More than 2,000 people have been detained in protests across Russia since President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization of military reserve troops to fight in Ukraine, according to human rights monitor OVD-Info. The demonstrators are risking long prison terms under laws passed shortly after the Ukraine invasion was launched, which have facilitated a harsh crackdown on dissent.
Drone strikes and unexplained explosions on the Russian-annexed Criman Peninsula have prompted the Moscow-controlled administration to urge citizens to hunt for possible saboteurs. This comes amid widening repression on civil society, especially targeting the Crimean Tatar people. On Sept. 15, a local court jailed at least four people involved in a Tatar wedding in Bakhchysarai for performing a Ukrainian patriotic song, "Red Kalyna." Each accused performer was held for several days.
The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission (UNHRMM) on Sept. 9 accused Russia of arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances in Ukrainian territory, and violating the basic human rights of Ukrainian war captives. The UNHRMM documented numerous cases of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of war. Russian authorities have also prevented Ukrainian prisoners of war from contacting their relatives or sharing their locations or health conditions with loved ones.
A court in Russia has sentenced another group of Crimean Tatars to lengthy prison terms on charges of belonging to a banned political organization. The Southern District Military court in the southwestern city of Rostov-on-Don on May 12 sentenced Bilyal Adilov to 14 years, while Izzet Abdullaev, Tofik Abdulgaziev, Vladlen Abdulkadyrov and Mejit Abdurakhmanov each received 12-year sentences. The men are accused of being members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an organization that advocates for the peaceful restoration of an Islamic Caliphate. It operates freely in Ukraine but is banned in Russia as an "extremist" organization. The men, arrested in March 2019 in a sweep along with more than a dozen other Tatars, were also members of the group Crimean Solidarity, formed to oppose the illegal Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Since the annexation, over 30 Crimean Tatars have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms, more than half this year alone. (Al Jazeera, RFE/RL)
In Episode 123 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses the history of Khazaria, the medieval Turko-Jewish empire in what is now southern Russia and eastern Ukraine. While the fate of the mysterious Khazars has won much attention from scholars—and controversy—because of what it may reveal about the origin of the Jews of Eastern Europe, this question also touches on the origins of the Ukrainian people and state. Whatever the validity of the "Khazar Thesis" about the ethnogenesis of the Ashkenazim, it is the Ukrainian Jews—such as President Volodymyr Zelensky—who are the most likely to trace a lineage of the Khazars. In 2021, Zelenksy and the Ukrainian parliament passed a law recognizing the cultural and autonomous rights of three indigenous peoples of the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula: the Muslim Tatars and the Jewish Krymchaks and Karaites. Of any Jews on Earth, it is these last two groups that have the best claim to the Khazar inheritance—and are now a part of the struggle for a free and multicultural Ukraine, in repudiation of the Russian neo-imperialist project. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
In Episode 118 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg explores the possibility that Putin's criminal adventure in Ukraine could backfire horribly, actually portending the implosion of the Russian Federation into its constituent entities, the "autonomous" republics, oblasts and krais. Troops from Russia's Far East were apparently involved in the horrific massacre at the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. But indigenous leaders from Siberia and the Russian Arctic are breaking with Moscow over the Ukraine war. Rumblings of separatist sentiment are now heard from Yakutia (Sakha), Khabarovsk, Kalmykia, Kamchatka, Tatarstan, Tuva, the Altai Republic, and the entirety of Siberia. China, which controlled much of what is now the Russian Far East until the 1850s, has its own expansionist designs on the region. Frederick Engels called for the "destruction forever" of Russia during the Crimean War, but it may collapse due to its own internal contradictions rather than Western aggression.
Crimean Tatar community leaders on March 29 issued a demand that return of the Crimean Peninsula, unilaterally annexed by Russia in 2014, be a condition imposed by Kyiv in its talks with Moscow to end the war in Ukraine. The decision to adopt this demand was taken in a virtual meeting of the Mejlis—the traditional assembly of the Crimean Tatars, which has now been suppressed within Crimea by the Russian occupation forces. "The re-establishment of the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, including the republic of autonomous Crimea and Sevastopol, should be an obligatory condition for official negotiations between Ukrainian representatives and the aggressor state," said the chief of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov. The online meeting of the Mejlis took place ahead of a new round of talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul. (The Moscow Times, Interfax Ukraine)
A Russian military court on March 22 sentenced two Crimean Tatar men to long prison terms for peaceful activities. Timur Yalkabov received 17 years and Lenur Seidametov received 13. Both were active in the Crimean Solidarity movement, formed to advocate for Tatar rights after the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia in 2014. They were charged with membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a transnational Muslim civic organization that is legal in Ukraine. Seidametov and Yalkabov were arrested, with four other Crimean Tatars, in night raids on their homes by Russia's FSB secret police in February 2021, in which "prohibited" literature was supposedly found. Seidametov's wife has said that the FSB agents planted the literature. Russia's Supreme Court declared Hizb ut-Tahrir a "terrorist" organization in 2003, a ruling that has been widely used to prosecute Crimean Tatars for "involvement" in the group. Both men are recognized as political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Center, Russia's leading rights organization. (Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group)