Like Stalin, Putin views Crimea’s Tatars as a threat, and is sowing fear in the peninsula’s population, to help facilitate their ethnic cleansing, Refat Chubarov told EURACTIV.
On a visit to Brussels, the leader of the Crimean Tatar national movement in Ukraine, and worldwide, called the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014 “a tragedy”.
Chubarov said that Russia has probably thought that the annexation would be “digested” quickly by the international community. But now, the prevailing opinion is that the international order should be restored.
“I’m one of those who try to activate all players who want justice to be restored, and Crimea to be returned to Ukraine,” said Chubarov, who is banned by Moscow from returning to the peninsula.
Asked if he really believed that Russia would ever abandon Crimea, he said:
“I’m a Tatar from Crimea and I try to answer difficult questions with a maximum of honesty. I want Crimea to be returned to Ukraine, and that’s what the Crimean Tatars want. Some think I say so because I’m a Ukrainian politician and that’s why I defend its interests, and it’s true. But I’m a historian, I’m well aware of the past tragedies, and I know that if we don’t find real instruments to [enable] the return of Crimea, the world should be ready for worse catastrophes.”
Chubarov argued that the issue was not if it is realistic that Crimea returns to Ukraine, but rather that it would be wrong for the international community to abandon efforts in this direction.
Security threat for Europe
Chubarov also spoke of the militarisation of Crimea since it was annexed. According to the Tatar leader, this has become one of the “most militarised areas under the control of Russia”, and that the missiles installed there could reach the entire Black Sea region.
“With the seizure of Crimea, NATO has a big headache. The entire south flank of NATO is within Russia’s reach,” he said, comparing Crimea to a giant Russian aircraft carrier.
Chubarov also argued in favour of maintaining Western sanctions against Russia and even adopting tougher sanctions, as well as supplying Ukraine with modern weapons.
“I don’t want to be the accountant of the number of tears from one side or the other, but it is necessary that those in power, on either side, feel the anger of the parents of soldiers killed because of an unjust war,” he said.
Referring to the situation in Eastern Ukraine, Chubarov stated that more and more Russian soldiers are dying in Ukraine. “I mean real soldiers, not mercenaries or those who were lured to go there for money,” he added.
From tragedy to tragedy
The Crimean Tatars have lived through tragedies, Chubarov said. On 18 May 1944, with the liberation of the peninsula from Nazi forces, all Crimean Tatars, 220,000 people, were deported. But not only Crimean Tatars suffered under Stalin. A month later, in June 1944, other ethnic groups were deported from Crimea as well: 11,000 Bulgarians, 11,000 Armenians and 12,000 Greeks. Before that, in August 1941, 50,000 Germans were deported from Crimea, Chubarov said.
Asked how the return took place, he explained that until the 1980s the deported Crimean Tatars were not permitted to return to the peninsula. The mass return of Crimean Tatars took place at the end of the 1980s, under Gorbachev, as well as under the independent Ukraine, after August 1991, Chubarov said. Although the Ukrainian authorities at that time neglected the problems of the Tatars who needed to restore their rights, this country did the most important thing – they told the Tatars “you have the right to return”.
“For those 23 years, we obtained the possibility to restore our schools, to promote our language, which was not possible for 50 years. We published books in Tatar language, a TV channel was set up, a theatre. And under all Ukrainian presidents, the Crimean Tatars were among the most ardent supporter of EU and euro-Atlantic integration, probably more than Ukrainians themselves”, Chubarov said. He explained that Crimean Tatars believed that thanks to the promotion of European values, they will find a common language with the other communities and better integrate in Ukraine.
“Even before the annexation of Crimea, Russians pointed at the Crimean Tatars as a potential threat to Ukraine, because we are close to Turkey, we are also Sunni Muslims, while in Crimea the majority of the population is Russian,” Chubarov said. He explained that a census in 2001 shows that Russians were 58%, 24% were Ukrainians and 12-13% were Crimean Tatars.
“Crimean Tatars took the position officially against the Russian intervention, through their Parliament, the Mejlis, and Russia doesn’t pardon that. We are the main target for systematic repressions and discrimination,” Chubarov said. “For Russia, any self-organisation of citizens is a threat for the power. And the Crimean Tartars are a very well organised people. Life has constrained us to be that way,” he added.
The Mejlis targeted
Asked about the current situation of the minority, Chubarov responded:
“The occupation power is systematically trying to disorganise the Crimean Tatars, using a well-known arsenal: bribes, blackmail, threats, repression, but also abductions,” explaining that Crimean Tatars have recently been abducted and found dead.
“But the biggest effort now is against the Mejlis, Russia trying to obtain from the Crimean Tatars an endorsement of the rightness of its action,” Chubarov said.
He explained that by means of threats, of blackmail, Russia is trying to obtain full control of the Mejlis, and that’s why some people are now denied the right to return to Crimea. The first was Mustafa Dzhemilev, a former Soviet dissident, recognised as leader of the Crimean Tatar National Movement. The second was Chubarov himself, along with several other activists.
“In this way, they try to keep away from Crimea all those who could influence the Tatars,” he said, adding that his deputy has been under arrest in Crimea since January. He was reportedly arrested for having participated in a meeting in February 2014, when Crimea was still Ukrainian, and is charged with organising mass disturbances.
Russia doesn’t need the Crimea population of 2.3 million, Chubarov argued, indicating that another deportation of Crimean Tatars could take place in the 21st century.
“As Russia wants to transform the peninsula into a military place d’armes, 1.5 million are enough to service it, including maintaining some economic activity. That’s why the occupation forces will deport the population. The aim of the repression is to instigate fear, so that people would leave. All those who dislike Russia should leave,” Chubarov said.
The politician said he doesn’t exclude the possibility that Russia will have to retreat from Donetsk and Luhansk areas.
“But I also think that some in Moscow fear that one day they may need to return Crimea as well.” He added that this would not be under Putin, as for him this is “an issue of political life and death”.
“In Putin’s puzzle, one piece is missing, and that’s the piece of the Crimean Tatars,” Chubarov said.