Southeast Europe, Turkey criticise Russian moves in Ukraine


The annexation of Crimea has many worried about Russian ambition in Eastern Europe.

By Zeynep Cermen and Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Istanbul and Pristina -- 20/03/14


A woman walks past Russian soldiers patrolling outside the navy headquarters in Simferopol on Tuesday (March 18th). [AFP]

Observers in Southeast Europe and Turkey are deeply concerned about the future of eastern Ukraine and former Soviet states as Russia solidifies its hold on Crimea.

Several hundred militiamen stormed a Ukrainian navy base in Sevastopol -- home of Russia's Black Fleet -- and took it over on Wednesday (March 19th). Also, the Crimean prosecutor's office announced that the commander of the Ukrainian navy was detained for questioning.

The defence minister of Ukraine, which like the West does not accept Crimea's weekend vote to break from Ukraine and join Russia, was denied entry to the peninsula Wednesday when he attempted to travel there to ease tensions, according to a Russian news agency.

The developments came a day after Russia President Vladimir Putin signed documents to annex Crimea, and a confrontation between Ukrainian military personnel and militiamen left two people dead.

"Crimean Tatars are under a very big danger than Turkey would ever think of," Can Kasapoglu, security analyst at the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), told SETimes.

"The existence of local militia forces in Crimea, like they were in Georgia in 2008, constitutes the worst danger for them," Kasapoglu added. "These militias follow the Tatars' political orientation very closely. They know that Tatars are very close to [former Ukraine Prime Minister Yulia] Timoshenko and they monitor how much they are against Russian intervention in Crimea and they know that they boycotted the referendum. Tatars already became a political target and they don't have militia forces to defend themselves."

Miroslav Hochak, chairman of the World Congress of Ukrainian Youth Organisations, and a resident of Novi Sad, Vojvodina, said the annexation of Crimea is a warning for other regions.

"Happenings in Crimea are showing now that Putin is realising his 10-year-old plan to merge the territory of Russia by taking it from Ukraine. This could be seen as a step toward annexation of Transnistria to the Russia territory, since this part of Moldova is a kind of state that is recognised only by Russia and it is located on the border line between Moldova and Ukraine," Hochak told SETimes.

Ramadan Ilazi, executive director at Kosovo Peace Institute, told SETimes that the annexation of Crimea is about Putin's attempt to strengthen Russian domination over the former Soviet space.

"We have supported the pro-European demonstration of the Ukrainian citizens in Maidan. In Kosovo, the situation in Crimea is seen with concern also due to the potential for conflict and especially the possibility for the spillover effect in Europe and more," Ilazi said.

Hakan Kirimli, a Crimean Tatar and scholar whose family relocated to Antolia in the 19th century, said he is consulting with Turkey's foreign ministry.

"The real aim of Putin's policies is to invade all the territories it has lost during the collapse of Soviet Union. I have been telling this since a long time," Kirimli, a professor at Bilkent University in Ankara who specialises in Russian history, told SETimes.

"My wife's family is still in Crimea," he said. "The situation among Tatars is very tense right now. They are very much afraid of the existence of local militia forces because those people trained to kill. Yesterday Rasid Ahmedov was found tortured to death by unknown people because he attended an anti-Russia protest. His funeral ceremony was today. Another old man committed suicide. Those people have experienced the ethnic genocide in 1944. They know Russia very well. I am warning, the Crimean Tatars are in very big danger."

Seb Bytyci, director of the Balkan Policy Institute in Kosovo told SETimes that Russia's move to annex Crimea is a violation of international law.

"These events are very important, and they are not worrisome only for Kosovars," Bytyci said. "Countries in Central Europe from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, including Russia's allies such as Serbia, will review their relations with Russia. And for former Soviet countries in Eastern Europe, this has direct consequences. The West is being drawn into a new type of Cold War unwillingly, and this may mean that there has to be a new approach to the relations with Western allies in Central and Eastern Europe."

Several government officials have also publicly criticised the annexation.

"The referendum [in Crimea] contradicts Ukraine's constitution and international law," Bulgaria's President Rossen Plevneliev told journalists.

"This is extremely dangerous, absolutely unacceptable and I condemn it and will continue to defend this position," he added. "We don't want to be back to the years of the Cold War."

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, at a news conference in Ankara with Crimean Tatar community leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, called the referendum to break from Ukraine illegal and said it violates Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Romania's Prime Minister Victor Ponta, while visiting Albania on Tuesday (March 18th), said that the region is deep in a crisis.

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"I believe it is very important that all the countries of the European Union have a very clear position on what represents now a crisis, in an uncontestable way in the whole of Europe and what can lead in the future in what has been a Cold War," he said.

"From our point of view, I believe that Ukraine, the same as Moldova and Georgia, should be supported in their democratic way towards European integration. As I said before, Romania believes that this zone of the Western Balkans will be safe and prosperous only when all the countries of this region will be members of the European Union."

Correpsondents Menekse Tokyay in Istanbul, Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade and Tzvetina Borisova in Sofia contributed to this report.

What role should Turkey and Southeast Europe take in helping resolve the Crimea crisis? Join the conversation below.

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