Only 5,000 of the 300,000 Crimean Tatars living in the Russian-occupied peninsula have applied for Russian passports over the last ten days, according to the Russian official there responsible for nationality affairs. That figure reflects the steadfast opposition of the Crimean Tatars to the Russian Anschluss.
These officials say that applications are coming in at the rate of 200 to 300 a day, figures that if they continued at that level would mean that it would be more than three years before the transfer from Ukrainian to Russian passports would be completed.
The Milli Mejlis, the assembly of the Crimean Tatars, has spoken out against the Anschluss and against exchanging Ukrainian citizenship for Russian citizenship, positions that make it likely that the rate of application for Russian passports is more likely to fall rather than increase in the coming months.
That has both good and bad consequences. The good consequences are that this is a clear demonstration of the loyalty Crimean Tatars feel toward Ukraine and of their hostility to the forcible annexation of their homeland by the Russian Federation. They will thus remain an inspiration to other Ukrainians and to all those who want Russian aggression reversed.
But the bad consequences are likely to be visited directly on the Crimean Tatars themselves. Mustafa Cemilev, their longtime leader, has already been banned from returning to his homeland for five years. Crimean Tatar schools and mosques have been attacked. And Russian officials have begun questioning the titles Crimean Tatars have for their property.
Most recently, and despite all the promises Vladimir Putin made before the referendum on the Anschluss, Russian officials have now ordered the taking down of all place and street signs in Crimean Tatar and English on the peninsula because these officials say the Crimean Tatars “don’t deserve them”.
Moreover, Russian officials have played up the status of other minorities on the peninsula like the Armenians and Greeks in recent weeks, thus implicitly downplaying that historical and contemporary role of the Crimean Tatars whose homeland the peninsula has been for centuries.
Talk about expelling Crimean Tatars who don’t accept Russian citizenship has quieted in recent weeks, but another and perhaps more real threat has emerged. Roman Silantyev, a Russian specialist on Islam who is close to the Moscow Patriarchate and the Kremlin, said yesterday that Russia should not give citizenship to “the Islamists of Crimea”.
Such an appeal, if heard, opens the way not only to increasing oppression of all Muslims there because in Russian parlance, a Muslim extremist is any Muslim Moscow does not approve of, but also to what could become a dangerous propaganda effort.
If the Russian occupation authorities say they will not give citizenship to “extremist Muslims,” it will be very easy for Russian propagandists and those who rely on them to conclude that those Crimean Tatars who do not take citizenship are thus by a twist of logic “extremist Muslims.”
On the one hand, such suggestions are likely to be used to pressure additional Crimean Tatars to apply for Russian citizenship. And on the other – and this is more likely and more serious – they are likely to be used to try to blacken the reputation of the Crimean Tatars as a whole and thus reduce support for that community internationally.
At the very least, recent Russian actions and the possibility that Russian officials will move in this direction increase the likelihood of conflicts between the Crimean Tatars and the occupation authorities and the danger that these will be presented by pro-Moscow media as a clash of civilizations between Muslims and Christians.