10.09.2015 | Halya Coynash

Stop Feeding Bandits! Crimean Tatars call for a Civil Blockade of Occupied Crimea


Crimean Tatar leaders have called on Ukrainians to join a civil blockade of Russian-occupied Crimea.  The blockade will continue until Russia releases its Ukrainian political prisoners, stops blocking free media in Crimea and committing other rights offences. 

At a press conference on Sept 8, veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev, the Head of the Mejlis or Crimean Tatar representative assembly, Refat Chubarov and other Crimean Tatar public figures explained their plan for a blockade beginning in the second half of September.  Crimean Tatar activists will block roads and checkpoints to Crimea in an attempt to prevent Ukrainian goods from getting through.

They pointed to the paradoxical situation where Russia is occupying the peninsula, arresting, harassing and discriminating against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians , yet for Ukrainian businessmen it’s all business as usual.  Since the products are also used by the military units in Crimea, this Ukrainian trade is actually strengthening the occupiers.

Mustafa Dzhemiliev asserted that 80% of the Ukrainian food which is transported to Crimea in fact ends up being sent via the Kerch Strait to Russia.  The argument, therefore, that a blockade will hurt compatriots in Crimea does not hold, he asserts.

Lenur Islyamov, Director of the Crimean Tatar TV Channel ATR that was prevented from broadcasting earlier this year, addressed his appeal to all patriots and all those concerned for Ukraine, and who believe that Crimea must be part of the Ukrainian state.  He stressed that through this blockade Ukraine would be joining international sanctions against the Russian Federation.

5 specific demands of Russia were presented:

1       Release Ukrainian political prisoners: Ali Asanov; Akhtem Chiygoz and Mustaf Degermendzhy; Oleksandr Kolchenko and Oleg Sentsov (they did not mention Gennady Afanasyev, unfortunately); Oleksandr Kostenko; Nadiya Savchenko; and Tair Smedlyaev.

2       Remove all restrictions on Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian media in Crimea ;

3       Ensure unobstructed access to Crimea of foreign journalists and civic activists ;

4       Stop all unwarranted administrative and criminal prosecutions of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian nationals in Crimea ;

5       Remove the ban from their homeland on Refat Chubarov; Mustafa Dzhemiliev ; Sinaver Kadyrov and Ismet Yuksel;

Mustafa Dzhemiliev pointed to the absurdity of the situation. Russia has imposed a repressive regime which crushes those who don’t’ agree with it, particularly those who remain loyal to Ukraine, while at the same time Ukraine is continuing to provide the peninsula with water, electricity and goods. “85% of the food; 80% of the water and electricity provided to Crimea which Russia claims is its territory is provided at Ukraine’s expense.  Why on earth?  Is it not too high a price to supply the occupation regime?”

He calls on Ukrainians to stop providing Crimea with such goods, thus laying the responsibility on the aggressor state which annexed the peninsula.

Calls for Ukraine to impose restrictions on the occupiers until they stop infringing the rights of Ukrainian nationals in Crimea have been made for some time.  It is frustrating that they have not been voiced at official level.

Quite the contrary, with the situation only exacerbated by the Law on making Crimea a free economic zone which President Petro Poroshenko signed into law a year ago, on Sept 27, 2014.  The bill had been slated by human rights organizations as discriminating against Crimeans and effectively recognizing  Crimea as Russian. 

The law declares Crimeans to be ‘non-residents’, establishes customs control at the administrative border between the Kherson oblast and the Crimea.  The concept of import/export between mainland Ukraine and the Crimea is introduced, and contracts between mainland Ukraine companies and those in the Crimea are now treated as ‘foreign’.

In an appeal in August human rights groups warned that if the law came into force, Ukraine would be effectively recognizing the Crimea as Russian territory and allowing Ukrainian enterprises to continue business as usual with the Crimea.  Andriy Klymenko, one of the authors of the appeal said that they were convinced that those who lobbied it were looking after their own personal business interests.  He notes that the Sevastopol Maritime Factory is owned by Poroshenko, other interests are owned by Yury Kosyuk, first deputy head of the President’s Administration, etc.  (see: Legislative Stab in the Back)

There have been voices of opposition to the move.  Leonid Kuzmin, Head of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre writes that Crimea must not be blockaded, that this will still further set people against Ukraine.  He believes there needs to be dialogue at every level.  “How can you talk about defending Ukraine’s citizens’ rights in Crimea if Ukraine itself turns away from Crimea and its citizens living there?”

These arguments have been raised by many Ukrainians from Donbas who felt betrayed by the government’s measures to impose a blockade on areas under Kremlin-backed militant control (See: Donbas betrayed).  For individual Ukrainians already facing hardship, such blockades can certainly seem like another blow from those who should be supporting them.

It is a question of how that support is expressed.  The situation in the case of Crimea is rather different from that of Donbas.  While there is no serious doubt that Russia is placing a major role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, it is the Kremlin’s proxies who are officially in control.  Crimea is under Russian occupation, with Moscow having from the outset pushed the line that Crimea is ‘logically’ and historically part of Russia.  In fact, Crimea is heavily dependent on Ukraine and Russia is quite simply not in a position to provide sufficient food, water and electricity. 

While Ukraine has allowed all of this with only limited restrictions, to flow as normal, Russia has been establishing a repressive regime with independent media silenced, Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians facing discrimination, harassment and persecution, and Crimean Tatar leaders either imprisoned or exiled.  

Western rejection of Russia’s annexation of Crimea remains total.  It may have never been as strong as we would have wished, however none of the sanctions have been lifted, and western firms can themselves face penalties if they breach them. 

It must not be Ukraine that is continuing to act as though nothing has happened. 

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