Staunton, November 30 – One of the reasons some Russians would like to see Russia, Ukraine and Belarus combined into a single state is that the percentage of Muslims in the two non-Russian countries is significantly lower than in Russia, thus delaying the day when Muslims will challenge Russians for dominance in the Russian Federation.
Even Vladimir Putin’s Crimean Anschluss worked in that direction because, despite the presence of the Muslim Crimean Tatars, a Russian Federation including that illegal acquisition became slightly less Muslim than it was before 2014, especially given that many Crimean Tatars left the Ukrainian peninsula for other parts of their country.
But now that conditions have stabilized at the front, Moscow and pro-Moscow Ukrainians are playing up the supposed Islamist threat in Ukraine not only to denigrate the Crimean Tatars whom Russians have accused of Islamist sympathies but also to split Ukrainians, encourage Russians to fight against Kyiv and discourage the West from backing Ukraine.
A signal example of such Russian commentaries is provided by Sergey Arafonov on the Svobodnaya pressa portal under the provocative title “What Stands Behind the Creeping Islamization of Ukraine” (svpressa.ru/society/article/187243/).
According to the Russian journalist, “the Islamic factor is making itself known ever more frequently [in Ukraine] and especially in the south-eastern oblasts” of that country. Some of it reflects the influx of Crimean Tatars, but some of it involves Muslims either of Slavic nationality or from countries in the Middle East who seek to recruit for ISIS.
“In some places,” Arafonov says, “Islamization is proceeding boldly and in full public view as in Kherson Oblast” but in others, it is developing as it were underground, biding its time before coming out. Aleksey Zhuravko, a pro-Yanukovich deputy in the Verkhovna Rada from 2006 to 2012, says relations between the Muslims and Ukrainians are often “poor.”
“Local people,” he says, “suffer from constant threats and violations.” There are Caucasian groups who fought in Syria and Crimean Tatar groups that want to fight against Russia. Some are actively recruiting; others are training; but all are dangerous, according to the pro-Moscow politician.
Aleksandr Aleksandrovsky, an Anti-Maidan leader in Kharkiv, adds that “the number of Muslims in the big cities has significantly increased. In Kharkiv and Odessa, there are major Syrian and Lebanese diasporas. They are peace-loving” as they support Syrian President Asad and thus Russia as well.
“But Libyans, Iraqis, and Tunisians,” he continues, are another matter. They are hostile to Russia as can be seen from “the Islamic graffiti” in the streets of Ukrainian cities. They want to fight for ISIS and the khalifate, and they on occasion will cooperate with anti-Russian Ukrainian forces to that end, an alliance he suggests that is not always easy.
The Ukrainian security agency is correct, Aleksandrovsky says, that such groups exist and are recruiting for ISIS; but the SBU has proven its impotence by not being able to stop this from occurring.