In words that echo Eugene Lyons’ 1953 classic, Our Secret Allies: The Peoples of Russia, Hanna Hopko, chair of the Verkhovna Rada’s foreign affairs committee, says that the non-Russian nations within the borders of the Russian Federation are more important allies of the Free World than are the members of the Russian opposition.
Her comments came at a conference on “The Peoples of the Russian Federation: Between Assimilation and Self-Determination” held on Monday at the Ukrainian Diplomatic Academy and attended by numerous Ukrainian politicians, scholars, activists, religious figures and emigres from Russia.
Hopko said that Ukrainians in particular have a special moral responsibility to cooperate with and provide support to the non-Russians because Moscow had dramatically increased its repression of those nations after Putin invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea and sparked the war in the Donbass.
“The demonstration of Ukrainian solidarity with the peoples of Russia, who are experiencing harassment and russification,” of course, “is dictated not only by moral obligations but also by national interests: We clearly understand that the indigenous peoples are important partners of the Free World, more important than the so-called Russian opposition.”
Other speakers at the session developed these points. Refat Chubarov, the head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, said that there is a direct link between Moscow’s oppression of non-Russians within its borders and the Kremlin’s willingness to attack neighboring countries like Ukraine.
“When the peoples of Russia acquire the right to freely decide their fate, then they will be able to define as well the forms of state formations or state formation in which they would like to realize their rights … It is possible that in place of the present Russian Federation may arise several such state formations,” the Crimean Tatar leader continued.
Mufti Said Ismagilov, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of Ukraine, argued that “the best defense of our Ukrainian national interests is to begin to play in the Russian field. The most harassed in Russia are ethnic minorities, in the first instance Muslim peoples.” And it they who are displaying “the greatest resistance to the policy of assimilation and deprivation of their own languages”.
Syres’ Bolyaien’, the co-creator of the Free Idel-Ural Movement, said that Ukraine was showing the way forward for the peoples now ruled by Moscow. “We believe in Ukraine. We ever more often hear from Bashkirs, Tatars, and Erzyan’s ‘Ukraine turns out to be our supporter!’ These words motivate us to get involved in educational work.”
“We believe in a strong independent Ukraine and in the free future of the peoples of Russia. Glory to Ukraine!” – he concluded.
And Nafis Kashapov, a Tatar activist of Free Idel-Ural now living as an émigré in Warsaw, said that he had come from Poland specially to take part in this conference. “I want to thank Ukrainians for their support of our people. This support is worth its weight in gold for us! And I want to use this opportunity to express enormous gratitude to Mustafa Dzhemilyev who more than once saved me from being handed over to the hands of the Russian special services.”
The meeting called on the Verkhovna Rada to support the draft appeal to the United Nations, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, and national parliaments around the world to condemn “the violation of the rights of the indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation.”