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New “trouble spot” in Ukraine: How the U.S. and Turkey are creating a “Kosovo” in Kherson Oblast

The “face” of Crimea’s blockade, businessman, former deputy prime minister of the Crimean government Lenur Islyamov is seeking to become the first Ukrainian deputy governor with an own army. On Jan 26, a source from the administration of Kherson Oblast told mass media that Islyamov is the most probable candidate for this office. That army will certainly be illegal as by signing Minsk 2 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko undertook to disarm such forces.

The best defense is a good offense

On Jan 20, Ukraine’s cabinet adopted a resolution introducing a new position – deputy head of regional state administration for defense. Such officials will be in the regions bordering on the ATO zone: Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Luhansk, Kharkiv and Kherson. Kherson Oblast has no border with the ATO zone but it borders on Crimea. But there is no threat coming from Crimea! On the contrary, since Sept 21, 2015, the leaders of the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar People, jointly with the Right Sector and other armed people, have been keeping Crimea in blockade. It’s almost like Orwell’s war is peace – defense of Kherson is offense.

Schizophrenia means mutually exclusive behavior - when what a person says is contrary to what he does. Since the first day of Maidan, when “peaceful demonstrators” started bloody provocations against police, such behavior has been normal in Ukraine. Today, what they in Ukraine are saying is contrary to what they are doing. And the so-called blockade of Crimea is an example of this behavior. Formally, since Sept 20, 2015, president of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov, former president Mustafa Cemilev (both from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc) and Lenur Islyamov have kept declaring that their goal is to bring Crimea back to Ukraine. In reality, they are seeking to create their own state formation in the south of Kherson Oblast. And in order to do this, they need to turn the area into a trouble spot.

And now if the office of deputy governor for defense is given to Islyamov, the Crimean Tatar politicians will get an official status and authority for achieving their goals.

The first step. Dismantling the government and replacing the laws

For the beginning, the organizers of the blockade captured the territory near the checkpoints of Kalanchak, Chongar and Chaplinka and blocked the road leading to Crimea. Since then the Ukrainians laws have had no force in that area. They even prevented repairers from restoring the damaged Novaya Kakhovka-Dzhankoy power transmission line. Later they showed that the Kiev authorities were not authority for them and attacked the policemen and national guards who came to help the repairers. At first, the police acted very toughly but later they calmed down.

One of the blockaders Vitaliy Tikunov died when on duty. Mass media reported that he had a heart attack but sources from Kherson Oblast say that the blockaders were drunk and began shooting at each other. So, Tikunov was just shot down. And the local authorities did not even care to investigate the case.

The second step. Introducing the “who is stronger is right” rule

Since the very first days of the blockade Islyamov & Co have used the “who is stronger is right” rule. So, reports about fights and attacks have become something normal for Kherson Oblast.

There were cases when Crimean Tatars punctured the wheels of cars going to Crimea or when armed people tried to take away a bus from a farmer or when a group of men attacked policemen and stole data on an assault case.

The fighters calmed down a bit when the Interior Ministry’s Kherson battalion arrived. Later the Right Sector and the Azov and Aydar battalions said that they did not want to have anything to do with the armed people acting in Kherson Oblast and called them fake heroes. So, we can see that those people report either to Islyamov or to their own selves. Even later mass media reported that the Right Sector had withdrawn from the blockade and had left Kherson Oblast.

The third step. Kindling ethnic strife

But once the blockade began giving results, its organizers laid political claims. In July 2015 Mejlis met in Henichesk. Cemilev pointed out that the Crimean Tatars sought to get autonomy within Ukraine. In Oct 2015, president of Mejlis Refat Chubarov asked Speaker of the Supreme Rada and Chairman of the Constitutional Commission Volodymyr Groysman to fix Crimean Tatar autonomy in the new Ukrainian Constitution.

But if armed Tatars are already acting outrageously, what will they do if they are given power in Kherson Oblast? How will they find space for themselves among tens of thousands of Russians and Ukrainians. The first example that occurs to us is to the killing of Serbs in Kosovo. Islyamov’s further plans are Muslim battalions sponsored by Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

The population of Kherson Oblast could not but react. The farmer we mentioned above proved to be an Afghani war veteran and was rescued by his former comrades-in-arms. In response, young people in Henichesk are forming self-defense detachments and for them this is an ethnic conflict – between Crimean Tatars, from the one side, and Ukrainians and Russians, from the other. The same is for Crimean Tatars and their leaders Chubarov, Cemilev and Islyamov.

Department of State gives the green-light

But why aren’t the Ukrainian authorities trying to prevent these events? Simply, because there is big reciprocal love between the United States and the leaders of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis:

  • On June 13, 2014, the US Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation awarded Cemilev the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom. Earlier in June, Cemilev was awarded a Polish prize for his role in protection of democracy and human rights.
  • In July 2015, a blogger nicknamed colonelcassad posted Cemilev’s letter to US Senator Christopher Murphy, where he asked the Senator for a little money.

Mejlis leaders have taken part in lots of conferences and tours in the United States.

But we can’t say that the Ukrainian authorities have done nothing at all. Deputy Head of the Interior Ministry’s Anti-Narcotics Department, favorite of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and President Petro Poroshenko, tried to settle things on the very first day after the pipeline was blown up. But what he faced was not just Crimean Tatars but somebody much stronger. In this game the blockade is just one action in a plan and Islyamov & Co are just agents. As soon as he saw that, he disappeared.

If so, further developments in the south of Kherson Oblast depend on whether the leaders of Mejlis are acting on their own or are just foot soldiers in the game of a bigger player, who uses the slogans for protecting Crimean Tatars as a cover for its plans. So, the warnings that Ukraine may be turned into “gates for Jihad” (grey wolves from Turkey and ISIL fighters from Syria and Iraq) may prove true.

If we analyze all the steps taken so far – the blockade, the terrorist act, the “Crimean Tatar autonomy” – we see that this is very much like Kosovo. For the United States, independent Kosovo was a very successful project and the key reason successful players are successful is that they try to carry out their successful projects again and again.

Sergey Sokolov, specially for EADaily (Kiev, Ukraine)

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