Photo: the British Ukrainian Society (c) 2016
Refat Chubarov gave a lecture in London on the current situation in Crimea
23 March 2016
On 23 March 2016, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ukraine hosted a briefing with Mr Refat Chubarov, a Ukrainian MP with the Petro Poroshenko Block and Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tartar People, in the House of Commons in partnership with the British Ukrainian Society.
It was the first of a number of speaking engagements Mr Chubarov had arranged in London, including at King’s College London and Chatham House. Sir Gerald Howarth MP, Chairman of the APPG, gave welcoming remarks before Mr Chubarov, accompanied by representatives from the Ukrainian Embassy, offered his views on developments in Ukraine in general, and in Crimea in particular.
Mr Chubarov began by answering Sir Gerald’s question regarding what to do with Crimea, coming from the point of view of the Crimean Tatars. He started by presenting a brief history of the Crimean Tatars, including their deportation by Stalin in 1944, concluding that Putin, like world leaders who gathered in Yalta in 1945 to discuss the carving up of post-war Europe, would like to “divide the world” as he pleases. Although there was a build-up towards the annexation of Crimea for years, he asserted that the occupation was nonetheless a shock to the international community. He elaborated that ambassadors to Ukraine from various countries were suggesting that the Crimean Tatars should not provoke the situation further, since they thought Crimea was a crisis that would eventually go away.
Mr Chubarov explained that Russia would like to hold the Mejlis (the single highest executive-representative body of the Crimean Tatars) and all its related bodies as extremists, as revenge for Crimean Tatars not accepting Russian occupation. He expects that eventually the Russian government will prohibit the Mejlis from operating at all, declaring it extremist and forbidding its activities. He stated that there is no independent media or freedom of speech in Crimea, even in private conversations. Doctors and teachers in particular feel intense pressure to demonstrate their loyalty to the Russians, but in fact everyone is fearful of speaking out about Russian occupation, even amongst colleagues, for fear of subsequently being “visited”. Some people have been deported, like Mustafa Dzhemilev MP (former Chairman of the Mejlis and leader of the Crimean Tatar National Movement), whilst others have been put in jail including Chubarov’s own deputy, Akhtem Chiygoz, who received a ten year prison sentence in January 2015.
The briefing was followed by a Q&A session, with questions coming from Members of Parliament, Peers, Ukrainian activists and professionals, and British minority rights specialists. Lord Davies of Stamford asked about economic situation in Crimea, and whether Russia was heavily subsidising the economy. Mr Chubarov stated that Russia would like to nationalise Crimea, explaining that property belonging to the Ukrainian state was nationalised first, followed by private property owned by businessmen and oligarchs. Land, especially near the coast, including holiday resorts, were taken by the government or destroyed. There is not enough water for the agrarian sector to thrive, or enough electricity to meet the population’s needs. Additionally there are no longer any international financial institutions left, and only Russian planes are flying into Crimea. Despite all this, by 2018 the current head of Crimea wants the economy to reach the level it was at in 2013.
Jonathan Djanogly MP followed with another question about the economy, specifically how much is it costing Russia to subsidise Ukraine and whether they can afford it, and about Crimea’s relationship with Ukraine, in particular whether Kyiv has any leverage there. Mr Chubarov noted that Russian statistics are not credible, but that roughly $3-3.5bn was spent in 2015, and that those figures are increasing due to the military presence in Crimea, and to the fact that Ukraine cut off the electricity supply to Crimea. He explained that links between Ukraine and Crimea are trying to be salvaged, but that efforts are being undermined by Russia, who has distributed Russian passports by force. The Ukrainian government allows people with Ukrainian passports to cross the border into Ukraine, but Russian special forces are monitoring the situation and looking for a way to thwart this. Crimean students are still being accepted into Ukrainian universities.
Lord Oxford, a director of the British Ukrainian Society, asked about Crimea’s political organisations, specifically whether they have organised the Mejlis in mainland Ukraine. Mr Chubarov answered that they have mission offices in Kyiv and Kherson, and are looking to set up a mission in Brussels, working closely with the Ukrainian government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to this end. Russia has tried to reform the Mejlis in their own way, but have not succeeded as they could not find enough people. Many delegates have been classed as enemies and forced to leave Crimea, but there is a remnant that insists on staying.
Marina Pesenti, Director of the Ukrainian Institute in London, asked whether Mr Chubarov felt Crimea was being covered sufficiently in Ukrainian media outlets, and whether journalists are facing persecution. He said although Crimea does appear in the news from time to time, it is more often overshadowed by other major events like fighting in eastern Ukraine, Russian air strikes in Syria, migrants flowing into Europe, during which times everyone forgets about Crimea.
Lord Oxford thanked Mr Chubarov, whom he had met in the early 1990s when serving as a diplomat in Kyiv, for his insightful talk, followed by Sir Gerald, who gave the closing remarks. “Thank you, it’s been very instructive to hear your views and we must not forget what’s happening in Ukraine, and that Putin has invaded a sovereign country,” said Sir Gerald.