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Cremia The Muslim land occupied:

Crimean coup is Putin’s payback

Spare a thought, meanwhile, for Crimea’s Tartars. They are the peninsula’s original Turkic-speaking Muslim inhabitants. Well-educated and politically organised, they now number 300,000, 15 per cent of Crimea’s population. They want to remain part of Ukraine. They support Kiev’s new pro-EU leadership.

They also have their own awful folk memories of Russian colonisation and exile: in 1944, Stalin deported the Tartars and other smaller groups to central Asia. They mostly came home after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Understandably, they may now fear being cast once again in the role of fifth columnists. So far the Kremlin has said nothing about their rights.

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Days after the end of Vladimir Putin’s Sochi Olympics, the borders of Europe are shifting. Or, more accurately, military forces suspected of acting on Moscow’s orders are creating a new cartographic reality on the ground.

Overnight, alleged undercover Russian special forces seized control of Simferopol airport, in the administrative capital of Crimea.

The move comes less than 24 hours after a similar squad of shadowy, well-armed, Russian-speaking gunmen seized Simferopol’s parliament building and administrative complex. If anyone was in doubt as to what this meant, the gunmen left a clue. They raised a Russian flag above the parliament building.

Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, described the operations in Crimea in apocalyptic terms. What was unfolding in the south was “an armed invasion and occupation in violation of all international agreements and norms”, he posted on Facebook. That’s certainly how it seems.

Moscow’s military moves so far resemble a classically executed coup: seize control of strategic infrastructure, seal the borders between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine, invoke the need to protect the peninsula’s ethnic Russian majority.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in this very Crimean coup. But Putin’s playbook in the coming days and months is easy to predict.

On Thursday, the Crimean parliament announced it would hold a referendum on the peninsula’s future status on May 25. That is the same day Ukraine goes to the polls in fresh presidential elections.

The referendum can have only one outcome: a vote to secede from Ukraine. After that, Crimea can go one of two ways. It could formally join the Russian Federation. Or, more probably, it might become a sort of giant version of South Ossetia or Abkhazia, Georgia’s two Russian-occupied breakaway republics.

Either way, this amounts to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, de facto or de jure.From Putin’s perspective, a coup would be payback for what he regards as the western-backed takeover of Kiev by opposition forces.

The Kremlin argument runs something like this: if armed gangs can seize power in the Ukrainian capital, storming government buildings, why can’t pro-Russian forces do the same thing in Crimea?

There are, of course, signal differences. Despite the presence of radical Ukrainian nationalists, the vast majority of opposition demonstrators in Kiev were ordinary citizens. They were fed up with the corruption and misrule of President Viktor Yanukovych and his clique. It was a bottom-up revolution. The protesters were armed with little more than homemade shields, rubbish helmets and molotov cocktails.

In Crimea, by contrast, the shadowy Russian troops are equipped with the latest gear. Ukrainian officials point to the GRU, Russian military intelligence. And the warp-speed tempo of events in Crimea is being dictated from the top, not the bottom — from Moscow, rather than the street.

The choreography has been impressive. Within hours of the airport seizure, Russian MPs proposed a bill in the state Duma simplifying procedures for getting Russian passports to Ukrainians.

The goal, the MPs said, was to protect a “brotherly nation”. Russia’s most important opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, meanwhile, has been placed under house arrest for two months and denied access to the internet. The Kremlin, that most risk-averse of entities, has everything covered.

It only remains to be seen what role Yanukovych will play in this fast-moving drama. Despite having fled the country, he insists that he is still Ukraine’s legitimate president.

Russia refuses to recognise Kiev’s new pro-western interim government as a legitimate partner. It is likely to continue to treat Yanukovych — whose regime is accused of plundering $70bn from Ukraine’s treasury — as the head of a government-in-exile.

It may even seek to return him to Crimea to continue his “executive” functions. Given Yanukovych’s love of bling, Crimea’s sumptuous Livadia Palace — where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met to discuss Europe’s 1945 post-war carve-up — might serve as his new headquarters.

Spare a thought, meanwhile, for Crimea’s Tartars. They are the peninsula’s original Turkic-speaking Muslim inhabitants. Well-educated and politically organised, they now number 300,000, 15 per cent of Crimea’s population. They want to remain part of Ukraine. They support Kiev’s new pro-EU leadership.

They also have their own awful folk memories of Russian colonisation and exile: in 1944, Stalin deported the Tartars and other smaller groups to central Asia. They mostly came home after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Understandably, they may now fear being cast once again in the role of fifth columnists. So far the Kremlin has said nothing about their rights.

All of this presents the west with one of its biggest crises since the cold war. Russia has mounted a major land grab of a neighbouring sovereign state. How will the west react?

—By arrangement with the Guardian

by Luke Harding, dawn.com

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The Crimean Muslim Tatars have their own unofficial parliament, the Mejlis, which states its purpose as being to promote the rights and interests of the Crimean Tatars.
For centuries under Greek and Roman influence, Crimea in 1443 became the centre of a Tatar Khanate, which later became an Ottoman vassal state.

Rival imperial ambitions in the mid 19th century led to the Crimean War when Britain and France, suspicious of Russian ambitions in the Balkans as the Ottoman Empire declined, sent troops.

Port city of Yalta
Yalta: The port city is a heaven for tourists
Given autonomous republic status within Russia after the Bolshevik revolution, Crimea was occupied by the Nazis in the early 1940s.

Tatar deportation

The Tatars were accused of collaboration by Stalin and deported en masse to Central Asia and Siberia in 1944. Many did not survive.

Only as the Soviet Union collapsed were they allowed to return. By the time over a quarter of a million did so in the early 1990s, it was to an independent Ukraine where they faced very high unemployment and extremely poor housing conditions.

There have been persistent tensions and protests over land rights, and allocation of land to Crimean Tatars remains a highly contentious issue.
However, another significant minority, the Muslim Crimean Tatars, point out that they were once the majority in Ukraine, and were deported in large numbers by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1944 for alleged collaboration with Nazi invaders in World War Two.
Ethnic Ukrainians made up 24% of the population in Crimea according to the 2001 census, compared with 58% Russians and 12% Tatars.

Tatars have been returning since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 - causing persistent tensions with Russians over land rights.

http://m.bbc.com/news/world-europe-18287223

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