A heavily-protected Russian entry point into the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea annexed by Russia in March 2014 (Image: Kommersant.ru)
Ukrainian commentator Vitaly Portnikov says that Ukrainians must recognize that Crimea is–like the Donbas–a Russian-occupied territory and will be returned to Ukraine only when Russia no longer can afford its imperial project and that they should create an organization for the liberation of Crimea to assist in this process.
Pointing out that the primary goals of those living under occupation are to avoid being destroyed and to promote the end of foreign rule, Portnikov tells the Crimean Tatar QHA news agency that this organization must include but be broader than the Crimean Tatars.
Specifically, he says. “this organization would be a representative of the interests of those citizens of Crimea who, as a result of the actions of the Russian military and its allies and collaborationists on the territory of the autonomy, have been deprived of the chance to live in their native places and stripped of their civil rights.”
Such a body, Portnikov suggests, “could aspire to the status of an observer at the UN, and its leader must give the world from the tribune of the UN a clear assessment of the Russian occupation. But this organization cannot be exclusively an organization of the Crimean Tatar people. The Mejlis must be one of its members” but not the only one.
That reflects both the underlying demographic reality – the Crimean Tatars are and will remain a minority in Crimea and thus will not be able to win elections even in the future – and the fact that the Ukraine, to which Crimea will ultimately be returned, will be “an entirely different state, a democratic, European and civilized” one.
In that state, Portnikov continues, the Ukrainian authorities will “defend every citizen of Ukraine regardless of his ethnic origin, religion or language. And this approach will also be extended to Crimea. Therefore, the Crimean Tatars must recognize that Crimea is also just as inalienable a part of Ukraine as Sumsk or Kyiv oblasts.”
“All citizens of Ukraine living in Crimea will have equal rights, and the interests of the Crimean Tatars will have to be coordinated with the interests of every Crimean citizen. Thus we say that the autonomy, which will exist in Crimea, must have a national-ethnic component” but must not violate the rights of all others.
According to Portnikov, “the overwhelming majority of the population” of Crimea consists of Slavs. In a democracy, the majority must have the right to choose the leaders of the state while the rights of minorities must be respected. The latter will require negotiation because “this is the rule of European life.”
Portnikov’s comments come after the Russian occupation has declared the Crimean Tatar Mejlis an extremist group and moved to ban it and after some Crimean Tatars have begun to talk about establishing a government in exile as the main way to put pressure on the Russian government to return Crimea.
The Ukrainian commentator says he is surprised it took the occupiers two years to take this step, because those who had been paying attention to Russia over the last 15 years could easily see that the Kremlin is doing everything it can to marginalize all ethnic organizations it does not completely control.
“Russia is absolutely indifferent to what is happening with the Crimean Tatars and what the view of the international community on their status happens to be,” Portnikov says. It will only care “when the economic situation in that country leads to its actual and irretrievable collapse, to the impoverishment of the population and possibly to the disintegration of state structures.”
Russia “will not be able to avoid this,” the commentator says, although some time will be required. For the present, Crimea and Ukraine need to work closely together to ensure that the world views the Russian role on the Ukrainian peninsula for what it is: an illegal and undemocratic occupation of a people who want rule of law and democratic freedoms.
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