Crimea and Ukraine: Historical Realism and Strategic Planning?

One of the main issues for our Crimean Tatar brothers in recent days is the statements of the advisor to the Ukrainian President, Mikhail Podolyak, that after the return of Crimea to its composition it will no longer have the autonomous status it had before, even before the Russian occupation. Since these statements are in line with similar statements by many ordinary Ukrainian public figures, there is no doubt that we are not talking about Podolyak’s individual position, but probably about a new Ukrainian public consensus on this issue. This causes understandable disappointment in the community of some Crimean Tatars (or «Krymly», as many of them prefer to be called), who hoped that after the de-occupation of Crimea by Russia, it would be recognized as a Crimean Tatar national-territorial autonomy.

This issue is important not only for Krymly, but also for many Muslim communities in Eastern Europe, so let us try to discuss it as well. First of all, we would like to remind you that we have always advocated the recognition of Crimea as a national-territorial autonomy for Krymly, as evidenced by our publications as early as 2016.

Moreover, when Ukraine elected a president between Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky in 2019, one of the important reasons for us was to sympathize with the former, who unequivocally supported this idea, rather than the latter, who evaded it despite having strong opponents in his team.

However, it must be clearly stated that the beginning of the Great War on February 24, 2022 has made the agenda of the confrontation between Zelensky and Poroshenko supporters irrelevant (which many of them do not understand), because now we are not talking about elections in a normal, established country, but about its preservation, which is far from being guaranteed. Moreover, we are talking about the future of all of Eastern Europe and Northern Eurasia for many decades, perhaps even centuries (Allah knows better). And in this new historical agenda, Volodymyr Zelensky, despite all the known criticism against him, has proven himself to be a true national leader in a time of war. And although in Islam it is customary to say «if it is from the evil one», and any speculation on this issue is largely speculative, we know how Zelensky behaved in the first critical days of the start of this great war, but we can only guess how Poroshenko would have acted in his place, and how it would have turned out. Also, in the light of discussions that Poroshenko would have granted national-territorial autonomy to Krymly, while Zelensky would not, one should not forget certain stories, one of which was highlighted in a recent journalistic investigation — that Helmut Kohl once actively advocated Turkey’s accession to the EU in words, but behind the scenes his team covertly contributed to the opposite. No, we are not saying that Poroshenko would have acted in the same way, but it can be assumed that if he had really wanted to regain autonomy for the Crimean Tatars, instead of simply «milking» them electorally, he would have had enough time during his presidency to solve this problem, just as he solved the equally complex problem of recognizing the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Anyway, all this talk is pointless now, because a fundamentally new reality is unfolding, and it is this reality that needs to be soberly assessed.

And this reality consists in the fact that today the Soviet legacy is finally fading away, including the existence of such fictitious formations as the Ukrainian SSR and the RSFSR, as well as their divisions and borders. And what is coming and what is already emerging to replace them is being formed in the same way as new historical epochs and geopolitical realities have always been formed — through the struggle of real forces and projects, and not through appeals to fictions.

That is why we keep writing that even in the so-called Russian Federation, which has long ceased to be a federation, the formal liquidation of the current fictitious republics is only a matter of time — from several years to several decades. In any case, in the form in which they formally continue to exist now, they will not exist in the future, and in fact they do not exist now, because Putin’s Russia has been transformed into a rigidly unitary state, where a policy of cultural and political Russification and the creation of a new historical community of Russians, including all the peoples of the «Russian Federation», is being pursued.

This Russia, which has embarked on the path of restoring the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire hybridized with Stalinism (as these ideas were always close to Stalin, who a century ago proposed incorporating the Union republics into the RSFSR instead of creating the Soviet Union), is now trying to destroy the Ukrainian state and nation itself. This can be seen in the fate of the occupied territories of Ukraine, where they are not even trying to create a puppet Ukrainian authority loyal to Russia, but are incorporating them directly into Russia, openly stating their goal of turning the local Ukrainians into Russians.

How does all this relate to the issue of national-territorial autonomy in Crimea? The relationship is very direct, because the discourse of autonomies in the post-Soviet space is already becoming a thing of the past. The future will most likely be either the establishment of their own states by those who can do it, which is why we are already talking about the fact that the peoples of Russia have already passed the «federalism stop» (without even getting off), and the next stop is the struggle for statehood. [source]

And what about Ukraine? Despite the recognition by the international community and the legality of its independence and borders in 2013, it should be obvious to any reasonable person that in reality Ukraine can only survive if it manages to stand up in the struggle for its existence and within the borders that it can defend and regain. This applies directly to Crimea, since all the talks about Crimean Tatar autonomy took place at a time when no one seriously expected Ukraine to regain it by force. When they were made, the calculation was primarily based on the assumption that the West would eventually force Russia to return Crimea, possibly after an evolutionary change of power in the Kremlin, and that Crimean Tatar autonomy with guaranteed rights for other national communities could become a compromise model for such a return, most likely under a system of international guarantees. One of the most important of these guarantees was believed to be Turkey, as a practical guarantor of a solution to this issue in the interests of the Crimean Tatars first and foremost.

What is left of these plans today? Practically nothing remains.

If until February 24, 2022 many Ukrainians would have been satisfied with such a solution to the Crimean question, it is now obvious that Crimea will return to Ukraine only under one condition — if Ukraine manages to take it back by force. And this means that Ukrainians will pay a high price in blood for the return of Crimea, a price that was not planned when all these discussions about autonomies, compromise solutions with the help of Turkey, etc. took place.

Moreover, the harsh reality is that Ukrainians of all nationalities and religions, including Crimean Tatars and other Muslims, are already paying a huge price in blood for the preservation of their independence and territories. Cemeteries across the country are being filled with new graves every day, the flower of the nation is dying, and the extent of this tragedy is visible even abroad, where Ukrainian girls and women with mourning ribbons on their heads are increasingly seen in European cities…

Let’s be realistic — under these conditions, it would be naive to think that Ukrainians are willing to pay such a price today in order to give away such a strategically important and desirable piece as Crimea tomorrow. Its Ukrainian society perceives it first and foremost as Ukrainian, and in this regard it is extremely important to understand what consequences this may have for Crimean Tatars and other Muslims in Ukraine.

The crucial difference between the Ukraine that emerged as «anti-Russia,» i.e., as the opposite of «historical Russia,» as defined by the ideologists of the «Russian world,» who decided to go to war against it for this reason, is a completely different social model and concept of national identity compared to the second. The main characteristic of the Russian model, despite the formal declarations of its multiethnic composition and even the presence of fictitious autonomies within it (plans for their elimination are no longer concealed), is the dominance not so much of the «state-forming people» as of its official church and imperial culture, which have historically been hostile to many of the conquered peoples of this country.

Not only the equality of Orthodoxy and Islam hoped for by naive Muslims, but even the open model of Russian identity based on the American model remained an unattainable dream. Instead, the reality remained a model of «autocracy, Orthodoxy, nationality» with a dominant church (with other denominations tolerated at best) and a nation that forms the state and whose culture is systematically imposed on all others.

Ukraine, after separating from Russia, initially chose a fundamentally different model, in which the interim head of state and later head of its Security Council could have been a Protestant pastor, Alexander Turchinov, in which a Jew could have been elected president, and in which religious freedom flourished for both «traditional» denominations and new ones. This allowed Kremlin propaganda to claim that Ukraine had been taken over by sectarians and had become a haven for Islamists, schizophrenically combining this with accusations of «Nazism» against the country.

In addition, a positive and special attitude towards the Crimean Tatars, their rights, their suffering under the occupation and their symbolism also became an important part of this emerging Ukrainian identity and its politics, especially against the background of the openly hostile attitude of the «Russian world» towards them.

Given the above, what are the alternatives for the Crimean Tatars?

Realistically, there are only two. Either they can remain in the hostile, chauvinistic «Russian world,» with the inevitable assimilation of Crimea into the Taurida district and the transformation of the Crimean Tatars into a disappearing small nation like the Khakas or the Evens.

Or they can return to Ukraine, which will form a new, undoubtedly Ukrainian identity for Crimea, recognizing the special role of Crimean Tatar history and culture as an important and unique part of an inclusive Ukrainian civic (truly civic) nation.

In such a Crimea, the specific rights of the Crimean Tatars as a separate indigenous people should be guaranteed (as they have already been recognized by Ukraine, causing outrage in Russia). Ukrainian officials support this perception of the Crimean Tatars not as a separate political nation, but as part of the Ukrainian political nation, which seems more promising for Islam and Muslims in Ukraine and Eastern Europe as a whole.

After all, it would consolidate the already active trend of perceiving Islam as an integral and important part of the overall Ukrainian public sphere, as evidenced by congratulations on Muslim holidays from top officials, nasheeds from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, iftars with the president, and so on.

Not to mention that the creation of an independent Crimean Tatar state is impossible for demographic and military-strategic reasons without the involvement of Turkey, which does not plan to do so and is unlikely to be allowed to do so.

Strategically, the transformation of the whole of Ukraine into a country where the Islamic factor, represented primarily by the Crimean Tatars, is part of the identity, appears to be a more interesting prospect than the unattainable idea of creating an «autonomy» that raises suspicions of separatism in Ukraine.

Moreover, when Ukrainian officials today talk about the future abolition of Crimea’s autonomy, it should be understood that they don’t mean the abolition of Crimean Tatar autonomy, which did not and does not exist there, but rather the abolition of «Russian autonomy,» or more precisely, the preserved source of infection from the «Russian world» that erupted in 2014.

If we are talking about the national autonomy of Crimea, then the experience of the modern world includes numerous ways to achieve such autonomy of the people without the secession of the territory, which the Ukrainians of all nationalities and religions, who paid a high price for the return of this territory, will no longer agree to.

These are our subjective reflections on this issue, which we have dared to express, but we are ready to give the platform of our website to authoritative thinkers and representatives of Crimea who would like to challenge them and present a different point of view. Those who wish to do so can send relevant publications to [email protected].

2015 — 2023 ©. All rights reserved.