Russia: ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Crimean Tatars

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)

Crimean interim prime minister Sergei Aksyonov oversaw a conference this past weekend, "On the State of Crimean Tatars in Today's Crimea," where he urged Tatars to vote in Crimea's upcoming elections and pledged funds for the renovation of several mosques in the Tatar areas. He also promised development of the traditionally marginal Tatar areas, noted that of 263 Crimean Tatar villages, fewer than 100 are currently equipped with proper gas infrastructure. But members of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatars' highest ruling body, asserted that the conference was little more than a ploy to gain pre-election popularity points. In June, the Mejlis called for Tatars to boycott the elections, which the group considers illegitimate in light of what they see as Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea.

Refat Chubarov, the leader of the Mejlis, who has also been banned from Crimea, claimed via Facebook that organizers of the conference had refused to let any representatives of the group speak. "The suggestion to let Akhtem Chiigoz, deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' Mejlis, speak to participants of the conference" was met with a "categorical refusal," Chubarov wrote, referring to the event as "the latest attempt to sow discord and opposition within the Crimean Tatar community."

The Mejlis had hoped to raise the subject of Chubarov's five-year ban from his homeland at the conference, as well as the authorities' ban on a rally by the Crimean Tatars to mark the anniversary of the group's 1944 deportation in early May. Russian prosecutors said the bans were issued over "signs of extremism." (Moscow Times, Sept. 8)

Electricity outages plunged much of Crimea into darkness over the weekend, including the major cities of Yalta and Sevastopol, the home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Ukrainian power company Ukrinterenergo, which supplies 80% of the peninsula's electricity, said it has had to instate restrictions due to a fuel shortage at its power stations. "If Crimea's consumers don’t respect these limits the company will be required to cut off completely its supplies to the peninsula," the company said in a statement. 

Crimea is also highly dependent on Ukraine for fresh water, with 85% of its needs met via a canal from the mainland—until April, when the flow was cut off in a move denounced by local authorities as "Kiev's revenge." Without irrigation, farmers could suffer losses of up to 5.0 billion roubles ($135 million), according to Russian agriculture ministry estimates. The peninsula has been drilling wells and is examining building a pipeline to bring in water from Russia, said the Crimean agriculture ministry. (AFP, Sept. 7)