Olexiy Plotnikov, PhD (International Judiciary)

The history of the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity and the subsequent Russian aggression is well-described in literature [see: 1, 2]. On 20 February 2014, when the Russian-backed president Yanukovych was still in power in Ukraine, Russian operatives and soldiers without insignia, who later became known as “little green men” started taking control over the strategic objects on the Crimean Peninsula. By the first days of March, Ukraine lost control over Crimea. On 16 March 2014, Russia held a mock referendum, where the residents of Crimea were forced to vote at a gunpoint. Russia claimed that 97% of Crimeans voted for “reunification” with Russia, and on 18 March 2019 declared Crimea its territory.

Ukraine’s action in the UN Security Council predictably failed against the Russian veto on 15 March 2014. On 27 March, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 68/262, which underscored the referendum as “having no validity”, and called upon all states “not to recognize any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol” [3]. Russia condemned the Resolution as “counterproductive”, and continued to act in line with its policies.

Ukraine repeatedly declared and continues to declare that it does not recognize annexation, but had no opportunity to regain control over the Peninsula. The country’s military and security forces were mobilized to impede the advance of Russian paramilitary in the Eastern region of Donbas [for detailed account of the parties involved to the armed conflict in Ukraine see: 4], while the only practical measure they could take in Crimea was to block the Perekop Isthmus to prevent infiltration of Russia’s forces to the Ukrainian mainland.

The residents of Crimea had different attitudes towards Russian control ranging from enthusiasm to open defiance, with Crimean Tatars being the most active opponents. The Mejlis called to boycott the “referendum” on 16 March, undermining the Russian version of almost unilateral support of annexation. In spring 2014, Crimean Tatars arranged a series of peaceful manifestations to demonstrate their disagreement with the annexation. The mere existence of Crimean Tatars was potentially disastrous for the Russian narrative that Crimea is a “Russian ancestral land”. As noted by Coynash and Charron, “accepting Crimea as intrinsically Russian requires that its indigenous peoples – chiefly the Crimean Tatars – be erased from the region’s history, and that their opposition to Russian irredentism be disregarded” [5, P. 29].

The response was a campaign which the Human Rights Watch characterized as “unlawful detention, abduction, ill-treatment including torture, and harassment of proUkraine activists and other residents with complete impunity” [6]. The leaders of the Mejlis, including Mustafa Jemiliev and the Chair of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov were refused entry into Crimea and received written warnings that their activities were extremist under the Russian legislation. The premises of the Mejlis and the houses of its members were routinely subjected to searches. Similarly, houses of ordinary members of the Crimean Tatar community, as well as mosques and schools, were searched for weapons, explosives and prohibited literature. On 18 May 2014, the Crimean Tatars were not allowed to hold public events to commemorate the anniversary of deportation and could only have a common prayer. Russian prosecutors issued statements describing Mejlis activities as extremist, and characterizing it as illegal organization [7].

Attacks against Crimean Tatars, threats, beatings and forced disappearances became a common feature of the Crimean political landscape. Some of the disappeared persons were later found dead with signs of torture. Criminal investigations in such cases were either not initiated, or run ineffectively.

The campaign of intimidation was accompanied by pressure on the Crimean Tatar media. ATR, the leading Crimean Tatar TV channel received informal instructions not to mention the Mejlis or leaders of the Crimean Tatars who were not loyal to Russia [7], while the Russian public prosecutor warned the channel that broadcasting of Crimean Tatar gatherings amounts to “calls of extremist nature” [6]. The journalists of the Channel reported attacks by members of pro-Russian “self-defense”, which included detention, beating, harassment and confiscation of equipment. According to OSCE, Ukrainian TV channels were blocked since June, with their equipment confiscated [8]. On 26 January 2015, the premises of the ATR were raided by masked forces, who confiscated the equipment and shut down the broadcasting [9]. In this fashion, the last remaining Crimean Tatar media, that was not loyal to the occupying power, was brought to a halt.

Landmark for the Russian policies in Crimea was the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of 29 September 2016, which upheld the judgment of the occupational “Supreme Court of the Republic of Crimea”, banning the Mejlis as extremist organization which “incites violence or runs the policy of disrespect for democracy and denies the rights and freedoms recognized in democracy” [10], as well commits “acts aimed at undermining the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” [11].

The United Nations General Assembly characterized Russian policies in Crimea as “practices of discrimination against the residents of the temporarily occupied Crimea, including Crimean Tatars, as well as Ukrainians and persons belonging to other ethnic and religious groups, by the Russian occupation authorities” [12]. The UN Secretary General pointed at “narrowing of space for manifestations of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar identities and enjoyment of the respective cultures in Crimea…closely connected to the suppression of political dissent and alternative political opinion” [12]. Similar wording was applied by the European Parliament which condemned “the discriminatory policies imposed by the so-called authorities against, in particular, the indigenous Crimean Tatar community, the infringement of their property rights, the increasing intimidation in political, social and economic life of this community and of all those who oppose the Russian annexation” [13].

The pressure on the leaders, activists and media goes side to side with blackening of Crimean Tatars as a group in the public statements by self-proclaimed Crimean officials and Russian media. Korostelina concludes that the demonization of Crimean Tatars “continues to play a definitive role in their positioning in the society today”, as “definitions of treason and extremism were employed by the authorities of illegally occupied Crimea [14, P. 44]. Blank is even more pessimistic when he states that “today no institutional, moral, or legal barriers other than expediency and potential fear of the consequences stand between the Kremlin and the orchestration of another deportation of an ethnic or other minority that is deemed to be a threat to the government” [15, P. 28]. This is hardly a big exaggeration. Mustafa Dzhemilev characterized Russian policies as deliberate tactics of pushing the Crimean Tatars out of Crimea [16].

  1. Bertelsen, Olga. Revolution and War in Contemporary Ukraine: The Challenge of Change. Stuttgart: Ibidem, 2017.
  2. Wynnyckij, Mychailo. Ukraine’s Maidan, Russia’s War: A Chronicle and Analysis of the Revolution of Dignity. Stuttgart: Ibidem, 2019.
  3. G.A. Res. 68/262, Territorial Integrity of Ukraine, UN Doc. A/RES/68/262 (27 March 2014).
  4. Galeotti, Mark. Armies of Russia’s War in Ukraine. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.
  5. Coynash, Halya, Charron, Austin. “Russian-occupied Crimea and the state of exception: repression, persecution, and human rights violations”. Eurasian Geography and Economics 60, no. 1 (2019): 28-53.
  6. Gorbunova, Yulia. “Rights in Retreat: Abuses in Crimea.” Human Rights Watch, June 9, 2016. https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/11/17/rights-retreat/abuses-crimea.
  7. “Harassment and Violence against Crimean Tatars by State and Non-State Actors”. Amnesty International Public Statement, May 23. 2014, https://www.refworld.org/pdfid/53847c9e4.pdf.
  8. “Media freedom under siege in Crimea, Ukraine, says OSCE representative,” OSCE news release, March 8, 2014. http://www.osce.org/fom/116240.
  9. “Raid on ATR television channel in Crimea unacceptable, a clear intrusion of media’s independence, says Mijatović”, OSCE news release, January 26, 2015. https://www.osce.org/fom/136221.
  10. Judgment of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of September 29, 2016 No 127-АПГ16-4. http://www.vsrf.ru/stor_pdf.php?id=1487872.
  11. “Russian Supreme Court’s Illegitimate Decision to Ban the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People”, Department of State Press Statement, September 30, 2016. https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/09/262627.htm.
  12. G.A. Res. 71/205, Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine), UN Doc. A/RES/71/205 (February 1, 2017).
  13. The cases of Crimean Tatar leaders Akhtem Chiygoz, Ilmi Umerov and the journalist Mykola Semena, European Parliament resolution of 5 October 2017 on the cases of Crimean Tatar leaders Akhtem Chiygoz, Ilmi Umerov and the journalist Mykola Semena (2017/2869(RSP)) (2018/C 346/12) (October 5, 2017).
  14. Korostelina, Karina. “Crimean Tatars: From Mass Deportation to Hardships in Occupied Crimea”. Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal 9, no. 1 (2015): 33-47.
  15. Blank, Stephen. “A Double Dispossession: The Crimean Tatars After Russia’s Ukrainian War”. Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal 9, no. 1 (2015): 18-32.
  16. Dzhemilev, Mustafa. “About 20 thousand Crimean Tatars left peninsula”. Zmina. February 27, 2017. https://zmina.info/en/news-en/blizko_20_tisjach_krimskih_tatar_zalishili_pivostriv__dzhemilev-3.