Cold War 2.0: the Tatar factor

Tatars represented one of the strongest opposition to the Kremlin when Russia took over the region, but their position is now starting to change

From Stalin to Khrushchev and finally Putin himself, Tatars’ relationship with Russian governments has always been complicated to say the least. After being deported, kidnapped and denied the amnesty to repopulate their homeland, ethnic Tatars were the first ones to stand up against the Kremlin’s move to annex Crimea in 2014. Tatar political leader Refat Chubarov and long-time figurehead Mustafa Dzhemilev refused to recognise Russian rule and have both been banned from the peninsula by the Russian government after boycotting the referendum that led to the annexation of Crimea. It seems that the ethnic group is now willing to start a conversation with the Kremlin, as people feel the need to interact with the new government. Deputy Prime Minister of Crimea Ruslan Balbek supports Russian annexation and told euronews that Tatars “don’t remember [leaders] Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov. They just want to get on with their lives”. However, some Tatars suggest this sudden political change is due to fear: they feel threatened and intimidated. An anonymous business owner in Simferopol said he has been told by Russian authorities that it was better for him to “keep his head down”, as he had something to lose. He added that in Crimea “there’s a total feeling of fear. (…) It’s like we’re living in a rainstorm and people keep telling us how sunny it is.” Picture: Getty Images

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