Staunton, August 18 – Reflecting his longstanding view that leaders but not peoples make history and that the rights of any ethnic group except those Russians who support him can be dismissed as fundamentally illegitimate, Vladimir Putin said yesterday that those behind the Crimean Tatar movement are in it only for the money they can get from grants.
During his visit to Russian-occupied Crimea, the Kremlin leader dismissed the Crimean Tatar issue by saying that “those who want to destabilize the situation in Crimea by using the Crimean Tatar issue want to realize their political ambitions and receive foreign grants as strugglers for rights” (ru.krymr.mobi/a/27193761.html).
“We know well” who these people are,” Putin said. They are people “who consider themselves professional strugglers for rights. For these people it is not important what these rights are and it is not important whose they are. What is important is that they are strugglers and that for this struggle they want to receive foreign grants.”
Three things follow from this perverted Orwellian logic: First, any efforts by Crimean Tatars and their supporters to achieve even minimal rights will be dismissed as the work of foreign governments and thus opposed even more harshly by officials on the scene than they have been up to now.
Second, the likelihood of that may lead some in the West to pull back from their support of the Crimean Tatars lest they provoke exactly that outcome. That is clearly what Putin wants and perhaps in some cases even expects. But it is precisely the opposite of what is needed because of another consequence of Putin’s remarks.
And third, Putin’s statement, the repression that will flow from it, and the desire of some outside not to “provoke” the Kremlin leader will have an impact on the ground, leading to radicalization of Crimean Tatar opinion and possibly the formation of groups that will decide they have nothing to lose by taking more dramatic actions.
That has not been the Crimean Tatar way in the past, but Putin would not be unhappy if he could provoke such an outcome because then he would be in a position to exploit it both to crack down even harder on the Ukrainian peninsula and to isolate both the Crimean Tatars and their Ukrainian allies in the West.
Consequently, even as they face an ever-more repressive Russian occupation, the Crimean Tatars must remain disciplined and their supporters in Kyiv and the West remain committed so that Putin’s contempt for the rights of all peoples except on occasion those of his own “elect” does not have any more disastrous consequences.