Zair Smedlyaev, head of the Kurultai of the Crimean Tatar People, talks about how the Russian authorities are trying to replace the indigenous population of Crimea with Russians and how such a policy affects the interests of local Crimeans:
The number of Russians, weapons and military personnel has risen continuously since Russian troops invaded Crimea on February 27, 2014. Crimea doesn’t interest the Kremlin as a resort area per se, but only as a military base. Moreover, the new authorities are doing their best to destroy Crimea as a potential seaside resort. The destruction of resort infrastructure actually began with the destruction of the natural environment.
They’re blasting mountains, especially those that have natural sources of drinking water. Their attitude to nature is cruel and barbaric, especially when we see farmers using underground drinking water to irrigate their crops. We faced the same problem during the Soviet era when “collective farms” extracted huge amounts of fresh water from underground sources. Underground water supplies are limited. Large cavities form after water has been pumped from the ground, and the soil began to absorb salt water and sewage. The two water-bearing layers (aquifers) become salty, and in the near future, we can expect salinity of the third layer. This will further exacerbate the existing water problems in Crimea.
Russian authorities are also trying to replace local workers in key industries: business management, medicine, education, etc. The occupation authorities don’t hide that they’re afraid of local residents who have tasted freedom, and who are ready to protest against and resist arbitrary decisions. Once, the authorities launched a campaign against Crimean doctors. Russian officials declared they were unqualified, and labeled them as bribe-takers. Then, they began cutting their salaries. Of course, many local doctors simply couldn’t survive, so they went into private business or left Crimea.
The Russian medical system is extremely bureaucratic. For example, in the Krasnohvardiysk District where I live, there were cases when patients simply died before seeing a doctor. They were given coupons to see one specialist, and then it turned out that they should have been examined by other doctors, but they couldn’t get a coupon to visit them before several weeks.
Former SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) employees, who went over to the Russian side, have been replaced by FSB officers (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation). However, many of these defectors have been allowed to remain on the peninsula for a good reason. Apparently, Moscow doesn’t exclude a military scenario in Crimea whereby Ukraine would try to get the territory back. Therefore, the Kremlin needs people who will fight for them, fearing first of all for themselves. Former SBU officers understand that in the event of Crimea’s return to Ukraine they will be accused of treason. They’ll have nowhere to retreat since they don’t own any property outside the peninsula, and they’ll be forced to fight for their homes here.
From time to time these defectors are sent to Russia, including the North Caucasus, “for exchange of experience”.
They’re taught how to “deal properly with Muslims”, and when they come back, these newly trained FSB officers “begin fighting terrorist organizations”, which they themselves invent.
Judges are also in the line of fir. Earlier, it was sometimes possible to defend the truth in Crimean courts, but today it has become virtually impossible. If the prosecutor doesn’t come to the court session, a complacent judge will usually play the role. Therefore, defense lawyers are confronted with “double charges”, and sometimes, they’re also criminally prosecuted. This was the case with lawyers Nikolai Polozov and Emil Kurbedinov: Polozov was kidnapped and illegally interrogated and Kurbedinov was arrested and detained for ten days.
In addition to intelligence officers, doctors, judges and military troops, the Kremlin is also bringing in government officials and specialized employees.
Many Crimean leaders are from Russia. Sergey Aksionov’s assistants (“Prime Minister” of the Republic of Crimea) are from St. Petersburg and Moscow. No one pays attention to the qualification of these “managers” and almost anyone can be appointed to a responsible position, even a former stripper. These people are followed by family members. There are many, many workers from the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. The Russian authorities are even ready to pay “a relocation bonus” to such migrants so as to avoid hiring locals.
During the Soviet eras, Crimea was considered a “red zone” and an attractive place for former security officers and military. Today, FSB pensioners populate the peninsula, while their descendants enjoy privileged conditions.
The Crimean Ministry responsible for international relations is now headed by the grandson of a former NKVD officer. Of course, he’ll tell everyone that the Crimean Tatars live well and have nothing to fear. But, we all know that Crimean Tatar homes are searched every day; then, Russian policemen record interviews about what was “discovered” in these searches before the FSB team actually leaves the scene… a farce!
As Russians began massively settling on the peninsula, there were often conflicts with the local population when inebriated Russian soldiers started fights with local residents. Today, having faced resistance and protest from Crimeans, Russian soldiers have begun to behave more cautiously, and organized persecutions and harassment have replaced drunken lawlessness.
Other problems associated with the rising number of Russian immigrants are related to financial for their housing, “bonuses”, and other benefits and privileges. Today, Crimean authorities have “solved” all these costs at the expense of local Crimeans.
We’ve seen massive reductions in social, cultural and educational programs and health care plans. In some localities, polyclinics, schools, kindergartens have been closed down. It’s important for everyone to understand that no matter how difficult the financial problems experienced by Crimea, neither the army nor all the new housing projects for “our new guests” seem to suffer.
The housing problem for newly arrived migrants and military personnel is being partly “solved” by available accommodation in Crimea, changes in queues for getting apartments and infamous “property grabbing”.
Many enterprises are involved in “property grabbing”. Privatized property is retroactively recognized as invalid. Such things also happen with land plots. Sometimes houses are illegally demolished, and those that manage to survive have to pay a “tribute” It’s often enough to make an anonymous denunciation in order to deprive persons of their legitimate property.
Nevertheless, Crimean Tatars note that despite the massive arrival of a “loyal electorate from Russia”, the mood in Crimea is changing, and enthusiasm for “reunification with Russia” is waning.
Some people who “wanted to die and be buried in Russia” now say that they’d imagined reunification would look like what’s shown on television and in the cinema: traveling abroad, villas, mansions, summer cottages, chic cars and servants. But, it’s turned out that the place of these Crimeans is, at best, in the servant’s quarters. More and more Crimeans deny that they took part in the pseudo-referendum (held on March 16, 2014), whereas earlier they boasted of their participation. They’re beginning to feel shame and disappointment.