Crimean Tatars seek more EU pressure on Russia

By Ayhan Simsek

BERLIN (AA) – The EU should prolong and expand sanctions against Russia to force Moscow to change its “aggressive” policy, Crimean Tatar leader Refat Chubarov has said.

“Since its occupation of Crimea two years ago, Russia has intensified its activities to squeeze the Crimean people, to break them into pieces,” Chubarov said in an interview with Anadolu Agency.

“We are calling on the EU to preserve its unified position and expand sanctions against Russia to stop its imperialistic policies, its aggression in Crimea,” he added.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014, and since then the region’s Tatar minority has complained of growing repression.

EU sanctions were first imposed on Russia in July 2014 in response to its occupation of Crimea; these were later prolonged until Jan. 31, 2016.

Chubarov sharply criticized a court decision in the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula last week to prohibit the activities of Tatars’ democratically elected legislative and executive body, the Crimean Tatar Mejlis.

“They have occupied our land; they have established their own courts. This so-called court decision is not a legitimate one. And this is also acknowledged by the United Nations,….This is injustice, this is murder,” Chubarov, who has lead the Tatar Mejlis since 2013, said.

The Crimean Tatars’ representative and executive body was outlawed by a court decision on Tuesday, which branded it an “extremist” group.

Chubarov said they were worried about growing political persecution against the Tatar people after this decision, adding that criminal investigations might be launched against each member of the Mejlis.

Currently, eight members of the Mejlis are carrying out the body’s executive functions from Ukraine’s capital Kiev, while the remaining majority is in Crimea.

Chubarov said he recently conveyed “grave concerns” and expectations of the Crimean Tatar people during meetings this week with high-level officials in Germany.

He underlined that the views of Germany, Europe’s largest economy, were important to create a unified EU position.

“We want Russia to withdraw from Crimea and return it to Ukraine. We want to see Ukraine’s territorial integrity restored again,” he said.

Chubarov stressed that this could only be achieved by EU’s increased political and economic pressure on Russia to make it respect international law.

“Several EU countries, like Austria, Italy and France, are reportedly seeking to soften or end sanctions against Russia, with the claimed goal of developing dialogue with Moscow.

“We believe that this would be a big mistake,” Chubarov said.

“We are calling on the EU not only to prolong their sanctions against Russia, but also expand their scope,” he added.