Monday, February 3, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Analyst Says ‘Islamist’ Crimean Tatars Supporting Maidan as Means of Gaining Independence

Paul Goble

            February 3 – In order to drive a wedge between the Ukrainian national movement and the Crimean Tatars and to lay the groundwork for a Russian thrust into Crimea, a Russian analyst says that the Crimean Tatars are not only separatists but Islamist radicals who threaten more than just Ukraine.

            By presenting the Crimean Tatars as interested in separatism, the analyst clearly seeks to undermine the cooperation that has existed between that nation and the Ukrainian opposition, and by painting them as an Islamist force he equally clearly wants to provide a justification for a Russian intervention -- or at a minimum to limit Western criticism of such a step.

            While it is true that the Crimean Tatars would like to see greater autonomy now and possibly independence at some point in the future, it is not the case that they are an Islamist force that threatens jihad in Ukraine and elsewhere or that Moscow is justified in using force against or that the West should be lulled into thinking that would be part of a common anti-terrorist effort.      

            On Moscow’ Strategic Culture Foundation site on Saturday, Nikolay Malishevsky argues that in recent years the Crimean Tatar national movement has become ever more “an anti-Russian force” and therefore is supporting the Maidan against the Ukrainian government (

                Two months ago, Malishevsky says, reports began to appear about the arrival of “radical Islamists” from Crimea in Kyiv, a “Crimean descent” of “veterans of militant actions in Syria who fought as part of the anti-government armed formations.”  According to the analyst, the group was organized by Akhtem Chiygoz, the deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis.

At present, he continues, there are approximately one thousand Crimean Tatars in Kyiv working as part of the Maidan’s self-defense detachments, a term with unfortunate associations he says because similar units were formed to support the Nazis’ imposition of “a new order” in Crimea during World War II.

Malishevsky argues that the Crimean Tatars see instability in Ukraine as their “great chance.”  Refat Chubarov, the chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, said that “after blood was shed, no one will make tactical concessions ... Under the feet of the powers the land will begin to burn, and in fact the popular uprising has come to the regions” and will “cleanse Ukraine.”

According to the Moscow analyst, to this end, the Crimean Tatars plan to double their “’contingent’” in Kyiv, financing this effort on their own. On the one hand, Malishevsky says, this shows that the Crimean Tatars have a short memory: they supported the Orange Revolution but did not benefit from it in the ways that they expected.

And on the other, he continues, the delay in sending more Crimean Tatars to Kyiv may simply reflect the absence of a final agreement about such a step by the divided Maidan opposition “and what is the main thing,” a similar absence of agreement “with [their] protectors abroad.”

These foreign “protectors” of the Crimean Tatars are very divided, Malishevsky says.  What Washington wants is very different from what Beijing does, and that in turn is very different from what either Warsaw or Ankara does. And that is the case even though all are threatened by Islamism and the instability it produces.

According to the Moscow analyst, “the Tatar nationalists in Crimea who have been counting on NATO’s support are ready to act openly by transforming the social-political contradictions of Ukrainian society into an inter-ethnic war on the model of the Kosovo variant” in the former Yugoslavia.

The Crimean Tatars plan to use this opportunity to “proclaim Tatr territorial autonomy within the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, then to transform such a territorial autonomy into a national one, then to proclaim its sovereignty and so on and on to the complete separation of Crimea” from Ukraine.

Malishevsky’s tendentious and distorted description of the Crimean Tatars is clearly intended to generate opposition to them among Ukrainians in the first instance and the West in the second and to lay the ideological ground work for a Russian intervention into Crimea, possibly using Russian forces in Sebastopol, that at least some in the West would not oppose.

That makes his words both dangerous and important, dangerous because they betray a habit of mind in Moscow that would invoke Islamism and separatism to invade and thus produce the very things Malishevsky accuses the Crimean Tatar of and important because they thus provide clues about one of Moscow’s possible strategies as Ukrainian developments unfold.

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