Staunton, March 21 – By annexing Crimea, Vladimir Putin has created “the only ethnic Russian republic” within the Russian Federation, an ethnicization of political life there that will begin by threatening the Crimean Tatars with a new round of repression and end by threatening more of Russia’s neighbors and Russia itself, according to Renat Akhmetov.
In a lead article in the new issue of “Zvezda Povolzhya,” Akhmetov calls attention to an aspect of the Crimean crisis that few have underlined. By the actions he has taken, Putin has set up “the only ethnic Russian republic” [“yedinstvennaya russkaya revolyutsiya”] within the Russian Federation (“Zvezda Povolzhya, no. 10 (690), 20-26 March 2014, p. 1).
“Today,” the Kazan editor writes, “the Crimean Tatars face a difficult choice.” They can either decide to take Russian Federation citizenship or refuse to do so and become, within 30 days, foreigners on their own land, a status that he points out could allow Moscow to deal with them as it can with any other “migrants.”
The Milli Mejlis,”did not participate in the referendum, boycotted it, consider it illegal, and consequently it is more probable that the Crimean Tatars” will choose the latter status, Akhmetov says. If they do, then that will vitiate the meaning of Moscow’s offer of a reservation of 20 percent of the seats in the new Crimean parliament for the Crimean Tatars and of its declaration that Crimean Tatar will be the third official language on the peninsula.
Already, he notes, “certain leaders of Crimea have begun to say that the lands which the Crimean Tatars had obtained by unilateral action will be returned to their owners at the time of the re-registration of such acts on the basis of Russian legislation.” How the Crimean Tatars would react to that is not difficult to predict.
Moscow thus faces a choice of two options concerning what to do. Either it can make maximum concessions to the Crimean Tatars in the hopes of winning them over or at least dissuading them from resistance – concessions Russian nationalists would not like – or it can begin “a policy of ‘soft’ deportation,” one that would involve sending the Crimean Tatars to neighboring Kherson oblast.
If it chooses the latter course, Akhmetov argues, that will contribute to yet another stage in the international isolation of the Russian Federation because then what Putin would be doing would recall for too many “a rebirth of Stalin’s deportation policy.” And to sustain that would require the rebirth of Stalinism in Russia itself.
The Crimean Tatar issue is complicated, the Kazan editor says, but it is significant that many Ukrainians, feeling that the West has not insisted that Moscow live according to the 1994 Budapest Agreement, are beginning to suggest that Kyiv’s decision to give up the nuclear weapons on its territory was “a mistake.”
But the most frightening thing of all is that there is no clear indication that Putin is going to stop with Crimea, however much he says that he will or however much many in the West hope that will prove true. Transdnestria is yet another target, and reaching it would require Moscow to absorb more of Ukraine.
“The process of ‘the ingathering of Russian lands’” that Putin loves to talk about is under current circumstances “a process of taking them away from [the Russian Federation’s] neighbors,” he writes. And there is a danger that once launched, there is no going back for Putin and his regime.
“The narcotic of great power chauvinism requires ever-larger doses,” something that will ultimately under Putin’s vaunted “power vertical” and the country. And that in turn forces the Kremlin to erect a new “iron curtain” around itself lest “its propaganda bubbles” about the defense of ethnic Russians “begin to burst” around it.