World View: Ukraine's 'Separatist' Talk Threatens Ethnic Tatars

This morning's key headlines from

  • Ukraine's 'separatist' talk threatens ethnic Tatars
  • U.S. expels three Venezuela diplomats in tit-for-tat reprisal
  • Nigeria's Boko Haram kills 39 school students after army mysteriously withdraws
  • China considers two new anti-Japanese national holidays

Ukraine's 'separatist' talk threatens ethnic Tatars

As we've discussed several times, western Ukraine is mostly populated by Ukrainian-speaking ethnic Ukrainians, while eastern Ukraine is mostly populated by Russian-speaking ethnic Russians. However, even eastern Ukraine isn't entirely Russian, and although the Russian language is spoken there, it's spoken with a Ukrainian accent.

The exception is the Crimea, the body of land at the bottom of Ukraine, jutting into the Black Sea, and connected to mainland Ukraine by a narrow strip of land. This is the most Russian part of Ukraine, and the most Russian part of Crimea is the port of Sevastopol, a strategically important naval port hosting Russia's Black Sea fleet. This is the place to which deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled over the weekend, and he has not been seen publicly since then. It's impossible to predict what will happen to Ukraine from the current crisis, but one thing is certain: Russia will not let go of Sevastopol.

Talk of "separatism" is high in Sevastopol. And we're not talking about separatism of east Ukraine from west Ukraine. We're talking about separation of Crimea from the rest of Ukraine. Sevastopol's city council on Monday already demanded a referendum on rejoining what they call "The Motherland."

The situation has become sufficiently alarming that even Moscow is backing down a bit. Two days ago, Russia's prime minister Dmitry Medvedev referred to the situation as "an armed uprising" by "people with black masks strolling through Kiev with Kalashnikov rifles."

But on Tuesday, Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was considerably more subdued:

"We are using our contacts with the various political forces at play in Ukraine in order to calm the situation down.

[It is] dangerous and counter-productive to try to force upon Ukraine a choice on the principle of 'you are either with us or against us'. We want Ukraine to be part of the European family in every sense of the word."

Whether this reference to the "European family" represents a change in policy remains to be seen, but it's certainly a change in rhetoric.

The possibility of Crimea rejoining Russia is of greatest concern to the Tatars, a mostly Turkic language speaking Sunni Muslim ethnic group, currently numbering around 300,000. Russia's dictator Josef Stalin, who had already engineering the massive famine in Ukraine in the 1930s, in 1944 deported 200,000 Tatars from Crimea, where they had lived for millennia, to central Asia, accusing them of collaborating with the Nazis. It was only in the 1980s and 1990s that the Tatars returned in large numbers to Crimea, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Ukraine's independence.

Tatars are concerned that a return to Russia rule would mean "the end of the Crimean Tatars," according to one activist:

"If the violence in Ukraine were to spread to Crimea, 300,000 Crimean Tatars would come face to face with approximately 2 million Russians living there. Soldiers in Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the port of Sevastopol are ready to invade Crimea. The parliament of the Autonomous Region of Crimea is under the control of Russia, is predominantly of Russian ethnicity and is against the Crimean Tatar National Assembly and Crimean Tatars."

CS Monitor and Telegraph (London) and Zaman (Istanbul)

U.S. expels three Venezuela diplomats in tit-for-tat reprisal

The U.S. State Department said that two first secretaries and a second secretary at Venezuela's embassy in Washington had been declared personae non gratae, and have been given 48 hours to leave the country. The expulsion is tit-for-tat reprisal for Venezuela's expulsion of three American diplomats last week. Venezuela's president Nicolás Maduro expelled three U.S. diplomats last week on accusations of recruiting students to hold violent, rock-throwing protests against him. The U.S. Washington has rejected the claims as baseless. Reuters

Nigeria's Boko Haram kills 39 school students after army mysteriously withdraws

Gunmen from Nigeria's Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram ("Western education is forbidden") stormed at 2 am Tuesday, and killed 29 pupils, all boys, many of whom were burnt to death by a fire. The girls were spared, and were told to go home, get married, and abandon Western education. The school was secular, and students were both Christian and Muslim.

Outrage is growing in Nigeria because Boko Haram has killed thousands of civilians, but the armed forces are failing to protect them, or even respond to raids. In this case, there had been soldiers guarding a checkpoint near the government school, but they were mysteriously withdrawn hours before the attack. And then the terrorists were able to continue their massacre for five hours, no troops or security agents intervening. It's believed that the soldiers knew the attack was coming, and then withdrew either because they wanted to support the terrorists, or because they were afraid of being killed themselves. BBC and CBS News

China considers two new anti-Japanese national holidays

Laws have been submitted to China's National People's Congress to add two new holidays to the list of China's national holidays:

  • September 3 would be "Victory Day of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression," marking the end of World War II for China.
  • December 13 would be a "national memorial day to commemorate those killed by Japanese aggressors during the Nanjing massacre," which took place on December 13, 1937.
The proposed law is expected to pass. BBC and Bloomberg

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