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12.10.2016 | Halya Coynash

Kremlin Takes Revenge on Crimean Tatars for Foiling Covert Annexation Plans

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It was no surprise that Russia cited a pre-annexation demonstration as ‘argument’ for banning the Mejlis or self-governing body of the Crimean Tatar people, and this is not just because it has used the same pretext for holding Mejlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz in custody for almost 2 years.  The demonstration on February 26, 2014 almost certainly spoiled Russia’s plan to seize Crimea without getting its hands dirty. The tactics used were noted a long time ago by banished Mejlis Head Refat Chubarov, but they recently received unexpected confirmation from taped conversations intercepted between Sergei Glazyev, a close adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and other figures, regarding events in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

The ‘Glazyev tapes’ demonstrate the degree to which the events in Ukraine were coordinated and financed by Moscow.  The main voices are easily recognized, and one of the key participants, Russian politician Konstantin Zatulin acknowledges that he held conversations, albeit claiming that the tapes are a “compilation and fiddled”.  He also, very interestingly, asserts that the recordings were given to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General by “American friends in exchange for exposing Paul Manafort and various other problems that Ukraine is currently trying to inflict on Donald Trump”.  Ukraine had provided information about Paul Manafort’s illicit millions from helping Viktor Yanukovych get to power and clear links with the Kremlin.  All of this did, of course, raise some serious questions about Trump’s choice of him as campaign leader and the US presidential candidate’s parroting of the Kremlin line on NATO, Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine.   

A pivotal point on the tapes is the need to orchestrate ground-level support. One way or another, for example, local councils must be persuaded to hold sessions asking for help from Russia. 

That scenario was tried, but failed, though for some time Moscow still asserted that the soldiers without insignia were “not theirs”.  When Putin finally admitted that they were Russian, he claimed that the process of what he called ‘returning Crimea to Russia’ had begun on Feb 23, immediately after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled. 

In fact, that date is also clearly a lie.  Although the so-called ‘self-defence’ paramilitaries were formed on Feb 23, former Russian military intelligence officer Igor Girkin [Strelkov], who played a major role admitted to having arrived in Crimea on Feb 21, before Yanukovych scarpered. 

Things went according to plan in the genuinely pro-Russian city of Sevastopol, with Russian national Alexei Chaly being ‘appointed’ by a rally to the invented post of mayor.  This same scenario was tried later in Eastern Ukraine but largely failed. 

The Crimean Tatar Mejlis had strong grounds for believing that an attempt would be made in the Crimean parliament on Feb 26 to push through a ‘vote’ changing Crimea’s status.  They called on all Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians to gather outside parliament to prevent this from happening.  All members of the Mejlis present can be seen on the video footage actively engaged in calming people and trying to prevent violence. 

Chubarov is convinced that they “succeeded that day in preventing a session of the Crimean parliament , called by its leaders who were by that stage totally under the control of Russian Security Service [FSB] officers illegally present in Crimea.  They thus disrupted a scenario carefully planned by the Russian military-political leadership to conceal their criminal plans for seizing Crimea and give the international community the illusion of ‘legality’ for wrenching it from Ukraine”.

Heavily armed Russian soldiers without any insignia seized control of the parliament buildings at around 4 a.m. the next morning. 

Despite the presence of Russian soldiers, the old scenario was still largely followed.   There are multiple reports about the real nature of the ‘parliamentary session’ in the afternoon of Feb 27, with even Girkin admitting that the MPs were forced to take part at gunpoint, with him heading the so-called ‘insurgents’ who carried out the coercion.  

Others have spoken of intimidation and fraud with the so-called vote. The MPs were prevented from taking any mobiles into the hall, and no journalists or others were allowed in.  The event resulted in effective takeover by Sergei Aksyonov, a pro-Russian MP from a party with only 4 deputies in parliament.  Aksyonov has a highly questionable criminal past and on the tapes Glazyev can be heard insisting that work must be carried out to ensure that the “people on the street” don’t disperse because of distrust of him.  

Putin has since pushed the line that Russian soldiers were there to defend the population during the so-called referendum on joining Russia. It is frustrating how seldom this readjustment of facts and their timing gets challenged.  The so-called ‘referendum’ was organized by the leaders installed at gunpoint and, as the tapes show, coordinated from Moscow. 

As with the parliamentary session, the pseudo-referendum needed to be falsified.  Even Putin’s own Human Rights Council found a far lower turnout and result in favour of annexation only in Sevastopol.  Russia brought in pro-Russian far-right and neo-Stalinist politicians to praise the event which was condemned by all election watchdogs and the international community. 

Russia failed to carry off a covert coup on Feb 26, 2014.  The Mejlis played a major role in this, and then called on people to boycott the pseudo-referendum. 

Eleven months later, Chiygoz - the highest-ranking Mejlis leader to not have been banned from Crimea – was taken into custody on charges of “organizing a mass riot” under Article 212 § 1 of Russia’s Criminal Code.  He has been in detention ever since, along with two other Crimean Tatars – Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhy – who are almost certainly in custody for their courage in refusing to testify against Chiygoz.

Russia has now flouted international law by banning the self-governing body of the main indigenous people of Crimea and more arrests seem inevitable.

Even with ‘courts’ which provide the sentences dictated from above, it seems likely that the ‘trials’ over the demonstration on Feb 26, 2014, will be dragged out as long as possible.    

There were no ‘mass riots’ on that day.  Yes, two people died, but one had a heart attack, and the other was crushed in the pro-Russian section of the demonstration and her husband has repeatedly stated that he does not think that any Crimean Tatars were involved (See: Russia’s trial of jailed Crimean Tatar leader turns openly racist)

In fact none of the 6 Crimean Tatars on trial are charged over the deaths, and it’s not really clear what they are charged with.  The video footage is against the prosecution, so too are fundamental principles of law since the demonstration took place before Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. 

It seems that for the Kremlin, if they want something enough, any violation of international law is permitted, as are the reprisals for those who get in its way. 

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