After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin addressed State Duma deputies, Federal Council members, heads of Russian regions and civil society representative in the Kremlin in his speech in Moscow. In it, Putin evokes a sense of historical brotherhood between Crimean Tatars and Russians that was once strained but had been restored since the annexation wherein Crimean Tatars have “returned to their homeland”. Putin even assured to “restore them their rights and clear their good name”. Recently, however, 23 Crimean Tatars have been arrested on terrorism charges. Given that the individuals arrested consist predominantly of Muslims who largely opposed the annexation of Crimea by Russia, it is very likely that their arrest is simply retaliatory. The Crimean Solidarity movement, the group to which some of the arrested individuals belong, has been banned as an extremist group, but I have not found any acts terror associated with this group. Most likely then, this is simply an act to silence and marginalize those holding dissenting opinions and participating in civic activism, which directly contradicts his promises in 2014.
The executive-representative body of the Crimean Tatar, Mejlis, believe the raids are linked to the upcoming Ukrainian presidential election. This is relevant because most Crimean Tatars have yet to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship, meaning they are eligible to vote. The fact that many Crimean Tatars chose to maintain their Ukrainian citizenship contradicts Putin’s claim that Crimean inhabitants freely and wholeheartedly voted for the annexation. If that was true, Crimeans probably wouldn’t be so reluctant to embrace Russian citizenship. Clearly, these individuals are being used to set an example. This is obviously an intimidation tactic to suppress civic activism in opposition to the Russian government. The voice of exiled individuals in promoting free speech abroad throughout history in the Russian context has been essential in providing a voice outside of an oppressive society and in this case, Russia is squashing just that.