Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Crimean Tatars under Russian Threat Even as Putin ‘Rehabilitates’ Them

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 22 – In what is becoming a defining feature of the Putin regime, the Russian authorities are saying things that many people want to hear at exactly the same moment that they are doing things that directly contradict what they say. Today, the victims of that are the Crimean Tatars, a Moscow commentator says.

            In a blog post on Ekho Moskvy, Arkady Dubnov calls attention to the fact that “on the very same day” that Vladimir Putin signed a decree on the rehabilitation of the Crimean Tatars, masked men in camouflage broke into that nation’s Mejlis in order to take down the Ukrainian flag (echo.msk.ru/blog/dubnov/1305458-echo/).

            The Putin regime will likely disown this action, saying it is the work of local people over whom Moscow does not exercise control, the kind of “plausible deniability” that Moscow has used but that has been shown to be a lie concerning Russian forces elsewhere in the eastern portions of Ukraine.

            The links between the masked men in the Mejlis and the Russian authorities Putin has installed in occupied Crimea is obvious.  Sergey Aksyonov, the head of that regime, recently accused the Crimean Tatars of “provoking” inter-ethnic tensions and suggested on his Twitter account that “if they don’t like [that 97 percent of those taking part in the referendum voted to join Russia], then they should leave!”

            The Russian authorities have now banned Mustafa Cemilev, the irreplaceable leader of the Crimean Tatar national movement, from entering Crimea until 2019, Dubnov says, and by so doing, those powers have put under themselves a “delayed action” mine that could “explode at any moment” as the Russians seek to impose their order there.

            Moreover, according to employees of the Tatar service of the Crimean television channel, the Russian authorities have directed them not to mention Cemilev or show a picture of him or any other Crimean Tatar leaders.  This shows, Dubnov points out, that “the Russian powers are acting according to the typical Soviet method of ‘closing their eyes to a problem.’”

            “If something isn’t shown, then [for them], it doesn’t exist.” But that only makes the problem more serious with time.

            The Tatars will remain on the territory of Ukraine unless they are expelled. They will not forget what was done to them in 1944 by Stalin or by the current Russian regime on the peninsula, Dubnov continues.  And “the current decree of Putin ... will not promote an easing of this.”

            As a result, “it is difficult not to agree with Cemilev when he declares that ‘we do not need rehabilitation from Russia. Russia must itself rehabilitate itself before us for the crimes that were committed in 1944.”

            Given what Dubnov calls the “stupidity” of the Russian authorities, the journalist says, the situation is likely to deteriorate and some small incident that might otherwise pass without consequence could trigger serious problems on the peninsula. What that might be and whether it might be a provocation “can only be guessed at.”

            A day on which such an incident might occur is May25th when Ukraine will hold its presidential elections.  Because “tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars who have refused to take Russian citizenship” are likely to try to vote by crossing the Russian lines into areas under Kyiv’s control, all kinds of problems are possible.

            And Moscow should remember, Dubnov concludes, that Muslims around the world “will support the Crimean Tatars,” including believers in Tatarstan and the North Caucasus within the borders of the Russian Federation and in Turkey and the Arab world abroad.  That, Dubnov says, could present Moscow with “a new and [more serious] headache.”

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