On May 18, Ukraine’s president-elect Volodymyr Zelensky made a statement on Facebook regarding the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars. He claimed that he would free the “motherland of Crimean Tatars from the occupation”.
“Today is the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars. This day reminds us that it is possible to destroy people, but the spirit of an entire people – never. The Crimean Tatars have returned to their historic homeland. And now they are again victims of repression – like those who remained loyal to Ukraine in the occupied Crimea,” wrote Zelensky on his Facebook page. “Our support, our efforts, our thoughts are with them every day. I believe that we will liberate the homeland of the Crimean Tatars from occupation. And no matter how long the path on returning Crimea is, we will go through it with the Crimean Tatars. We will do it together. Don’t forget that even the darkest night ends with the dawn.”
Сьогодні 75-та річниця початку депортації кримських татар. Цей день нагадує нам, що можна знищити людей, але дух цілого…
This statement shows that Zelensky is going to follow the patch of the previous Ukrainian political leadership, which has flirted with Crimean Tatar radicals and attempted (without success) to destabilize the situation in Crimea using the ‘ethnic factor’.
The deportation of Crimean Tatars from the peninsula happened in 1944 after the liberation of Crimea from the Nazis. During the Nazi occupation, at least 72,000 were killed and 85,447 people were driven off into captivity to Nazi Germany. Around 44,000 people died in the concentration camps established in Crimea.
The government of Joseph Stalin justified the deportation by mass collaboration of the Crimean Tatars with Nazi Germany and their participation in mass murders of non-Crimean Tatar population. The concentration camp created on the territory of the farm “Krasny” near the city of Simferopol became the most prominent and bloody facility of this kind. According to Crimean historians, around 15,000 people were gruesomely murdered there.
The “Krasny” concentration camp was secured by the Schutzmannschaft Battalion 152 (152. Batalion Schutzmannschaft / Schutzmannschafts-F-Bataillon 152 / Tatarische). It included 4 German officers and 8 sub–officers. The rest of the personnel was Crimean Tatars (around 90%) and people born in western Ukraine (about 10%). Personnel of the battalion were directly involved in tortures and mass-killings of civilians. Besides involvement in the activities of the “Krasny” concentration camp, the Schutzmannschaft Battalion 152 was involved in operations against anti-Nazi partisans. After the withdrawal from Crimea, the Schutzmannschaft Battalion 152 became a part of Tataren-Gebirgsjäger-Regiment der SS. Nazi Germany formed a total of 5 battalions consisting of mostly Crimean Tatars in Crimea. All of them were involved in crimes of the Nazi regime.
These facts cannot serve as a justification of the criminal deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar population from Crimea. However, these are confirmed historical facts that allow to get a closer view at the situation and understand the motivation beside the decision of the Stalin government.
On the other hand, a part of the Crimean Tatar population participated in the anti-Nazi partisan movement in Crimea. Crimean Tatars also served with the Red Army. Some Crimean Tatars get the title Hero of the Soviet Union (for example, Amet-khan Sultan and Abdraim Reshidov).
After the events of 2014, when the Republic of Crimea declared its independence from Ukraine and joined Russia, representatives of Crimean Tatar radical groups (for example the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People and affiliated persons) repeatedly called for terrorist actions in Crimea and ethnic cleansing of the Russian majority in the peninsula.
Structures and organizations of the Crimean Tatars cooperate with radical Islamists. For example, there have been reports that Crimean Tatar radicals have contacts with ISIS.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, designated a terrorist group in Russia, had a notable presence in Crimea until 2014. Currently, the group is restoring its influence and strength in Ukraine as well as in Russia’s Crimea. In Crimea, the main areas of Hizb ut-Tahrir presence is Simferopol, Sudak, Evpatoria, Bahchisaray.
At this stage, the organization is mainly focusing on expansion of its influence network and infiltration (mostly via local Crimean Tatar members) into the governing structures and the law enforcement system. Current actions of Hizb ut-Tahrir are focused at the local level, in villages and districts across Crimea. The group works to take control of local financial flows (from government contracts, for example in the construction industry to tourist industry). Thus, the group seeks to get needed resources to wage a future civil conflict.
The Hizb ut-Tahrir expansion in Crimea is tactically backed up by Western sponsors. On March 27, 2019, Russia’s Federal Security Service detained 20 members of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Crimea.
Several hours later, several pro-Western projects linked to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Idel.Realii and Kavkaz.Realii started providing media support to the detained persons. One article included an appeal of the Free Idel-Ural organization to the mufti of the Republic of Tatarstan, Kamil Samigullin. A second one was dedicated to condemnations of the security operation by the EU diplomatic service.
An interesting fact is that the observed narratives have hardly changed since Hitler’s time. For example, the concept used in the so-called “Free Idel-Ural” was originally developed by propagandists of the Third Reich. As to the current situation, Ukrainian “volunteer battalions” formed from Crimean Tatars, such as “Noman Chelebidzhihan Battalion” promote radical Islam and intolerance. Their leadership and members incitement to enmity on ethnic and religious grounds.
Another issue in all the remarks made by Ukrainian top politicians regarding the need to return control of Crimea is that they rarely provide realistic scenarios how Kiev can get a chance to do this. Therefore, it’s interesting to get a look at scenarios, which may lead to the situation when the Republic of Crimea may consider another redomiciliation.
1. It should be noted that the most likely scenario is that that the situation would not change significantly in the next 10 years. Russia would remain a powerful global force and continue controlling Crimea.
Now, let’s review less likely scenarios:
2. Ukraine is becoming an influential and economically powerful state with a standard of living and average income at least 1.5 times higher than in Russia. Ukrainian propaganda and promises buy support from the Crimeans, who hold a new referendum voting to return to Ukraine. This scenario intentionally ignores a possible reaction from the Kremlin. This is a theoretical situation. The chances that it may occur within the next 20 years are close to zero.
The reason is the lack of preconditions for an economic growth in Ukraine. First of all, the Kiev government needs to create or recreate growth drivers. This process is long even with the hard will of the ruling regime and heroic efforts of the entire society. Examples, the USSR of the thirties or fifties, post-war Japan, Germany, and even the phenomenon of “Asian Tigers” of the second half of the 20th show that such a process takes at least 10 years.
3. A large-scale crisis starts to appear/develop in Russia. The entire Russian statehood is in danger. The power is seized by a pro-Western regime, which by 1990s-style steps seeks to turn the country into the Western colony. This scenario may become possible in 5-10 years. In the event of the collapse of the Russian statehood, a series of civil conflicts will likely erupt on Russian territory. It is obvious that Crimea will become the center of one of these conflicts. In this event, units of the Russian Armed Forces deployed in Crimea would likely decide to support the Russian-speaking majority of the peninsula. Ukraine would have no military power to defeat this force and occupy the territory of Crimea. This would lead to a longstanding standoff of a kind, which we can observe in eastern Ukraine. In this situation, the Republic of Crimea would likely declare its independence. The main question would be: What kind of “independence” will Crimea be able to achieve?
Some part of the Crimean Tatars hopes that the usage of force, the radicals and the support from the West and Turkey would allow them to establish an independent Crimean Tatar state on the territory of Crimea. Kosovo 2.0. This scenario includes a WW2-style genocide and ethnic cleansing of non-Crimean Tatar population. Another option is that Crimea could become a multinational republic under the direct protectorate of the United States. In this case, the return of Crimea to Ukraine will not be considered even theoretically. The return of Crimea to Ukraine can be seriously considered only as a part to the wider plan, which includes the need to have a relatively strong deterrent-state on the Western flank of Russia. This can be needed only if Russia remains a strong or a potentially strong state.
One more scenario is that the pro-Western regime would seize power in Russia, but the Russian statehood would not collapse. In this case, Russia, at least at the first stage of this process, would keep its powerful potential. Despite this, the “new Russian leadership” would choose a way of “repentance and contributions”, declare the 2014 referendum in Crimea “not-legitimate” and said that the Republic of Crimea should be re-integrated in Ukraine. This would give Ukraine some chances to return control of Crimea. However, these chances would remain low because in 10-15 years after the reunification of Crimea with Russia it will be almost impossible to do so avoiding a civil conflict. The reasons of this conflict are described above.
[In May, SouthFront is planning to release a critical analysis of the situation in Crimea and around Crimea. This analysis would review conditions, which may contribute to the re-integration of Crimea to Ukraine in this scenario]
4. A hot regional or global conflict between the NATO and Russia. In this scenario, Crimea would be turned into a battlefield between the two blocs. It is not possible to predict the outcome of this scenario.
All the aforementioned scenarios can be combined creating transition variants. 5 years have already passed since the 2014 events in Crimea, which led to its reunification with Russia. After another 10-15 year period, Ukraine would have no tools to change the situation by soft power even theoretically. The only option would be a direct military aggression (as described above) to annex the peninsula.
Taking into account the abovementioned factors, it becomes clear that Zelensky’s remarks regarding the situation in Crimea are not linked with pursuing real Ukrainian interests. Rather, they are a part of political show and an attempt to get some support from religious and nationalist radicals.