogation tactics, falsification of evidence, pressure to waive legal counsel, and unfair trials are common. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has noted that prosecutors are heavily favored in military court proceedings, and that state-appointed defense lawyers are often ineffective. Observers attempting to attend open court hearings involving Crimean Tatar defendants have sometimes been detained. Independent lawyers who assist victims of human rights violations have faced administrative charges, fines, disbarment, and other forms of reprisal.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0 / 4

The Russian occupation authorities commonly engage in torture of detainees and other abuses. A 2020 OHCHR report noted accounts of “mock executions, beatings, electric shocks, and sexual violence.” Victims of torture have little legal recourse, allowing security forces to act with impunity.

Detention centers are often overcrowded and unhygienic, and detainees do not consistently receive medical attention.

During and after Moscow’s February 2022 invasion, Crimea was used as a base of Russian military operations in southern Ukraine, which caused extensive destruction and loss of civilian life in Ukrainian population centers. Ukrainian forces responded with a series of drone strikes and special operations aimed at military bases and supplies in Crimea. In October, an explosion that was reportedly caused by a truck bomb killed at least four people and seriously damaged a bridge linking Crimea to Russia via the Kerch Strait.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 0 / 4

In addition to official discrimination and harassment against ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, women face de facto discrimination in the workplace, and the legal situation for LGBT+ people has worsened under the Russian occupation. After 2014, Crimea became subject to Russia’s 2013 law banning dissemination of information that promotes “nontraditional sexual relationships” among minors, which tightly restricts the activities of LGBT+ people and organizations. A December 2022 Russian law extended the ban to include the spread of such information among adults.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 0 / 4

The occupation authorities have sought to compel Crimea’s residents to accept Russian citizenship and surrender their Ukrainian passports. Those who fail to do so face the threat of dismissal from employment, loss of property rights, inability to travel to mainland Ukraine and elsewhere, and eventual deportation as foreigners.

After the February 2022 invasion began, it became almost impossible to travel directly from Crimea to government-controlled Ukraine due to ongoing hostilities. After the Russian government began its mobilization of reservists in September, men could leave Crimea only with the permission of the military commissars. In October, Putin signed a decree imposing varying degrees of movement restrictions based on the perceived security threat in each region. In Crimea, officials were empowered to forcibly relocate some residents and limit travel to and from the peninsula.

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 due to new movement restrictions associated with the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1 / 4

Property rights are poorly protected, and the Russian occupation has resulted in a redistribution of assets in favor of Russian and pro-Russian entities. In 2018, an international court in The Hague, the Netherlands, ordered Russia to pay $159 million to Ukrainian companies whose property had been confiscated since 2014. The properties of Crimean Tatars who returned in the 1990s—after a Soviet-era mass deportation—and built houses without permits are also vulnerable to seizure by Russian authorities.

In 2020, Putin signed an edict banning foreign individuals from owning coastal land in the territory; the measure also included new restrictions on property rights that do not apply for Crimean residents holding Russian passports. According to the same edict, Ukrainian land documents would no longer be valid as of January 2023, and Crimeans must reregister their land rights under Russian law.

In October 2022, the State Council of Crimea announced that it would nationalize enterprises and property belonging to Ukrainians; more than 130 enterprises were nationalized the following month. Separately in October, the Russian decree imposing security-related movement restrictions in Crimea also authorized the seizure of private property for military purposes.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4

Domestic violence remains a serious problem in Crimea, and Russian laws do not offer strong protections. In 2017, Putin signed legislation that partly decriminalized domestic abuse in Russia, prescribing only small fines and short administrative detention for acts that do not cause serious injuries. Russian law does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2 / 4

Economic opportunity has been limited since the occupation due to international sanctions, restrictions on trade via mainland Ukraine, and reliance on trade with Russia. Residents’ access to goods and services remains constrained, and vital industries like tourism and agriculture have stagnated.

As in both Ukraine and Russia, migrant workers, women, and children are vulnerable to trafficking for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation. Russia’s military conscription in occupied Crimea and its 2022 mobilization of reservists both violate international law, amounting to forced enlistment as well as forced labor.