Vadim Prystaiko, the first deputy foreign minister of Ukraine, said yesterday that Ukraine will establish autonomy for the Crimean Tatars who fled from Crimea after the Russian invasion.
Speaking to Daily Sabah on the sidelines of the International Conference on 25 Years of Turkey-Ukraine Relations organized by the Center for Strategic Research (SAM) on May 25 in Ankara, Deputy Foreign Minister Prystaiko said after 25 years of their independence, Ukraine now understands that they made mistake in not allowing the creation of an autonomous Crimean Tatar republic. ''The autonomous Republic of Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia, was based on geographical boundaries not on ethnic specifications. Now, our president and the Turkish president have come to the understanding that we have to create a place for Crimean Tatars where they can feel at home,'' Prystaiko said. ''In this regard, our president came with an initiative for Parliament to create an autonomous Crimean Tatar republic,'' he added.
Crimean Tatars, an indigenous population of Turkic origin, were deported from Crimea to Central Asia in 1944 under the Soviet leader Josef Stalin, who wanted to punish the community. They began returning from exile some two decades ago and pledged their loyalty to Ukraine. However, over the 20 years of Ukraine's independence, the problems of the Crimean Tatars have remained mostly unsolved. Prior to Russia's illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, about 270,000 Crimean Tatars were living in Crimea, approximately 13 percent of the total population. It is believed that around 50,000 Crimean Tatars have had to leave Crimea since 2014. The Crimean Tatars in Crimea are the main targets of the Russian occupational authorities' pressure. A total of 20 are being held in Russian prisons. In April 2017, the International Court of Justice ordered Russia to stop the discrimination against the Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea.
On May 18, 2016, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stressed that it was necessary to create a national autonomy of Crimean Tatars with full guarantees of equal rights and freedoms that are extended to ethnic Ukrainians, Russians and other groups on the peninsula. In April 2017, the bill on the status of Crimean Tatars was registered in the Ukrainian Parliament. On May 11, 2017, Ukraine's Constitutional Commission decided to create a working group to draft proposals of amendments to the constitution of Ukraine regarding the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, with the commission holding its first meeting on May 22. President Poroshenko recently explained that the establishment of the Autonomy of Crimean Tatars requires 300 votes out of 450 in Ukrainian Parliament.
Commenting on the current level of bilateral relations between Turkey and Ukraine, Deputy Foreign Minister Prystaiko praised the strategic political relations between the countries and underlined the fact that Ukraine considers Turkey a "natural partner."
Providing details about the ongoing Minsk process to restore peace in eastern Ukraine, Prystaiko said that the currently pro-Russian forces have not withdrawn and that this situation has not allowed them to move further in their political dialogue, stalling the settlement of the crisis. However, Prystaiko did underline the significance of the Minsk agreement. ''Over the last two and a half years, we have been working on an agreement called "the Minsk Agreement," and this is the only agreement. This agreement is not perfect, and in Ukraine, we believe that it's not fair that this it is the only legal mechanism to stop aggression and to stop the advancement of troops,'' he said. ''Now, we are in a very long negotiation period. In a couple of days, I'll be going to Berlin for another round of negotiations with the deputy ministers of foreign affairs, and this is a special mechanism established by the leaders of Minsk,'' Prystaiko added. ''In addition, all the four Minsk leaders will also gather soon, so all of these political initiatives should lead to greater success,'' he concluded.