Monday’s request from the Crimean prosecutor, Natalya Poklonskaya, addressed to the republic’s Supreme Court for banning the non-governmental organization calling itself the Mejlis (assembly) of the Crimean Tatar People as extremist was a reasonable move. The Mejlis emerged back in 1991, when the descendants of Crimean Tatars, deported from Crimea after being charged with collaboration with the Nazis during World War II, began to return to the land of their ancestors. When Crimea reunited with Russia in 2014, the Mejlis failed to have itself registered properly at the Russian Justice Ministry. Its leaders reside outside the peninsula and refuse to recognize Crimea’s reunification with Russia.
The director of the CIS Countries Institute, Konstantin Zatulin, recalled that in the autumn of 2015 the Mejlis was one of the main initiators of Crimea’s food blockade. Its activists stopped all cargo traffic between Ukraine and the peninsula. At the end of last November a series of explosions in Ukraine damaged several pylons of high voltage power lines bringing electricity to Crimea. A massive blackout followed. No organization claimed responsibility, but all approaches to the damaged infrastructures were blocked by activists of the ultra-right Ukrainian group Right Sector (outlawed in Russia) and the Crimean Tatars’ Mejlis. The Crimean authorities had to declare a state of emergency and introduce a schedule of rolling power outages and water supply suspensions.
“These days one of the Mejlis leaders, Lenur Islyamov, has warned he would call a sea blockade or even launch an operation for “liberating” the peninsula. At the end of December Islaymov said he was creating a volunteer battalion in Ukraine’s areas bordering on Crimea, adding that this idea of his enjoyed support from the Turkish Defense Ministry. True, Islyamov’s vocal statements should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt, but he surely has an intention of the sort. Evidence of extremist activities by the Mejlis are in abundance.
The director of the Political Studies Institute, Sergey Markov, recalls that the Russian leadership had tried in earnest to find a common language with the Mejlis leaders. “President Vladimir Putin met with the former Mejlis speaker, Ukrainian parliament member Mustafa Jemilev personally to try to persuade him to enter the Russian legal space. Another senior Mejlis figure, owner of the ATR television channel, businessman Lenur Islyamov, at a certain point held the position of Crimea’s deputy prime minster. Invitations to take a seat on the Crimean Cabinet of Ministers had been made to another senior Mejlis figure, Refat Chubarov. To no avail. All three men preferred to move to Ukraine and conduct subversive activities against Crimea from there, said Markov, a member of Russia’s Civic Chamber.
Russian law enforcers have put Jemilev and Chubarov on the international wanted list. Islyamov is on Russia’s federal wanted list. He has been accused in absentia of the creation of an illegal armed group on the border with Crimea.
“After the Mejlis leaders organized Crimea’s food and energy blockade their popularity with the Crimean Tatars nosedived. Many people started saying it was an act of genocide of all of Crimea’s people. It is hard to imagine a situation where politicians in their right mind would bring suffering to their own people,” Markov said.
He believes that throughout the 25 years since its creation the Mejlis considered itself not as a non-governmental organization, but as an embryo of a future state that would emerge with support from Turkey, a country that has a large diaspora or Crimean Tatars. Markov recalled that in August last year Ankara hosted a World Congress of Crimean Tatars. Many of its participants strongly criticized Russia for ignoring the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Crimean Tatar people.
“Lenur Islyamov has taken advantage of this sentiment to have created in the Kherson Region a special camp of armed mercenaries, to which he invites all of his supporters from Crimea and Turkey. According to some sources one hundred and fifty members of the ultra-right Turkish organization Grey Wolves are already there. Should the Mejlis be outlawed in Russia, Islyamov’s rating in Turkey may go up. One should be prepared for this. But all chances of putting the activity of Majlis on the legal track inside Russia have been exhausted.
The organization calling itself the Mejlis (assembly) of the Crimean Tatar People has no moral right to carry out its activity in Crimea, the speaker of the republic’s State Council, Vladimir Konstantinov, told the media on Wednesday.
“It is an absolutely destructive organization, which has used anti-Russian slogans all the way, brainwashed people and persuaded them to resist everything Russian. This organization has utterly outlived itself and it has no moral right to be represented in Russia’s Crimea,” Konstantinov said in reply to a question from TASS.
At the same time he recalled that other non-governmental organizations of Crimean Tatars existing within Russia’s legal space would enjoy support from the republican authorities.
“We are open to new organizations that recognize the referendum [on Crimea’s self-determination], recognize Russia and wish to build Russian Crimea together with us,” he said.
Konstantinov pointed out that Crimean Tatars already had representations in both Crimean bodies of power and in political parties.
Crimea’s Prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya on February 15 asked Crimea’s Supreme Court to declare extremist the activities of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar Peoples. A copy of the lawsuit was handed over to the first deputy leader of the Mejlis, Nariman Jelyalov, who is expected to hand it over to Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov, currently resident in the territory of Ukraine.
In Crimea, the leaders of the Mejlis are held responsible for blowing up several pylons of high-voltage power lines in Ukraine’s Kherson Region. The overnight act of sabotage took place on November 22, 2015. A massive power blackout in Crimea followed. Russia’s Federal Security Service FSB opened criminal proceedings over the incident. Crimea’s former deputy prime minister, Mejlis member Lenur Islyamov was put on the federal wanted list.
The Russian authorities are investigating criminal charges against Refat Chubarov and also former Mejlis leader Mustafa Jemilev. Both are accused of calls for violating the territorial integrity of Russia. Both Jemilev and Islyamov are on an international wanted list.