The Crimean Tatars, the indigenous population of the Crimean peninsula, are afraid for their future under Russia’s re-annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
They enjoyed a freedom under independent Ukraine that they did not have in Tsarist or Soviet Russia, and they fear that freedom is in jeopardy. Many protested the Russian takeover, and one of their leaders has been murdered, apparently by pro-Russian forces.
They were the inhabitants of the Crimean peninsula before it was annexed by Russia under Catherine the Great in 1783. They had been a semi-independent part of the Ottoman Empire, and, in Russia’s wars with Ottoman Turkey, they were regarded as disloyal. Many fled to Turkey after the Crimean War of 1853-56, in which the British, French and Turks unsuccessfully invaded Crimea, and Turkey still has a large Ukrainian Tatar population.
During the Second World War, Crimean Tatar loyalties were divided. Some fought for the Germans, some joined the Red Army, some fought in the partisan resistance against the German occupation. But in 1944, Stalin ordered the deportation of the Crimean Tartars to Central Asia and Siberia without exception — women, children, old people, crippled people and veterans of the Red Army and partisan resistance. Later they were allowed to return, but there still is a large Crimean Tatar population in Central Asia.
They now are more 12 percent of the population of Crimea, and many of them object to being reincorporated into Russia. Their fears have a real basis, based on history and on the resurgence of Russian ethnic nationalism.
It is not realistic to hope that the Russian Federation, having re-annexed Ukraine, will give it up. The goal of Russian statecraft, from Peter the Great and before, was to have “warm-water ports” on the Baltic and Black Seas for merchant shipping and the Russian navy. Crimea was ruled by Russia for longer than Louisiana and Florida have been part of the United States. No Russian government will willingly allow control of its main naval base on the Black Sea by an anti-Russian government.
The best that can be hoped for is an easing of tensions and a winding down of extreme Russian and Ukrainian nationalism, so that non-Russian and non-Ukrainian minorities can live in peace without being persecuted. The best thing the U.S. government can do is to stop trying to use Ukraine as a proxy for an anti-Russian foreign policy