Crimea under Russian occupation

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The Russian government occupied and annexed Crimea a year ago this week. For a variety of reasons, most of the world today largely ignores that this illegal and unjust land grab ever happened. Even though the occupation was the result of coercion, intimidation, and a fraudulent referendum, few any longer seem to care.

This recent USA Today article has a brief summary of conditions in Ukraine under Russian rule, which include a deteriorating economy, massive inflation, and severe political repression:

Russia's annexation of Crimea was accompanied by a state propaganda campaign that delivered one key message: The Ukrainian government is bad, and Russia is here to help.

That message hasn't changed much since, and anyone who begs to differ appears to be unwelcome.

Last week alone, the registered homes of two investigative journalists were raided by Russian security officials. One of the reporters was briefly detained by officers from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB)—the successor to the KGB—without explanation, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

But that's just one small part of the crackdown.

Some members of the Crimean Tatar community, a Muslim minority group, have been forced out of the region by the local Moscow-backed authorities, persecuted or even mysteriously kidnapped, reportedly in retaliation for their pro-Ukraine stance.

These days, even displaying the Ukrainian flag will earn you charges of "extremism," the Guardian newspaper recently reported.

"The attitude of the de facto Crimean authorities, and their Russian masters, to their opponents is simple: leave or shut up," rights watchdog Amnesty International wrote in a report on rights abuses in Crimea, released Wednesday.

For more details, see this recent report by Amnesty International, which documents the abduction, intimidation, and torture of suspected opponents of Russian rule. As the report notes, "Since Russia annexed Crimea, the de facto authorities are using a vast array of bully-boy tactics to crack down on dissent." Similar human rights abuses were documented in a May 2014 report by the Russian government's own Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights (one of the few government agencies that still included officials willing to criticize the Putin regime).

Both reports indicate that the Crimean Tatar minority has been singled out for particularly severe persecution. Having suffered mass murder, deportation, and other repression under Soviet rule, the Tatars had strong reasons to oppose annexation of their homeland by the regime of ex-KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin, and most of them clearly prefer Ukrainian rule to that of Russia. Sadly, their plight has gotten only a small fraction of the attention usually accorded other historically oppressed minority groups facing a new wave of persecution.

It will not be easy to end Russia's occupation of Crimea, and any such reversal probably won't happen soon. But the least we can do is keep in mind this ongoing injustice, and remember the victims and perpetrators. Hopefully, both will eventually get their just due.