Thursday, November 6, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Crimea Tatars Now Moscow’s Most Serious Nationality Problem, Ryzhkov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, November 6 – By annexing Ukraine’s Crimea, Moscow has acquired a more serious ethno-political problem than xenophobic attitudes toward migrants or violence in the North Caucasus, Vladimir Ryzhkov says.  It must now deal with the Crimean Tatars, their aspirations, and their relations with the Russian occupation regime.


            But even more than that, Russian politician and commentator Vladimir Ryzhkov says, the Crimean Tatars are highlighting something Moscow is unprepared to recognize: “Russia today does not have the institutions and mechanisms for the integration of ethno-cultural communities with strong group identity and traumatized history” (


            And the Kremlin is learning, he says, that its favored methods of dealing with ethnic challenges elsewhere – corruption, intimidation and expulsion – are “only intensifying the conflict” in Crimea, an indication of what Moscow is going to face in the future not only there but also in the Russian Federation more generally.


            The Crimean Tatars opposed the annexation of their homeland by Russia. They refused to take part in the Moscow-orchestrated referendum on that action and in the regional elections there. And Moscow responded brutally and forcefully.


It blocked Mustafa Cemilev and  Refat Chubarov from entering their own homeland, burning the books of the former Soviet dissident and forcing the latter, who is now the head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis to run its sessions from Kyiv via Skype. It banned as “dangerous” the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars.


Moscow has launched a wave of terror against the Crimean Tatars, with armed searches of the Mejlis building, mosques, businesses and homes, unsolved murders and “disappearances,” crimes that have been documented by Nils Muižnieks, the EU human rights commissar following his visit to Crimea ten days ago.


And now the situation is deteriorating further. According to Chubarov, “Moscow is seeking the chance to realize in Crimea ‘a Chechen scenario,’ that is, to find among the Crimean Tatars an analogue to Ramzan Kadyrov who could by force and money consolidate a restive community and secure its loyalty.”


If that is the case, Ryzhkov says, “this is bad news. The Russian empire and the Soviet Union fell apart to a large extent because of an inability to find a solution for the nationality question.” Both of them sought to “combine repression and the buying off of national elites,” and both of them failed.


            What happens next with the Crimean Tatars, he suggests, will provide “answer about the future of Russia just as the fate of the Poles, Jews and Georgians gave an answer about the future of the Russian Empire a hundred years ago.”



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