Tatars are warning Russia that Crimea could become a second Chechnya:
Mustafa Jemilev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, said a number of militant Tatars had approached him to say they would fight the Russians.
“We have Islamists, Wahhabis, Salafis . . . groups who have fought [with the opposition] in Syria,” he said in an interview in Simferopol, the Crimean capital. “They say: ‘an enemy has entered our land and we are ready’.
“We can’t stop people who want to die with honour,” he said, making he clear he did not endorse a jihadist campaign.
There is also a danger for Russia that the Crimean crisis could become internationalised, with foreign jihadis taking up arms against Russia much as they did during the Chechen war in the early 2000s.
Links already exist between some Crimean Tatars and the global Islamist militant network, with a number of Tatars having fought with the armed opposition to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. One of them, under the nom de guerre “Abu Khaled”, carried out a suicide bombing in Aleppo last year.
Analysts have noted that the hashtag #NafirforUkraine has appeared hundreds of times on Twitter in recent days. A term meaning a call to action, the word nafir circulated on social media in the early stages of the conflict in Syria, and is believed to have played a role in encouraging foreign fighters to join the opposition cause.
The Russians have tried to be conciliatory:
Jemilev, a former head of the Mejlis, the main Tatar communal organisation, said Crimea’s new pro-Russian leaders have tried to reassure Tatars that they have nothing to fear from Russian rule.
He said they had offered a comprehensive deal, promising Tatars the post of deputy prime minister of a Russian-governed Crimea, three ministries and official recognition of their communal organisations. They have also pledged financial help for returning Tatars and even committed to reinstating the original Tatar names of some towns and villages.
But the Tatars have brushed this off, saying they do not trust Moscow.