The Supreme Court of Russia-annexed Crimea on April 26 officially designated the Tatar Majlis an "extremist entity" and banned its activities—effectively ending the last vestige of autonomy for the Crimean Tatar people. The move to ban the Majlis—the representative body of Crimean Tatars—was brought by Crimean prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya in February, and the body was ordered closed by judicial authoriities two weeks ago, before the regional high court had even ruled. Poklonskaya hailed the decision as "aimed at maintaining stability, peace and order in the Russian Federation." The body's powers had already been eroded since Moscow's annexation of the peninsula two years ago. The current and former leaders of the Majlis—Refat Chubarov and Mustafa Jemilev—have been forced to flee, and currently reside in Kiev. The Crimean prosecutor's office has accused them of involvement in Tatar road blockades launched to protest Russian annexation last year. (RBTH, April 26; HRW, April 15)
A trial is about to open in Russian-annexed Crimea in which Akhtem Chiygoz, deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Majlis, and two other Tatar leaders stand accused of organizing mass disturbances in February 2014, in the prelude to the regional referendum that approved union with Russia. The Ukraine-based Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group assails the trial as "lawless" and says it "flies in the face of all principles of law." The Crimean court on Nov 25 imposed a Dec. 4 deadline for the defense to review a huge file assembled by prosecutors, consisting of 26 volumes and 47 gigabits of video footage, each some four hours long. An appeal against this ruling was rejected on Dec. 24, although the defense argued that they had only had time to read 10 of the 26 volumes, and had actually been denied access to the material for much of the peroid. Chiygoz has been detained since January, and his freedom was a demand of recent protest blockades of Crimea's border with Ukraine, which stopped delivery of goods into the peninsula. Since the former Majlis head Mustafa Dzhemiliev and his successor Refat Chubarov have both been exiled by the new Russian athorities, Chiygoz is the highest-ranking Tatar leader remaining in Crimea.
Disturbing reports emerged Dec. 14 that the Russian navy forced a Turkish merchant ship to change course in a brief confrontation in the Black Sea. Russian naval forces were apparently protecting vessles that were towing two oil drilling platforms that are being disputed between Russia-annexed Crimea and Ukraine. Following the annexation of Crimea last year, the Chernomorneftegaz drilling company—a subsidiary of Ukraine's parastatal Naftogaz—was seized by the Crimean regional parliament. Ukraine says it will challenge the seizure before international arbitrators. Chernomorneftegaz's drilling platforms, operating in international waters off the Ukrainian port of Odessa, were being relocated to Russian territorial waters when they were bocked by a Turkish merchant ship. Moscow's Defense Ministry said the incident was "resolved" when a Russian missile cruiser chased the Turkish vessel off. In another incident reported one day earlier, the Defense Ministry said its destroyer Smetlivy "fired warning shots" to deter a Turkish fishing vessel in the Aegean Sea "to avoid a collision." Turkey's military attaché in Moscow was summoned to the Ministry over the incident. (Daily Sabah, Dec. 15; RT, Dec. 14; RT, Dec. 13)
We don't know if this is true, but the claim sheds some light on Russia's motivation (or at least justification) for its intervention in Syria. The Long War Journal reports Oct. 3, citing social media postings, that a small group of Crimean Tatars and other militants from the Russian-annexed peninsula, calling themselves the Crimean Jamaat, has pledged bayah (allegiance) to the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise. The pledge was apparently announced by Nusra sympathizers on Twitter, and on the official social media site of Nusra's Sayfullah Shishani Brigade, which is largely comprised of Chechens. "Kataib Crimean Tartars under the leadership of Emir Ramadan al Krim [Crimean] pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in Sham and joined the Al Nusrah Front," read a statement on White Minaret, the Sayfullah Shishani site. The page is said to also include pictures of the group, reportedly based in Hama governorate.
Crimean Tartars earlier this month launched an ongoing blockade of food deliveries to Crimea from Ukraine in protest of Russia's annexation of the peninsula. Refat Chubarov, a Crimean Tatar leader who was banned from the peninsula by Russia after its March 2014 take-over, told the New York Times no trucks would be allowed through border crossings after barricades went up on Sept. 20. Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed prime minister of Crimea, said the blockade would have little effect, as only about 5% of the goods consumed in the region come through Ukraine. "The trade blockade of Crimea begun by Ukrainian activists with the support of a number of Kiev politicians will not affect food supplies in the region," he told Russia's state-run Rossiya 24 satellite TV. "Crimea will not notice this."
Gunmen attacked a police checkpoint and stormed a media building in Grozny, capital of Russia's southern republic of Chechnya, Dec. 3. At least 20 were killed in the attacks and ensuing clashes—10 militants and 10 police. Authorities said no militants escaped. Chechnya's worst fighting in months erupted a few hours before President Vladimir Putin said in a speech in Moscow he would defend Russia against what he called attempts to dismember it, accusing the West of seeking a "Yugoslav scenario," and a "policy of containment" that it has pursued "for decades if not centuries." The Chechen insurgent underground, calling itself the Caucasus Emirate, took credit for the attack in a statement on its website, Kavkaz Center, improbably claiming over 80 "puppet soliders" were killed. The statement said the assault was revenge for "oppression of Muslim women." Media accounts interpreted this as a reference to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov prohibiting local women from wearing the hijab—an accusation he has denied. The Kavkaz Center statement also refered to Grozny as "Jokhar," part of the alternative nomenclature the "Emirate" has for the Russian territory it claims. The Russian policy establishment is already hypothesizing an ISIS hand in the attack. "I suspect ties to the Islamic State, even if they have not commented on it so far," said Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center. (Reuters, BBC News, Moscow News, RFE/RL, ITAR-TASS, Dec. 4)
Multiple confrontations are impending between Russian authorities and the Tatar minority in annexed Crimea. Akhtem Chyyhoz, deputy head of the Majlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatar people, stated this week that the Majlis will not comply with Moscow's demand that the assembly register within the framework of Russia's legislation on civic organizations and associations. "The point is that they are suggesting that we register at the level of a civic organization which is unacceptable since the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People is an elected representative body," he said. "It is impossible to put it in the same category as civic organizations." The current head of the Majlis, Refat Chubarov, and former Majlis leader and Ukrainian MP Mustafa Dzhemiliev have both been banned from their homeland for five years by order of Russian authorities. The bans came after the Tatar leaders called for a boycott of the March referendum on Crimean secession from Ukraine, and then of the September Crimean elections. On Sept. 17, three days after the elections, FSB troops carried out a 12-hour-search of the Majlis premises in Simferopol. The following day, the Majlis was evicted from the building. (Human Rights in Ukraine, Oct. 22)
In a Sept. 9 statement, Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgar Rinkevics accused Russia of carrying what is "in essence the ethnic cleansing" of the Tatar people from annexed Crimea. Mustafa Cemilev, leader of the Crimean Tatars who has been banned from his homeland by the Russian authorities, added that Russia's FSB security agency has been raiding the homes of Tatar leaders in an effort to intimidate them into fleeing Crimea, accusing Moscow of "the systematic violation of human rights on the peninsula." Russian authorities banned Cemilev from his homeland for five years after the annexation of the peninsula, and he took refuge in Kiev. But he said in an interview that Russian authorities have called for him to appear for an interrogation, and he fears he would be arrested if he appears. (EuroMaidan Press, Sept. 9)