February 17, 2017

Crimean Tatars: Dzhemilev Fears Russian Occupation Will Become Frozen Conflict

Photo Courtesy of Ruslan Kapral @flickr.com

In an interview with EurActiv.pl, Crimean Tatar leader Mr Mustafa Dzhemilev expressed the Crimean people’s most pronounced fear to see the Russian occupation becoming a frozen conflict. Dzhemilev calls on the West to take a more active and attuned stance against the Russian aggression in Crimea and Ukraine. He further notes, exposing everyday hardship under Russian occupation, from health care problems to a sharp decline in tourism, that only fear of repression keeps Crimeans from openly voicing dissent.

Below is an article published by EurActiv:

Mustafa Dzhemilew is the former chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People and has been a member of the Ukrainian Parliament since 1998. He is the leader of the Crimean Tatar National Movement.

What is the current situation in Crimea?

It is very difficult. Bad and it will only get worse. As it is only through repression and fear, that the occupation and terrorist regimes can stay in power. We don’t expect much else from Russia.

What about the Crimean Tatars?

They have always been against any kind of invaders, especially occupiers. Today, you could say that not just the Tatars, but the whole population of Crimea is upset and opposes the status quo.

And yet, if you come to any city in Crimea, Sevastopol for instance, and ask anybody in the street, whether Tatar or Russian, about the situation, the moment they see the microphone they will start telling you that they are very happy living there, that they support Putin and everything is fine.

But, in fact, if somebody would tell you that they are against the occupying forces, against Putin, they would be immediately sued under the law of the Russian Federation which is Article 280 – a crime against the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. That entails a prison term of at least five years.

Moreover, even if you, for instance, say that you support a new referendum, as there was one…

Yes. And it was won by the pro-Russian side.

If you only express a sentiment that there should be another one, you would also be prosecuted under the same legal article.

If you watch Russian television programs you will see people talking a lot in support of what happened, in support of Putin. It is a rosy picture. But in fact, if you think of the danger of being prosecuted under the aforementioned article, then you understand that nobody wants to have such trouble.

Ilja Ponomariew, a former Russian MP, told me, that “there are no solid patriotic feelings among Crimeans” and that they will choose Ukraine when it offers them better conditions than Putin.

First of all, I think that Mr Ponomariew has never been to Crimea and he cannot really talk about any “better situation” there.

When Crimea started being occupied, people suddenly started getting paid much better. They were paid the kind of salaries and wages they had never seen before and everybody thought it was going to remain that way. And that lasted for just two or three months. After that, things returned to normal.

People are really happy to work for 12000 rubles a month, which would be equal to about €200.

If you compare this with wages in Ukraine, it is probably the same level, but do not forget that in the Russian Federation, prices are much higher than in Ukraine. So in fact what we observe is a rapid decrease in living status.

What are other everyday problems stemming from the occupation?

Take healthcare, for example. Basically, people are not offered any healthcare because a physician can only prescribe medication made in Russia.

When someone from my family in Crimea goes to the doctor, they are told, “Look, I have to prescribe this kind of medication, but better get it from Ukraine instead.”

There’s also an ongoing problem of the Russian language status. Even when Crimea belonged to Ukraine, out of 596 different schools there, only seven were Ukrainian, 14 Crimean Tatar, while the rest were Russian.

In the past, Crimea was supplied with food, electricity and water by Ukraine (about 25%). Of course, now all of this has stopped. The supply has been taken over by Russia and it is much more expensive, which makes it obvious that the living standards would drop. To maintain Crimea, Russia would have to spend around €3-5 billion per year. So there is basically no chance for better living standards while the country is occupied.

Tourism was the only thing people relied on for income. But today, tourism is practically dead.

What about tourism from Russia?

The problem with Russian tourism is that the transport route between mainland Russia and Crimea is very difficult. That severely constrains the movement of Russian tourists.

Today, Russians come to Crimea, but just like during the Soviet times, it is not because they want, but because they are forced to. There was once a situation with a deputy of the Russian Duma, who was supposed to go to Crimea for holidays. He even provided documents proving that he went to Crimea for holiday. But journalists found out that he actually went to Monaco. That was a huge scandal.

What do you expect Europe will do about Crimea?

We know that Crimea will be free some day. But what worries us the most is the danger of turning the situation into a frozen conflict, similar to the one in Nagorno-Karabakh or other places.

We need a more active stance on this issue from Europe and the whole West. There is now too much talk about lifting the sanctions, with this argument that the West loses too much money because of them. I think that is a very short-sighted approach.