Crimea Offers Disturbing Blueprint for Russian Takeover of Ukraine
By Brian Dooley
Aliev Alim is a leading Crimean Tatar Human Rights Defender, and he told Human Rights First what could happen should Russian forces take control of more areas of Ukraine.
Russia took over Crimea in 2014, and Alim says since then “there have been thousands of human rights violations documented, including hundreds of house raids by Russian security forces, 14 abductions and 120 political prisoners. But that’s really only the tip of the iceberg.”
In a throwback to Soviet-era repression, there are also reports of Russian authorities consigning Crimean dissidents to psychiatric institutions.
Alim is co-founder of the NGO Crimea SOS, a prominent author, and serves on the advisory boards of several Ukrainian NGO. Since 2014, Crimea SOS has been helping Crimean citizens displaced by the Russian takeover settle elsewhere in Ukraine. Since the Russian invasion of February 24, 2022 many have been forced to relocate again.
The organization has quickly adjusted to the new crisis, and is now part of 5am Ukraine, a new coalition of Ukraine NGOs documenting war crimes.
Alim describes the 2014 Russian takeover as the third colonization of Crimea since the 18th century. “Some Crimeans thought the takeover would mean a return to Soviet times, with some of the benefits of that era, of low prices and social security, but Putin’s Russia is much harsher,” he says.
Crimean Tatars are a minority group rooted in Crimea, and hundreds of thousands of Tatars were forcibly deported from Crimea in 1944 on the orders of Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin. Last year the Ukrainian government officially recognized Crimean Tatars as an indigenous people.
Amnesty International has reported that “As the most visible and cohesive group in Crimea opposed to the Russian occupation, the Crimean Tatar people have been deliberately targeted by the de facto local and Russian authorities in a wave of repression aimed at silencing their dissent and ensuring the submission of every person in Crimea to the annexation.”
Based on what’s happened in Crimea over the last eight years, Alim fears tragedy is possible if Russia takes over more Ukrainian territory. “There’s the militarization of land but also of consciousness, with pro-Russian outlets dominating the media landscape. There has been a massive brain drain out of Crimea with 50,000 locals leaving -- often the educated elites, the young professional political and civic leadership.”
At the same time, he says, “half a million Russians have moved into Crimea in the last eight years. Some are elderly people from Siberia. What retired Siberian wouldn’t want to move there? Crimea is Ukraine’s Florida -- there’s sun and sea, and many others, including Russian security personnel and their families, have moved in.”
For Russia it’s not just a question of territory but about “phantom ambitions,” Alim says. “It’s about totalitarianism, about authoritarianism, and what Putin’s Russia is pushing: He wants to revive the neo-empire. Crimeans have a very clear understanding of what that looks like.”
He hopes, of course, that the current invasion will not end with Russian territorial gains, but says “The last eight years have seen a total Russian colonization of Crimea -- a changing of identity and population. Today’s war in Ukraine isn’t just a challenge for Ukraine but for Europe and the whole of the democratic world.”
He adds “I hope we will meet soon in a free Crimea….”