Crimean leader on Russian security services in occupied south Ukraine - NV Interview

1 August, 10:56 PM
Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Refat Chubarov (Photo:Oleksandr Medvedev/ NV)

Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Refat Chubarov (Photo:Oleksandr Medvedev/ NV)

In an interview with NV Radio, published on Aug. 1, Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, Refat Chubarov, spoke about the reach of Russian security services in southern Ukraine and their work to facilitate the annexation of Crimea.

NV: The former head of Ukraine’s SBU security service in Crimea, Oleh Kulinich, was detained on July 16. He’s charged with treason. Law enforcement officials maintain he was working with Russia’s FSB to undermine Ukraine’s defense. What can you say about him?

Chubarov: I don’t have any personal insight into this Kulinich guy. But we hear things from our friends in Kherson Oblast and would be willing to share what we know with law enforcement.

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I can say, however, that the near-instantaneous fall of Kherson Oblast has shed some light on some unsavory aspects of the SBU. Pity that took an occupation for us to learn about those. Russian troops seized the SBU offices so very quickly and got hold of vital documents there – including the ones detailing certain illegal SBU activity in the region.

As it turns out, as early as 2020, SBU operatives in Kherson were working to undermine the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People and our leaders – due to their anti-Russia activity.

In particular, we were working on a high-profile protest at the boundary between Crimea and Kherson Oblast – one that would see EMPs, Ukrainian MPs, and Mejlis members participate.

These preparations have now been published by Russian media. I’m certain the document is authentic. Some officials criticized and undermined the idea, and published their assessment in Ukrainian media. Is that even in their purview?

NV: I’m sure it’s not.

Chubarov: I could go on for a while, but it boils down to this: the Kherson SBU branch had people working on directions from Russia. And they are working to undermine anyone who was trying to make southern Ukraine more resilient to a potential Russian invasion. This included undermining and degrading the Mejlis.

NV: Can we assume these people no longer work at SBU’s Kherson branch? We do have a handful of names, but surely there are more people who are responsible for this activity of theirs you’ve outlined.

Chubarov: I suspect some are still there. This whole thing has to be investigated. Some officers were giving illegal – or even criminal – orders, while others followed them. We ought to accordingly hold them responsible.

NV: Former Ukrainian justice and foreign ministers were recently charged with treason, for their work in signing the infamous 2010 Kharkiv Pact with Russia, which extended Russia’s Black Sea Fleet basing rights in Crimea. What was going on in Crimea after this treaty signed?

Chubarov: The demeanor of Russian agents in Crimea changed right after the pact. We were used to certain pressures and Russian meddling in our affairs even prior to that – appointments, Russian investment, and cultural expansion on the peninsula. But once the Russians had their presence in Crimea extended, they began treating the peninsula as their territory. This was especially true of Russian security services.

I’ve had conversations with former (Ukrainian) presidents, and without naming names… Although, why not? I recall a conversation with (former president, 2005-2010) Viktor Yushchenko, well before the Kharkiv Pact, where he told me that “Whatever Crimea-related decision is made, Russian security services report on it to Moscow within hours.”

That was the extent of their infiltration of Crimea’s administration. Yushchenko did a lot to uncover Russian agents – covert and otherwise – and disrupt their integration with Ukraine’s security services. He made the decision to suspend the so-called cooperation between them. It was very helpful in distancing Crimea away from Russian security services.

But then Yanukovych was elected, and it all had a triumphant comeback – most notably in the signing of the Kharkiv Pact.

We had a session of the Kurultai of the Crimean Tatar People, where we voted to denounce the treaty, as we clearly saw that the Russian naval base was entrenching itself on our Crimean land.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was instrumental in the 2014 invasion of Crimea. Its units were the first ones to seize key facilities. Moscow’s agents, embedded at the naval base, were the primary coordinators of the Russian aggression in Crimea.

NV: Is it fair to say that the Kharkiv Pact laid the groundwork for annexing Crimea?

Chubarov: They could have perhaps found another pretext. But can we imagine (Russian dictator Vladimir) Putin being ready to launch the invasion there and then if Ukraine refused to sign the treaty? No, I don’t think Russia was prepared to commence its aggression, conquest, and attempted annexation at that point.

It’s difficult to say how things would have turned out, if Ukrainian leaders stood up for national interests. Events could have taken a very different turn. Perhaps, there would never have been conditions for a direct Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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