Two Differing Approaches to the Mobilization in Crimea

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 157

The flag of Crimean Tatars (Source: Freedom House)

Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the peninsula has developed two completely different worlds. The first is the occupation administration itself, which was established by Russia right after annexation. Primarily, efforts were directed at “reawakening” the Russian identity within the Eastern Slavs of Crimea. The second is the Crimean Tatar community. On the one hand, this world became self-isolated from the rest of the pro-Russian society in Crimea by the actions of the Crimean Tatars themselves, as well as from those Crimean Tatars who actively collaborate with the occupation administration. Yet, on the other, the occupational authorities created this world hoping to deprive the indigenous peoples of Crimea of any political representation. Until February 2022, these two worlds pretended to exist independent of the other. Both sides knew that they faced geopolitical incompatibility with each other and supported different futures for Crimea. Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine on February 24 has changed that status quo.

On September 21, Crimea and Sevastopol started their portion of the “partial mobilization” decree signed by Putin. First, the occupation authorities announced a ban on former officers and soldiers leaving their residences, together with the requirement for all to report to the mobilization centers (, September 23). Moreover, it was announced that headquarters and local centers would be immediately created to facilitate the mobilization (KIAnews, September 21). On September 25, leader of the occupation authorities, Sergey Aksyonov, declared that the mobilization had been fully completed (, September 25). Aksyonov added that his son had also been mobilized and would go to war (, September 23). In Sevastopol, the completion of mobilization efforts was announced on September 26 (RIA Novosti, September 26). However, unofficially, the mobilization has continued (, October 7).

The main training centers for the newly mobilized recruits are located in Sevastopol. Aksyonov and Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev personally visited these training camps (, September 23). Razvozhayev and Aksyonov closely coordinated the mobilization process and established the Special Commission on Mobilization. This body handles violations of the law on mobilization and overall coordination of the process (, October 3). Any controversial cases during the partial mobilization in Sevastopol were sent to the Russian General Staff (, October 6). Most respondents to pollsters in Sevastopol said the mobilization had adversely impacted their families and friends (, October 3).

Moreover, the speaker of the Crimean occupation parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, stated that it is essential to study the mistakes made during this mobilization campaign and make the necessary adjustments. Furthermore, Konstantinov suggested organizing a permanent training regime for all men on the peninsula. He believes the mobilization must embrace the whole of Crimean society, not exclusively some parts (, September 29). Approximately 2,000 men were mobilized from Crimea and Sevastopol—or 3 to 4 percent of all reservists in the peninsula (, September 21). According to official numbers, 400 men were asked to return home because they had been mistakenly mobilized (TASS, 26 September). In addition, the authorities reported it as fraud when conscripts tried to independently buy uniforms for themselves (, October 7).

The main training center for the mobilized Crimeans is located at the training grounds of the 810th Separate Guards Marine Brigade in Cossack Bay (, October 3). Instructors with recent war experience in Ukraine teach theoretical and practical skills to fighters. The aim has been to rejuvenate the soldiers’ skills and combine them with lessons learned in Ukraine. The coordination process (slazhyvanie) is designed to last for 25 days, after which the initial tasks are set for each unit.

Overall, Crimea and Sevastopol were among the first regions to answer Ramzan Kadyrov’s call for self-mobilization of all Russian regions (, September 16). In the information space, peninsula media declared that the mobilization will bringing a swifter end to the war (, September 27).

In this respect, particular attention should be paid to the reaction of the local authorities to those Crimeans who left Russia to flee mobilization. According to Konstantinov, all these people should be deprived of the right to return to Russia. Thus, a proposal was presented to establish a legal basis against all those who have left Russia since the beginning of the mobilization (, October 1). For those Crimeans taking part in the invasion of Ukraine, they will be granted land in Crimea upon completing their service (, September 29).

For the indigenous peoples of Crimea, and many other non-Slavic nations of Russia, the mobilization has had a completely different narrative and discourse. The mobilization has triggered dramatic processes that could cause tragic repercussions for these nations and their peoples.

Since the invasion began, the world of the Crimean Tatars began to crumble quickly. Eventually, Moscow commenced the mobilization, which triggered unprecedented processes in the Crimean Tatar nation. From a historical point of view, the nation is facing its next phase of emigration from Crimea, but this time in the 21st century. Paradoxically, one main reason for the mass emigrations during the 18th and 19th centuries was Moscow’s decision to draft Tatars into the Russian army. The Crimean Tatars massively refused these attempts and emigrated to the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, it became a deeply rooted protest against Moscow, as Crimea fought against Russia for more than three centuries.

In truth, geopolitical events in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea region often affect the destiny of the Crimean Tatars. And today, the nation is again facing the same problem, which may trigger another massive exodus. Already, many young Crimean Tatars have left the peninsula with their families, moving to Kazakhstan, Georgia, Turkey and onward to Europe. This will tremendously impact the demography of Crimea and threatens to create a homogeneous environment. The Tatars’ main problem is the absence of geopolitical synergy with those who control the peninsula: Many Crimean Tatars support Kyiv’s sovereignty and are fighting on the Ukrainian side.

Of course, Russian propaganda declares that many Crimean Tatars are fighting on the Russian side. For example, the mufti of Crimea and Sevastopol, Emirali Ablaev, recently met with the mobilized Crimean Tatars and stated that Russia is a multinational country (KIAnews, September 29). Moreover, he indirectly referred to a legitimate representative organ of the Crimean Tatars, the Mejlis, characterizing those who fight against the nation’s interests as an enemy of Russia (, October 3). The pro-Russian collaborationists from the organization Inkiszav recently declared that the indigenous people of Crimea support the mobilization and the “special military operation” (Crimea-news, October 15). Even so, most of those who present for this declaration supported Russia even before the annexation of Crimea.

From the other side, Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, called the mass mobilization of Crimean Tatars a genocide (, September 26). In this respect, perhaps the most significant paradox and tragedy of the mobilization in Crimea is that many of the young Crimeans who once served in the Ukrainian Armed Forces are now forced to fight against their fellow citizens.

Unfortunately, mobilization in Russia is a massive geopolitical act that causes enormous repercussions for the wider Eurasia region. In this light, its announcement and execution have triggered unpredictable consequences and an uneasy future for the Crimean Tatars, Crimea’s demography and the peninsula as a whole.