Voice

Who Speaks for Crimea's Tatars?

FP talks to Mustapha Dzhemilev about his besieged people and bizarre conversation with Vladimir Putin.

The former chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, or regional parliament, Mustapha Dzhemilev is still considered to be the father of the Crimean Tatar cause. His community, which he refers to as the only truly "indigenous people" of the Ukrainian peninsula which was invaded and annexed by Russia in February, numbers a mere 300,000 out of a population of 2.35 million, owing to the forced population transfers of the Tatars to Siberia and Central Asia ordered by Josef Stalin in 1944, an act the Mejlis consider to be a modern genocide. (Many Tatars were allowed back into Crimea during the glasnost period of the Soviet Union, but millions more remain as part of a far-flung diaspora.)

A famed survivor of the Soviet gulag, and now member of the Ukrainian parliament from the ruling Fatherland Party, Dzhemilev is in the United States to address the U.N. Security Council on the concerns and fears expressed by his people that now live under Russian occupation, and to press the urgency of the moment in Washington, D.C.

Dzhemilev is a 70-year-old soft-spoken whisper of a man, conspicuous in his curly Persian sheepskin hat. He spoke at the Ukrainian Museum in lower Manhattan on Sunday, March 30, where Foreign Policy caught up with him to discuss U.S. and E.U. options on Ukraine, the likelihood of another Russian invasion, and his recent one-on-one phone call with Vladimir Putin.

Foreign Policy: According to news reports this weekend, the White House has not even raised the status of Crimea with the Kremlin in trying to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis. The United States therefore seems to have accepted that Crimea will remain a part of Russia. What is your response to this position?

Mustapha Dzhemilev: We are very disappointed because, as I said, accepting Russian occupation as a fait accompli will mean future problems for the international system. And, of course, that the Ukrainian forces left Crimea and would not fight. That has been a big disappointment for Crimean Tatars. Accepting this takeover of Crimea will mean that other countries which gave up their nuclear weapons will seek to get them back because no diplomatic accord can ever again be trusted. [The 1994 Budapest Memorandum, signed by the United States, Britain, Russia, and Ukraine, guaranteed the latter's territorial integrity and sovereignty in exchange for its relinquishment of its nuclear weapons.]

FP: What would you do if you were the United States or European Union?

MD: Increase sanctions. It is our belief that sanctions will be enough to resolve the crisis. We believe that very firm sanctions will do it. They'll work. I understand that there are first, second, third, fourth, fifth stages [for sanctions] -- the gap is very big between these stages. These sanctions should be taken immediately and the more aggressive stages should be taken going forward. Of course, this will take a toll on Western financial interests. But if the West doesn't pay this price now, it will be much higher in the future.

FP: If Moscow and Washington did manage to resolve this standoff diplomatically, would you take Putin at his word that he'd abide by any settlement?

MD: This would be very difficult for us to do because Russia has already broken the 1994 agreement.

FP: Do you think Russia will invade eastern Ukraine given its troop movements close to the border?

MD: This is a very provocative state of affairs. There might indeed be some unrest in the east because of what the Russians are doing there.

FP: You mentioned that of the 5,000 Tatars who have left Crimea for western Ukraine since the Russian invasion, only women and children remained as exiles, while all of the men came back. This has prompted suspicions that the Crimean Tatars will fight the Russians. Have you seen any evidence that self-defense militias or an armed resistance is taking shape?

MD: We have said that we want a diplomatic solution to this crisis. We cannot fight the Russians because our nation is very small, only 300,000.

FP: Putin called you on the phone several weeks ago, presumably to win your support for Russia's actions in Crimea. What did he say to you, and what was your impression of his state of mind?

MD: First of all, I was shocked that he repeated the clichés of Russian propaganda, that "Banderites" [followers of Stepan Bandera, a controversial Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the Nazis when Ukraine was under Soviet occupation] have come to power there, that fascists came to power, that there is a threat to the Russian population. That was ridiculous; there is none of that. The head of such a big nation should have sources of information that are objective, but here he represented all this as fact. I tried to explain that this wasn't the case, but it was useless. He explained his point of view; I think he was expecting that from this conversation he would at least ensure our neutrality.

FP: So Putin expected the Tatars to remain neutral?

MD: I said that there could be a provocation, there weren't that many of us, we were not going to fight, our methods are peaceful, but the problem could be solved only by diplomatic means with the government of Ukraine. Only through negotiations with our government could this be achieved. He should withdraw his forces then.

FP: As you know, there are several figures and parties in the Russian opposition who condemn the annexation of Crimea, such as PARNAS, December 5, and Alexey Navalny's Party of Progress. There have even been some antiwar demonstrations in Moscow, albeit suppressed or disrupted by the authorities.

MD: This is very important. To be frank, we place a lot of hope in the Russian opposition. Because if there isn't such a powerful movement in Russia -- I will sound cynical -- I fear that Russia will not wake up until they are confronted with coffins.

DFATD|MAECD/Flickr

COLUMN

Congratulations, You Have Been Martyred!

Syria's jihadists take on Flappy Bird with new low-tech games that target enemies in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Virtual jihadists have found new targets, and for once, they're not the United States or its allies. Two new online games from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) organization depict Sunni fighters blowing up Iranians and attacking the Saudi Arabian government.

These aren't exactly cutting-edge video games, but quick, simple designs that you play in your Web browser. Think Flappy Birds with suicide vests. The first one is called Sayyad al-Kasihat (Hunter of the Minesweepers). Your mission is to "repel the Iranian Persian aggression against Al-Sham [Syria] and Iraq," according to a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute, which spotted the game on a jihadist forum.

The goal is to blow up Iranian and Hezbollah tanks and jeeps rolling down a busy highway. However, civilian cars and yellow school buses also travel down the road. Plus, there is a delay (usually a half-second to two seconds) between clicking the black al Qaeda flag button that detonates the bomb and when it actually explodes. The trick is to time the explosion to destroy the Iranian military vehicles that roll past. If you do blow up civilians, this admonition appears: "Mujahid Brother, you have hurt the innocent civilians by mistake."

Mind you, this comes from ISIS, whose fondness for beheading its opponents -- even other Muslim militants -- has led even al Qaeda to disavow it for being too violent in Syria. The game credits do come with this cheery note, however: "Greetings from the sharia committee of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham."

For those jihadists who find detonating IEDs to be too challenging, there's an even simpler game called Lu'bat Fajr Al-Huriyya Lil-'Asira Al-Saudiyya (The Dawn of Freedom for the Saudi Woman Prisoner). The goal is to "free your sister from the Saudi regime's prisons."

Lucky for her that her brother happens to be a black-clad warrior (it's hard to tell whether he's supposed to be dressed like a ninja or an ISIS fighter). It's about as low tech as you can get, though. At the click of a mouse, our two-dimensional ninjihadist leaps -- with nary a bend of the knee -- into the air, jumping from moving concrete beams like a real Prince of Persia. If you fall through the gaps, you're dead. But, wait -- that's good news! "Congratulations, you have been martyred," reads the game's text.

These games are the brainchild of someone who goes by the online moniker of "Ta'ir Al-Nawras 07," who posted them on the Ansar Al-Mujahideen Arabic Forum, according to MEMRI. Some might remember him as the designer of last year's Muslim Mali online game, in which an al Qaeda fighter jet (that looks like a U.S. stealth fighter) shoots down waves of French warplanes. If Osama bin Laden hadn't already been killed by American commandos, he probably would have died of embarrassment.

Yet even if these games don't make the Video Game Hall of Fame, the change in tone is significant. Jihadist games have tended to focus on fighting the West, as in the Mali game or this video, in which enemy soldiers are decapitated by swords. But the Iran- and Saudi-themed games suggest that the conflict between Sunni extremists and Iran/Hezbollah and the Saudi monarchy are seeping into popular culture, or at least the culture that extremists inhabit.

Will we soon see a video games arms race? Don't be surprised if a Hezbollah video game pops up in which Shiite heroes gun down al Qaeda fighters by the score.

In the meantime, America and the West can sit back watch their enemies wage war in the virtual world.