Ukraine Military Finds Its Footing Against Pro-Russian Rebels

NYT | JULY 6, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — When pro-Russian rebels first fanned out across eastern Ukraine in April, seizing public buildings, ousting local officials and blockading streets and highways, the government’s security forces — a ragtag lot of poorly equipped and understaffed military and police units — were largely paralyzed by dysfunction and defection. They seemed to remain so for months.

In the past week, however, after President Petro O. Poroshenko called off a cease-fire and ordered his troops to end the rebellion by force, an entirely different Ukrainian military appeared to arrive at the front. Soldiers retook an important checkpoint at the Russian border, routed insurgents from the long-occupied city of Slovyansk, and, on Sunday, began to tighten a noose around the regional capital of Donetsk ahead of a potentially decisive showdown.

The insurgency is far from over, and Ukraine’s leaders say they still fear a war with Russia that they would certainly lose. Still, the recent success, however tentative, reflects what officials and analysts described as a remarkable, urgent transformation of the military and security apparatus in recent months.

“The military themselves learned to fight,” said Mykola Sungurovskyi, the director of military programs at the Razumkov Center, a policy research organization here in the capital of Ukraine.

By most standards, the Ukrainian armed forces remain in a pitiful state. But they have benefited from the enlistment of thousands of volunteers into new militias, financial donations by ordinary citizens — including a Kiev Internet-technology entrepreneur who raised $35,000 and built a surveillance drone — and an aggressive push to repair and upgrade armored personnel carriers and other equipment.

There has also been aid from abroad. The United States has sent $23 million in security assistance since March, including $5 million for night-vision goggles, body armor, communications equipment and food.

But even more important, experts said, was a reorganization of the chain of command and a crucial psychological shift: Soldiers surmounted a reluctance to open fire on their own countrymen, a serious issue after riot police officers killed about 100 protesters last winter during civil unrest centered on Maidan, the main square in Kiev.

“They have overcome that psychological barrier in which the military were afraid to shoot living people,” Mr. Sungurovskyi said. “They had this barrier after Maidan, after the death of that hundred — not simply to shoot living people, but their own people. After the forces were restructured a bit, and it became clear who were our people, who were foes, the operations became more effective.”

The biggest test is just ahead.

After fleeing south from Slovyansk, large numbers of rebels appeared Sunday to be regrouping in Donetsk, a city of one million, where any push to contain them will involve dangerous urban warfare. Signaling resilience, insurgents on Sunday seized a building belonging to the state penitentiary service.

In Luhansk, the region’s second-largest city after Donetsk, other rebels attacked a jail, allowing eight prisoners to escape. In each case, officials said the rebels, after suffering losses, appeared to be searching for weapons. In recent days, rebel leaders have pleaded with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to send additional aid.

Officials and experts agreed that the most urgent task facing the Ukrainian government was sealing its border with Russia to prevent any further influx of fighters or weapons, and the military has made progress doing so. And though he is hardly trusted by Ukrainians, Mr. Putin also sent signals that he would not order a full-scale invasion, announcing, for instance, that Parliament had withdrawn formal authorization for him to use military force in Ukraine.

It is not clear why Mr. Putin eased some of the military pressure, but it appears as if he has decided to put his emphasis on peace talks being coordinated by a close friend of his, Viktor V. Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian businessman and political operative. Although similarly supported by the leaders of Germany and France, the talks have sputtered.

While the fears among officials of a Russian invasion and psychological barriers among Ukrainian troops were quite real, experts said that most of the obstacles confronting the Ukrainian military were far more concrete.

When Russia invaded Crimea in February, for example, Ukraine’s military had shrunk to roughly 128,000 troops, including civilians — about one-tenth of its size during Soviet Union times. Of those, only a small fraction were prepared for fighting, said Oleksiy Melnyk, a former Air Force pilot and now a security analyst at the Razumkov Center.

“They were wearing uniforms and going to work every day,” Mr. Melnyk said. “The difference with the civilians was just the clothes. They were not trained. They were not equipped.” The military’s vehicles were decrepit and its weapons outdated, its budget routinely pilfered by corrupt officials.

For instance, from 2005 to 2013, according to public Defense Ministry inventories, the number of helicopters fell to fewer than 75, from more than 300. In February, as Russian forces entered Crimea, there was virtually no way to fight back.

The insurrection that followed in the east then presented an entirely different — and even more confounding — challenge: an insidious type of warfare involving masked rebels who looked and acted like terrorists but had access to weapons and intelligence from Russia, among the world’s most advanced military powers.

As Ukrainian leaders considered how hard to push back, they had to confront the danger to civilians of fighting in heavily populated cities, as well as the risk of provoking a full-scale invasion by the conventional Russian forces massing along the border.

It is a fight that experts said had to be carried out largely by special forces, carefully coordinated with the conventional military, including artillery and air force squadrons, which, in the end, have had a limited role.

It is also a fight that Ukraine was not prepared for, but one that Andriy Parubiy, the leader of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said should grab the attention of the world’s major powers because of its implications for modern conflict.

“I am convinced that there are many other countries which are not ready — properly speaking, their armed forces are not ready, are unprepared, for this type of war,” Mr. Parubiy said in an interview last week. “We, of course, studied the experience of both Croatia and Israel, but here a lot of new features are added. And, if Russia sees that this experience is successful, this experience can very easily be used in any Baltic countries, and even in Belarus and Kazakhstan.”

Mr. Parubiy invoked Igor Girkin, a Russian military intelligence officer who has been a commander of the insurrection in eastern Ukraine, under the name of Igor Strelkov. “If we do not stop Putin here,” Mr. Parubiy said, “nobody knows where his Girkins will appear next.”

In the interview, Mr. Parubiy laid his hands on a table and, exhaling in disgust, described the paralysis of the initial response to the insurgency.

“The key tactic of Russian saboteurs is: Capture a building, station an armed garrison there and have a picket around, mostly Communists, who would provide a human shield,” he said, offering an example he witnessed. “They had it this way in Luhansk. There is a five-story building where each window is a firing spot and, right next to the building, are 500 people — a picket.

“When we tell Alpha, a special unit of the S.B.U., whose purpose is to fight terrorists, to enter the building and conduct the operation, they tell us, ‘Take away the people because the operation can only be conducted when we are able to enter without a scuffle with civilians,’ ” he said. “When we tell the interior troops to make a corridor and drag away civilians, they say, ‘How can we do that when terrorists in windows point guns at us? We’re not able to fulfill this task.’ ”

The military was so underfinanced that the government issued a plea for donations from citizens. Some of the country’s richest businessmen used their personal fortunes to create militias that are now effectively part of a new national guard.

“As one colleague from the United States said, we have to repair a plane during flight,” Mr. Parubiy said.

As part of a continuing shake-up of the military, last week Mr. Poroshenko appointed a new defense minister — the country’s fourth this year — and a new chief of staff of the armed forces.

Visiting Slovyansk on Sunday, where he praised troops for expelling rebels and where the authorities were delivering food, water and other aid, the new defense minister, Valeriy Heletey, said that the effort to crush the insurgents would continue.

“We will conduct the antiterrorist operation in its active phase until not a single terrorist will remain on the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” he said.

Mr. Melnyk, the security analyst, cautioned that despite recent improvements, the military’s work was far from done. “It’s still premature to make the assessment that, wow, this is a great success,” he said. “There’s something going on in Donetsk. Those separatists, terrorists — whatever we want to call them — have decided to make one stronghold.”

Daniel Rzhenetskyy contributed reporting.


Recent Ukraine human rights violations released in ‘White Book’ report

RT | July 03, 2014

A woman reacts as she stands near flowers and lit candles placed in memory of people killed in recent street battles between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian supporters, outside a trade union building in the Black Sea port of Odessa, May 4, 2014. (Reuters / Gleb Garanich)

A senior Russian human rights official has called the updated research on human rights violations in Ukraine a forced measure, and an attempt to call for action from the international community to stop the violence.

This was a forced measure. This was not someone’s whim but a reaction to the current situation, and the situation in the South and South-East of Ukraine is extremely grave, disastrous,” the Foreign Ministry’s Plenipotentiary for Human Rights, Konstantin Dolgov, said in a televised interview.

He dismissed allegations the report was propaganda. “There is some reaction to the White Book – some partners attempt to describe it as propaganda. But it consists of facts, and facts cannot be called propaganda,” he said.

A woman killed during an artillery shelling of the Donetsk railway station (Image from

The updated report contains the descriptions of human rights violations, and abuses of the law that happened between April and July, including the death of Anatoly Klyan, the 68-year old cameraman from Russia’s Channel One television, the latest casualty among Russian journalists. The first version of the White Book covered the events from the end of November 2013 to the end of March 2014.

The situation has been aggravated in all areas – the punitive operation continues, the military are indiscriminately shelling whole areas, there are air raids going on,” Dolgov noted. “We also recall the massacre in Odessa and the fact that these horrifying events are not investigated to this moment,” he added.

Ukrainian punitive squads treat Russian journalists from Lifenews channel as terrorists (Image from

Dolgov underlined that by publishing the White Book report the Foreign Ministry wanted to start an international probe into the violations. “Let us start an investigation with active participation of the international community – the UN, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe – so that all the culprits could be prosecuted,” the Russian diplomat said.

He also added that experts continue to collect and analyze reports on Ukrainian abuse, and new updates would follow if the tragic necessity arises – like more rights violations and more casualties among the civilian population.

I would like to repeat – we would prefer that such White Books were never written. Let us all hope that this will be the last one and the situation will soon calm down and with the help of Russian diplomats and our partners we would stop the shooting and launch a full-fledged political dialogue,” Dolgov said.

The most important thing is to stop the violence and the punitive operation,” the Russian diplomat emphasized.

A mortar shell fired by Ukrainian military hit an ordinary residential building in Andreyevka village (Image from

Fresh examples of violence from the White Book report:

On June 3-4, 2014, using heavy artillery, the Ukrainian National Guard attacked Slavyansk and vicinity. Eight air strikes hit the outskirts of Sloviansk. Therefore, the central water main was damaged, and the water supply to Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and the nearby villages stopped. There are victims among the civilian population.

On June 30, 2014, In the Donetsk Region the pro-Kiev military killed a cameraman from Russia’s Channel One television, Anatoly Klyan.In the same area some people destroyed a car carrying reporters from Russia’s Lifenews, the journalists escaped by luck. Earlier, reporters from the MIR-24 and REN-TV channels also reported shots fired at them.

On May 31, 2014, the Prior of the St Nickolas Church in the town of Novoaidar said he was tortured by the Ukrainian military who arrested him over charges of attacking polling stations. The priest showed the marks on his hands and said the torturers stepped on the closed handcuffs to make them as tight as possible.

In the early hours of May 30, 2014, unidentified persons threw petrol bombs into the Kiev office of a Russian radio station, destroying it.

The full updated White Book report is available on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

Statement of Concerned Scholars on the Current Predicament of the Crimean Tatars

A statement by scholars of Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East urging all states, agencies, organizations, and individuals to support the national and human rights of the Crimean Tatars and hold the Russian authorities in illegal occupation of Crimea accountable for the violation of these rights.

As of 12 June 2014, 238 scholars whose work relates to Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East have signed this statement. These scholars span five continents and 23 countries.

Statement of Concerned Scholars Regarding the Current Predicament of the Crimean Tatars

The Crimean Tatars are a nation with a long and rich history going back many centuries. Because of their origins and the significance of their early modern state—the Crimean Khanate, established in the early fifteenth century—their history and culture has many connections with the histories and cultures of Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East. We, the undersigned, are scholars whose work relates to these regions. We would like to express our concern at the situation of the Crimean Tatars since the Russian Federation’s intervention into and illegal annexation of Crimea.

1) Unlike Russians and Ukrainians, the Crimean Tatars have no homeland other than Crimea. Ever since the Crimean Khanate was invaded and abolished by Russia in 1783, in violation of the Treaty of Kuchuk Kajnardja of 1774 in which Russia pledged to respect the khanate’s independence, the Crimean Tatars have been the object of systematic and wholesale oppression. They suffered successive waves of ethnic cleansing and subsequent forced migration to the Ottoman Empire at the hands of imperial Russia throughout the nineteenth century. On 18 May 1944 the entire Crimean Tatar nation was deported to Central Asia, the Urals, and Siberia. The mass deportation constituted an act of genocide as during and after it about half of the deportees perished from hunger, dehydration, and disease. It was only after the breakup of the USSR and attainment of Ukrainian independence in 1991 that the majority of the surviving Crimean Tatars and their descendants were able, with great effort and hardship, to return to their homeland. Today their population there is about 300,000. Because of their catastrophic history under the rule of St. Petersburg and Moscow, which has resulted in massive national trauma, the vast majority of Crimean Tatars are loyal to Ukraine and remain adamant in their opposition to the Russian annexation of Crimea.

2) The Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 was achieved through a covert military operation under cover of which a coup occurred on 27 February, installing a new local government in Simferopol and declaring a referendum that was at first concerned with increased autonomy, and a few days later, secession of Crimea from Ukraine and accession to Russia. This was done contrary to the Constitution of Ukraine and that of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and without even a clear option to vote for the status quo, as one option was to join Russia and the other virtual independence from Ukraine. The referendum was held contrary to all norms for referenda of this importance—such as the possibility for free public discussion of the ramifications of a vote to secede. Moreover, instead of monitoring certified by internationally recognized agencies, it was carried out under the watchful eyes of masked Russian troops and armed local “self-defense” vigilantes. The result, an official 83% turnout and 97% vote to join Russia, was clearly falsified, as virtually the entire Tatar population and much of the Ukrainian and Russian population boycotted the vote. There is considerable evidence that the turnout was no more than 30-50% and that only half of those who actually turned out voted for secession. A survey made by two respected polling companies just prior to the Russian intervention indicated that at most 41% of the Crimean population would opt for joining Russia. In any event, since the vote was carried out without strict adherence to accepted norms, it is impossible to determine what the true turnout and result was. The actual annexation of Crimea by Russia a few days after the illegal referendum of 16 March was in violation of numerous treaties and agreements, and of international law.

3) The Crimean Tatar national assembly, the Qurultay, and its representative-executive body, the Mejlis, have reaffirmed the will of their people to remain in Ukraine and categorically condemn the Russian takeover. The Crimean Tatar population is currently under huge pressure to accept Russian citizenship—refusal can mean loss of work, pension, access to schooling, and other social benefits. In addition to their fundamental distrust of Russia, which is today widely recognized to be an authoritarian state, the Crimean Tatars are at risk of a decline in basic freedoms and increased violations of their human rights. They are fearful that should they continue to reject the new regime they could face mass repression and even the violence and trauma of another mass deportation. These concerns have been expressed in a recent resolution from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). In the first days of May the human rights situation of the Crimean Tatars deteriorated drastically. The Russian authorities banned their leader, Mustafa Jemilev, from entering Crimea for five years and declared protests against this ban to be extremist acts while heavily fining participants. The chief prosecutor in Crimea officially warned the head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, that it will be “liquidated and banned” should it continue to organize “extremist” activities. The Russian authorities prohibited the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatar nation on 18 May 2014. For the past 22 years 30-35 thousand Crimean Tatars and others would gather on this date in the central square of the Crimean capital of Simferopol to mourn the deported and the dead. This time tens of thousands of paramilitary police were brought into Simferopol to prevent this traditional gathering in the center of the city. Attack helicopters hovered overhead to drown out and intimidate gatherings that were held on the outskirts of Simferopol and in Bakhchysarai. Searches were carried out in the homes of prominent Crimean Tatar activists and Mejlis head Chubarov was threatened with criminal prosecution.

4) The international community has condemned the seizure of Crimea and does not recognize the legality of its annexation (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262, 27 March 2014 and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Resolution 1988, 9 April 2014).

5) The Qurultay, the elected assembly of the Crimean Tatars, and its representative-executive body, the Mejlis,

  • condemn the illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea and refuse recognition of Crimea as part of the Russian Federation;
  • demand recognition of the indigenous status of the Crimean Tatars;
  • demand the establishment of Crimean Tatar national and territorial autonomy, and self-government in Ukrainian Crimea;
  • demand the full rehabilitation and restoration of the rights of the Crimean Tatars and provision of aid for the return of those who still remain in exile in former Soviet territories, including restitution of their property and compensation for their national trauma.

We, the undersigned, urge all states, agencies, organizations, and individuals to join us in our support for the national and human rights of the Crimean Tatars—including their cultural, social, political, and economic rights—and to hold the Russian authorities in illegal occupation of Crimea accountable for the violation of these rights.

Russia resurrects Soviet ways in treatment of the Crimean Tatars

Halya Coynash | 07.07.14

In yet another ominous echo from Russia’s Soviet past, Refat Chubarov, Head of the Crimean Tatar representative body, the Mejlis, has been prevented from returning to his native Crimea.  In Soviet times dissident and champion of Crimean Tatar rights Petro Grigorenko, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and many others were stripped of their citizenship while abroad, thus dooming them to exile.  In the Crimea under Russian occupation, the circumstances are different, however the mentality remains depressingly familiar.

Chubarov and others had left the Crimea on July 4 to attend a meeting of the Mejlis in Henychesk, Kherson oblast.  The meeting was held outside the Crimea for the first time since Ukraine’s independence to enable veteran Crimean Tatar leader and former head of the Mejlis, Mustafa Jemliev to attend.  The latter was prohibited from entering the Crimea in late April and despite pretence from the Russian authorities that no ban had been imposed, has been physically stopped at the border.

Returning on Saturday, Chubarov was met by the self-proclaimed ‘prosecutor’, Natalya Poklonskaya, as well as large numbers of Russian OMON riot police and military.  Poklonskaya read out a document informing him of a five-year-ban, without providing any explanation. She also ignored Chubarov’s demand, in full compliance even with the new ‘constitution’ of the Crimea, that he be informed in the Crimean Tatar language. 

The Crimean Human Rights Centre ‘Action’ has condemned the ban on a representative of the indigenous people of the Crimea as unacceptable.  It calls on those presently in power in the Crimea to lift the ban on Chubarov and Jemiliev and to “not stir up inter-ethnic enmity and not exacerbate the already difficult situation in the Crimea”.

The Centre believes that the occupation regime is deliberately violating the rights of Crimean Tatars, forcing them to leave the Crimea to which they returned after Ukraine’s independence.  There have been numerous violations of Crimean Tatars’ rights over the months since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea.  As well as the torture and murder of Reshat Ametov, these have included searches and even an official warning issued to the chief editor of the Mejlis newspaper for supposed ‘extremism’; the ban on traditional mass gatherings to remember the victims of the Deportation in May and to mark Crimean Tatar Flag Day.   After the latter ban, Chubarov warned that the regime was trying to segregate the Crimean Tatars.  It has now delivered a profound insult to Chubarov himself, and in view of his position, to the entire Crimean Tatar people.

The ban comes just 2 days after Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke of the need to ‘consolidate civic solidarity and inter-ethnic harmony”.  During the same address to the Council of Inter-ethnic Relations, Putin countered the situation in the Russian Federation to that of other countries where, he claims, “neo-Nazi organizations are reviving and gaining political weight, and ethnic and religious intolerance, calls to violence are becoming a slogan for forces seeking power.”

Such claims with respect to Ukraine from the Russian leader, as well as those of his adviser, Sergey Glazyev, have long bemused observers.  They seem particularly grotesque when it is under Russian occupation that the Crimean Tatars have found their rights so gravely infringed.  Instead of proving that distrust of Russian rule was unfounded, the new regime is effectively treating all those with dissenting views as the enemy and applying repressive measures against them.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has issued a statement condemning the move.

The Kremlin’s absurd decision is the result of hatred and the chauvinistic policy which the Russian Federation, following Stalin’s tradition, has been carrying out with respect to the Crimean Tatar people since the beginning of the armed occupation and annexation of the Crimea.”

It asserts that the Crimea remains Ukrainian territory and any documents passed by bodies and individuals have no force. Moreover those who infringed Ukrainian legislation by banning Ukrainian national Refat Chubarov entry to the Crimea will be held answerable in law.

The statement calls on the international community and all world human rights organizations to condemn the actions of the Russian Federation and to show full solidarity in this case.

Enforced exile is always a personal tragedy.  In this case, however, a ban has been imposed on the head of the Crimean Tatars’ representative body and this is an affront to all Crimean Tatars.  It is also a test and challenge to western countries who proclaim commitment to rule of law and human rights.  Judging by the statement from France’s ambassador to Russia, Jean-Maurice Ripert that top-level dialogue between Russia and the EU may resume in the near future, it is a test which Europe is in danger of failing, with disastrous consequences for us all.

Russia bans second Tatar leader from Crimea

Channel NewsAsia | 06 Jul 2014

Russia has barred a leading member of Crimea’s pro-Kiev Tatar community from entering his home region for five years after annexing the region from Ukraine in March.

SIMFEROPOL: Russia has barred a leading member of Crimea’s pro-Kiev Tatar community from entering his home region for five years after annexing the region from Ukraine in March.

Refat Chubarov, the chairman of the Tatar assembly, or Mejlis, told AFP on Sunday he had been blocked from crossing into the Black Sea peninsula and handed an official document banning him from Russian territory until 2019.

The decision to bar Chubarov follows an earlier ban to stop Ukranian lawmaker Mustafa Dzhemilev, the respected head of the Tatar minority, from entering the region.

"It feels like an entire state has declared war on me," Chubarov told AFP, after being stopped from crossing the border on Saturday.

"This is a small piece of the huge injustice that is now taking place in Crimea."

Moscow in March annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula following a disputed referendum in which pro-Kremlin authorities said nearly 97 per cent of voters chose to split from Ukraine and join Russia.

Crimea’s 300,000 Muslim Tatars, who make up around 12 per cent of the peninsula’s population, largely boycotted the vote and have faced increasing difficulties since the switch to Russian rule.

The UN says it has documented "serious problems" of harassment and intimidation facing the Tatar community in Crimea amid growing fears of religious persecution among practising Muslims in Crimea.

More than 7,200 people from Crimea — mostly Tatars — have become internally displaced in Ukraine, the UN said in the May report.

The Tatar community has previously said it would push for greater autonomy, while the new Russian authorities have threatened to prosecute community leaders for "extremism".

The authorities banned a key event in May to commemorate 70 years since the Tatars were deported by Stalin, but some 20,000 people defied the edict to hold a peaceful rally.

Chubarov’s deputy pledged that the Tatar assembly will carry on its work and said it would meet Monday to chose a new acting head.

"The Russian authorities are acting in such a way against the Crimean Tatars and their leaders that we have more and more work every day," deputy chairman Akhtem Chijgoz told AFP.

A Turkish-speaking Muslim group, the Tatars were accused of collaborating with Nazi Germany during World War II and deported to Central Asia under former dictator Joseph Stalin.

Nearly half of them died of starvation and disease.

They began returning to Crimea under the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and became Ukrainian citizens after the country’s independence in 1991.

Leader of Crimean Tatars Labeled ‘Extremist,’ Banned From Home

By Allison Quinn
The Moscow Times | Jul. 06 2014

Refat Chubarov, leader of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis

The leader of Crimea’s Tatar community was banned from returning home for a period of five years by the peninsula’s prosecutor on Saturday due to "signs of extremism" allegedly present in a speech he gave a day earlier.

Prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya confirmed the news on Twitter on Sunday, saying simply "[Refat] Chubarov has been banned from entering the Russian Federation for five years."

Chubarov, the current leader of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, was informed of the ban upon attempting to return home from a business trip to the Kherson region of Ukraine, where the ethnic group’s council held a meeting on Saturday with Mustafa Dzhemilev, the former head of the group.

The meeting had to be held outside of Crimea because Dzhemilev himself was previously barred from entering the territory, a move which prompted many human rights activists to warn of a policy of discrimination against the Tatars back in April.

In the aftermath of his own ban, Dzhemilev said he "did not exclude the possibility" that Chubarov would be the next to be ejected from the peninsula.

Chubarov is widely seen as more moderate than Dzhemilev and more willing to cooperate with Russia. Still, "signs of extremism" seen in his speech Saturday were deemed sufficient to impose the ban, according to Rossiskaya Gazeta.

Rossiiskaya Gazeta cited Crimea’s Information and Mass Media Ministry as saying a discussion with the title, "Realizing the Right of the Crimean Tatars to Self-Determination on Their Historic Land — in Crimea" was to blame.

After being informed that he could not return home, Chubarov reportedly demanded that Poklonskaya issue the relevant decree in the language of the Crimean Tatars, something provided for by the peninsula’s new Constitution.

Poklonskaya declined, local news outlet Crimea.Reality reported. Chubarov now has three days to appeal the ban, which he told the regional news website QNA he intends to do.

Human rights activists and observers alike have repeatedly warned of possible unrest among the Crimean Tatar community if they feel that they are being squeezed out or discriminated against.

Russian authorities appear to be acutely aware of such a possibility, having sent riot police to stand by while Chubarov was informed of his ban on Saturday, according to Crimea.Reality.

The news portal reported that six police buses and five police vans had accompanied Poklonskaya when she informed Chubarov of the decision to ban him at the border checkpoint.

The heavy security may have stemmed from disorder that erupted in early May when Dzhemilev’s supporters met him on the border to protest his ban. At that time, there were clashes between police and Crimean Tatars, and Poklonskaya warned that the Crimean Tatar Council would be liquidated if such protests continued.

Most of the outrage over Chubarov’s ban came from Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday, which compared the Tatar leader’s exile to the policies of Josef Stalin during World War II, when he deported the entire Tatar community to Central Asia.

A statement issued by the Ukraine Foreign Ministry said the "absurd" decision to bar Chubarov from his homeland was a result of "the chauvinistic policies that Russia has been implementing against the Crimean Tatars, continuing the tradition of Stalin, from the beginning of the armed occupation of the peninsula to the annexation of Crimea."

President Vladimir Putin issued a decree to rehabilitate the ethnic group in April. At that time, Putin spoke out in favor of doing everything possible to avoid any discrimination against the Tatars.

Islamic Finance Budding Slowly in Russia

By Alexey Eremenko
The Moscow Times | Jun. 29 2014

The Qolşärif Mosque in Kazan, the republic of Tatarstan

There are at least 10 million Muslims in Russia, but only four public organizations where they can invest and borrow in compliance with the Quran.

Islamic finance is a fast-growing field worldwide, and proponents say it offers both ethical and practical benefits to the faithful and non-Muslims alike. Russia, however, lags behind in the industry, analysts and Russian Islamic financiers interviewed by The Moscow Times agreed.

Russian Muslims are slow to change their financial habits, while nonbelievers are plagued by a deep-rooted distrust of Islam — as are, to some extent, the financial authorities, who are in no hurry to adapt economic legislation to facilitate Islamic banking, analysts said.

"The religious renaissance that spans all creeds in Russia does not mean people rush out to seek services that comply with their religion," said Andrei Juravliov, a leading expert on Islamic finance who teaches at Moscow State University.

Still, an Islamic finance industry has been budding over the past decade in Russia, and analysts and players show cautious optimism about its prospects.

"The niche is small, but the demand is better than, say, seven years ago," said Rashid Nizameyev, the head of finance house Amal, which is one of those four venues to provide Islamic banking services.

"There are more believers now … though only a fraction try to actually live by their religion’s customs," said Nizameyev, whose organization is based in Russia’s predominantly Muslim republic of Tatarstan.

No Money From Money

The core tenet of Islamic banking is a ban on riba, or interest, and loaning money for profit. The ban comes straight from the Prophet Muhammad, and is spelled out in the Quran.

On the face of it, such a ban should eliminate any possibility of sharia-compliant banking — but this is not actually the case.

The ban on "riba" prohibits making money from money. So instead, Islamic banks earn profits by co-investing in their clients’ goods and businesses (see table for examples.)


Conventional Banking

Islamic Banking


Consumer Credit / Murabahah

Bank loans money to the client to buy goods and services

Bank buys goods / services for the client, resells it to them

The bank offers: money vs. goods / services

Joint Venturing / Musharakah

Bank loans money to the company, earns money through interest

Bank (co-)invests in a company, earns a portion of any profits

Bank gets money: regardless of company’s performance vs. only if the company turns a profit


Islamic banks are also banned from financial speculation of any kind — where, again, money is made from money — as well as from investing in haram, or sinful, products, such as alcohol, pork and gambling.

The meticulously worded practices have seen a fair share of criticism from those who say they are just a piously worded cover-up for conventional banking.

This may be true in some cases, conceded Nizameyev of Amal.

But in general, true Islamic banking is more client-oriented: banks are supposed to go easy on borrowers in case of emergencies that render clients unable to pay, even up to forgiving their debts, said Juravliov of Moscow State University.

Moral vs. Financial Merit

The ethical nature of Islamic banking operations is one unquestionable — if nonmonetary — advantage of this practice, said Rinat Gabbasov, director of the Russian Center of Islamic Economics and Finance.

It can also at times prove an obstacle. Amal once had to refuse a prospective client who worked in a private security firm that guarded a distillery, said Nizameyev.

"Security services are good in and of themselves — but sadly, alcohol production is not," he said.

The financial merit of the Islamic system is a more complicated issue. Gabbasov said Islamic banking offers better interest rates, and Nizameyev claimed that Amal’s investment portfolio had brought in returns of almost 21 percent in 2013, compared to the market average of 15 percent.

However, Juravliov of Moscow State University said that in general, Islamic banking operations are less profitable than conventional banking, but banks can make up for that by devoting a bigger share of the profits to dividends.

On the other hand, Islamic banking is more client-friendly, he said.

Thanks to its ban on financial speculations, interest in Islamic banking has even peaked worldwide since the last recession — though not necessarily in Russia.

Recent Invention

Nizameyev of Amal embraced finance first and Islam second.

Though always a believer, he was often negligent about practicing his faith until a routine class trip to a mosque as part of a religious studies class at the Kazan State Finance and Economics Institute in Tatarstan changed his ways, he said.

"I just felt something there, on a physical level," the 33-year-old said.

He spent several years in conventional financial organizations before founding Amal, which offers halal financial services, in 2011.

He said that he trained himself in Islamic finance through self-study, though several colleges in Russia now offer courses on the subject.

Islamic finance is generally a recent invention, first developed in the 1960s. It has since grown to an industry with $1.3 trillion in assets as of 2012, according to last year’s Islamic Finance Development Report based on data by Thomson Reuters.

Among the powerhouses of Islamic banking are Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, although banks in many Western countries, including Britain and the United States, also offer halal-friendly banking services.

The first bank to offer Islamic financial services in Russia, Badr-Forte, folded in 2006. The industry has been gradually sprouting ever since and lately seems to be making headway.

Several non-Islamic Russian banks have attracted halal investment in recent years, including Ak-Bars Bank in Tatarstan, which brought in a total of $160 million in two investment deals in 2012 and 2013.

But despite these signs of growth, the country’s pool of officially registered Islamic financial institutions remains limited to two organizations in Tatarstan and two in the republic of Dagestan in the North Caucasus, said Gabbasov of the Russian Center of Islamic Economics and Finance.

Analysts agreed that the Islamic finance market is at an "embryonic stage" in Russia. Juravliov estimated the total volume of assets managed by Russian halal financial institutions at $10 million, a blip on the radar for the country’s banking system, whose total assets stood at 57.4 trillion rubles ($1.7 trillion) in 2013.

Nizameyev declined to disclose the size of Amal’s assets.

Practice What You Preach

The prospects for growth may seem glorious, given the size of Russia’s Muslim population. Muslims were estimated to make up 7 percent of the populace, or about 10 million people, by independent pollster Levada Center in 2013. In 1991, that figure was just 1.5 million.

However, many new believers are slow to change their practical habits, Juravliov said.

"Religion is one thing for them, and everyday life is another," he said.

Russian regulations are also poorly suited to Islamic banking: Russian banks are supposed to refrain from trade operations, in which they would technically engage when providing many Islamic banking services.

"We do not expect the regulations to change any time soon," Nizameyev said with a tinge of fatalism. His company circumvents the problem by registering as a "finance house," not a bank.

Another problem is widespread distrust of Islam, a result of the 15 years of violent turmoil in the largely Muslim North Caucasus, analysts said. Many officials share this antipathy, which is why they have little desire to modify Russian legislation for the industry.

The situation is better in the Muslim heartlands: for example, authorities in Tatarstan are interested in supporting Islamic finance and have hosted numerous conferences on the matter, said Linar Yakupov, head of the republic’s Investment Development Agency.

However, Nizameyev said that this support has yet to translate into any kind of financial backing or tax breaks.

The industry still has plenty of room to grow — Thomson Reuters forecasts that Islamic banking assets in Russia will reach up to $10 billion by 2018, Gabbasov said.

The potential client base includes both Muslims and nonbelievers, analysts said — though some limitations are unavoidable. Amal regularly turns down deals worth tens of millions of rubles on ethical grounds, said Nizameyev.

And some client bases are yet to be evaluated for sharia compliance: for instance, Nizameyev conceded that Amal has no policy on gay clients.

"I am honestly not sure whether we would have a gay person for a client. It has never happened before and we would have to consult our sharia analysts," he said.