Casual observance of the news from Crimea is enough to evidence troubling signs of nationalism and thuggery aimed at yielding the peninsula to Russian control. For the second day running masked, hooded pro-Russian militia have prevented European monitors from entering Crimea. Armed pro-Russian thugs in military-style combat fatigues have consistently repelled the monitors and stopped photo-journalists from taking photos or video footage. The capacity of a uniformed militia to intimidate has a troubling history in Europe.
Over forty military and civilian monitors from the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe tried to enter Crimea, but left after several hours of negotiation, saying they would return to the Ukrainian town of Kherson to plan the way forward in terms of monitoring the control being exerted by the newly constituted Crimean parliament. The observers are seeking to conduct a monitoring mission with a strong emphasis on ensuring that the human rights of the various ethnic groups in Crimea are being respected. Sadly, the prima facie evidence indicates that the pro-Russian militia are using strong-arm tactics, including using whips, to scare anyone but Russian ethnics from making any public statement about their opinion of the future sovereignty of Crimea.
“We are just trying to go through here as guests of the Ukrainian government under an OSCE mandate,” an observer told Agence France-Presse. “We’re going to try and negotiate with these people here.” The last two days have shown that there is little hope of any independent evaluation of the mood of the people in Crimea and the Russian government has spent that time redoubling its military presence there.
Here is some anecdotal evidence of harassment and intimidation by pro-Russian militia from Amnesty International:
“On 5 March 2014, a group of about 40 women staged a peaceful protest in front of the Ukrainian Naval headquarter in Simferopol. They were holding handwritten placards calling for peace and denouncing Russia’s military intervention in Crimea. Within minutes, they were confronted by some 100 aggressive men who identified themselves as the Crimean Self Defence League and grabbed and tore to pieces their placards, and forced them to leave.”
“On 5 March, a group of human rights monitors from EuroMaydan-SOS travelling from Simferopol to Evpatoriya tried to follow a column of around 20 military vehicles that had no number plates and no markings that would indicate which forces they belonged to. Their car was stopped, and all those inside ordered to get out at gunpoint. The military personnel ordered the activists to stop following them and go back. They refused to explain who they were and what they were doing in Crimea. When the activists insisted on their right to travel freely in Ukraine and refused to drive away, the men punctured the tires of their car and left.”
“A journalist from the media outlet “Topics of the Week – Crimea” told Amnesty International how he was attacked by a group of men identifying themselves as the Crimean Defence League when he tried to film the demonstration by the group of women in Simferopol on 5 March. The men pushed him into the road and told him to go away or they would beat him. The Crimean police officers who were standing about 30 metres away did not react to the incident. A journalist from Kerch.fm was attacked at 1pm on 6 March when she and a colleague visited the border ferry crossing which they heard had been occupied by Russian forces. She was threatened by men wearing Russian Cossack uniforms and men from the Crimean Self Defence League who told her “Switch off your camera or we will kill you.”
What appears almost certain is that Russia will engineer support through a referendum to annex Crimea, whether that act is legal or not, whether that act is in the interests of the Ukrainians or not, or even without any attempt to protect the minority Ukrainian and Tatars that live in Crimea. The West must act swiftly with ever-increasing sanctions against those who are responsible for this situation. Exclusion from the EU, visa withdrawals and freezing traceable assets in the EU of identifiable targets would be a start while supporting the new Ukrainian government. Democracy comes at a price, and the cost of ignoring that is the brown shirt tactics you see above, dressed up as ‘nationalism’; you and I may call it repressive thuggery.