KIEV, Aug. 29 – The rift between President Viktor Yanukovych and Medjlis, the ruling body of Crimean Tatars, the third-largest ethnic group in Crimea, widened on Sunday, threatening to undermine efforts to improve local policies.
Medjlis refused to join a council under Yanukovych after the president had decided to appoint Crimean Tatar leaders to represent the ethnic group in this political body.
“Medjlis, of course, will not participate in such council,” Mustafa Djamiliov, the leader of Medjlis, told Interfax-Ukraine.
This is the second clash between Crimean Tatars and Yanukovych over the past month, signaling challenges to his attempts to improve ethnic policy in the peninsula.
Medjlis refused to join a meting with Yanukovych on Aug. 3 after he had invited little-known Crimean Tatar leaders that are in opposition to Medjlis.
The refusal angered Yanukovych and two weeks later he changed the way the council is formed by deciding to appoint the Crimean Tatar representatives, as opposed to accepting those leaders already elected by the Crimean Tatars.
Mejlis have traditionally supported Ukrainian nationalist parties, and massively voted against Yanukovych at the presidential election in 2004 and most recently in February.
In September 2008, a month after Russia’s military action against Georgia, Milli Firka, a little-known Crimean Tatar group, asked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to protect this ethnic group from “discrimination” and “genocide” by the Ukrainian authorities.
This triggered an angry rebuke from mainstream Crimean Tatar groups, including Medjlis, who demanded that Russia must stay away from any involvement.
The split raised fears of instability in Crimea, an autonomous region with two-thirds of its populated ethnic Russians and remaining one third split between Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and other groups.
Russia cited the need to stop “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” of Russian citizens by Georgia to justify the full-scale invasion into Georgia in August 2008 and recognition of its two breakaway republics.
Crimea, which hosts Russia’s naval Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, has been earlier cited by SBU, the Ukrainian security service, as an area where undisclosed groups have bee trying to stir instability.
Milli Firka asked Medvedev, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the President of Tatarstan, Mintemir Shaymiyev “on behalf of the Russian Federation to protect” Crimean Tatars and other ethnic groups from “constant genocide by the nationalist authorities of Ukraine.”
Ironically, it was the Kremlin that had ordered massive killings and deportation of Crimean Tatars in the past, a point underline by at least 14 other Crimean Tatar groups in a petition denouncing Milli Firka.
The groups argued it was the Kremlin who had eliminated the Crimean Tatar state in 1783, committed genocide of Crimean Tatars in 1944, deported the people to special settlements in Central Asia and has been preventing the return of Crimea Tatars to their historic homeland.
The goal of Milli Firka’s appeal was “creation of a motive that would allow Russia “to intervene into domestic issues of Ukraine,” the mainstream Crimean Tatar groups said in the petition. (tl/ez)