Moscow's Effort to Present Itself as Defender of Crimean Tatars Falls Flat
by Paul Goble

On-going series: Crisis in the Caucasus - 2008
The Russian / Georgian Conflict and Its Impact on Azerbaijan

Window on Eurasia: Original Blog Article

Vienna, September 17
­ Last week, Russian news portals and blogs featured reports that a group of the Crimean Tatars had called on Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev to defend their nation's rights against Ukraine's "unceasing genocide," a story that some Western media outlets picked up from Russian media reports.

But yesterday, the Crimean Tatar party that supposedly wrote and distributed this appeal said that it had not done so, pointing out that the individual member of the group that had taken this step was not authorized to do so and would be subject to discipline, a denial that so far has appeared only on the Crimea-L discussion list.

Thus, the original report and the way many have handled it provide yet another example of the kind of disinformation campaign Moscow has again been engaged in as well as a transparent effort to put pressure on Ukraine by coming up with another justification for Russian intervention there ­ the protection of an ethnic minority.

On September 8th, a document purportedly reflecting the views of the Milli Firqa Party in Crimea surfaced in the Russian media. It called on the governments of the Russian Federation and Tatarstan to "defend the indigenous and other numerically small ethnic communities of Crimea" against the "genocidal" policies of Ukraine.

The appeal said that the situation in Crimea had become serious because the Crimean Tatars had exhausted "all possible means of defense in Ukraine" against the "rampant nationalism" there and that the Milli Firqa Party plans to appeal to the European Union, Turkey and the Turkic republics of the former Soviet Union as well.

Signed by Vasvi Abduraimov, who identified himself as a leader of the party, the document said that he and his party were not afraid of being accused of having "adopted a pro-Russian position in Crimean Tatar politics" because without outside support, there was little possibility that the Crimean Tatars will be in a position to flourish.

Consequently, "if it so happens that the interests of Crimea and the interests of the Crimean-Tatar people correspond with the interests of Russia for example," Abduraimov concluded, "then why not use this [coincidence] for the resolution of the chief problems of the nation."

Russian media quickly picked up the story, and Russian politicians and commentators reacted. Konstantin Zatulin, the first deputy chairman of the Duma's committee on CIS affairs and compatriots abroad, said that this appeal certainly did not reflect the views of all Crimean Tatars but was important from Moscow's point of view.

It showed that at least some Crimean Tatars are now unhappy both with the way in which Kyiv has used them as a political football for the last 20 years and with what he described as the often extreme statements made by some of the members of the Milli Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar parliament.

Obviously, he continued, Moscow could not casually interfere in the internal affairs of Ukraine "but the Russian Federation is carefully following what is taking place in Crimea since it is interested in the well-being of Crimea, the largest region beyond the borders of the Russian Federation where Russians live."

And Zatulin added that Russia's consul general in Crimea will be open to receiving more formal requests for Russian assistance and in the meantime "beyond doubt will receive the assignment of clarifying the situation," one that he doubted was as extreme as genocide but nonetheless is serious enough to be a matter of concern.

Meanwhile in Crimea itself, Mustafa Dzhemilyev, the leader of the Milli Mejlis, said that the appeal of Milli Firqa does not reflect the position of all Crimean Tatars. "Every nation has the right to have a certain number of fools," he said, noting that the Milli Firqa is "not an enormous party." It has only 20-25 members.

But yesterday the Milli Firqa disowned the statement, declaring in a message posted on the Crimea-L list that the appeal "was drafted, signed and forwarded" in violation of "all Milli Firqa rules, and therefore cannot be considered an official document of the organization" as it purports to be. It added that Abduraimov would be subject to party discipline.

Today, in Simferopol, a group of Crimean Tatar organizations held a press conference to denounce the Milli Firqa declaration. But these statements emanating from Crimea are unlikely to receive the same wide dissemination that the original "appeal" to Medvedev and Shaimiyev did. And consequently, that document has already been useful to Moscow for two reasons.

On the one hand, it has given some in the Russian government the chance to test the waters for the notion that Moscow is prepared to defend not just Russian citizens abroad, something that is a more difficult case to make in Ukraine given that country's constitutional ban on dual citizenship.

And on the other, it has given Moscow another chance both to blacken the reputation of Ukraine and at least potentially to set at odds the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar communities in Crimea, something that the Russian community there and Moscow itself could in the event of a crisis exploit.

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