Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who wants to join Russia anyway?

It is incomprehensible why some people of Crimea voted to join the Russian Federation and people in other parts of Ukraine would like to follow suit. Perhaps they are uninformed about the state of human rights in Russia and how the Kremlin deals with [political] dissent.

Over 95.5% of voters in Crimea reportedly voted in a hastily organized referendum -- with the backing of masked, armed Russian gunmen -- to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. For many people in Crimea, the referendum - which has been described as a sham display of democracy was a "dream come true". Meanwhile in other parts of Ukraine there are violent attempts by pro-Russian provocateurs to break away from Ukraine and join "the motherland" (Russia).

Russia has a horrendous human rights record, which is worth considering before making a momentous decision to join the Federation. Basic rights like freedom of expression and association are stifled by repugnant laws like the "foreign agent law" that forced the closure of a prominent human rights non-governmental organization (NGO). Anti-gay laws fuel violence against Russia's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. In 2013, a disturbing video surfaced showing Russian neo-Nazis torturing and humiliating gay teens in Russia by allegedly using a social networking site to lure them. Ethnic minorities also face violations. According to The New York Times a gruesome video was circulated online in Russia showing the brutal killing of two men - apparently carried out by a Russian neo-Nazi group in 2007.

Activists and those who dare to criticize the Kremlin do so at their own risk. Members of the Pussy Riot punk band for instance were arrested, imprisoned and persecuted for protesting in 2012. In 2013 two members of the band were reportedly attacked while eating at McDonald's in a Russian city. The country, like North Korea and China, has its share of political prisoners. In 2011 two Russian businessmen were declared political prisoners by Amnesty International.

According to Amnesty International, street protests may soon become a crime in Russia. A draft law has been tabled in the State Duma (Russian parliament) that will further stifle freedom of assembly and expression.

In my view, as part of Russia the people of Crimea will not have the liberty to protest freely - thoughtless of breaking away - as they did under Ukraine. The people will someday realize - after voting to join Russia, adopting the Russian rouble as their currency and moving to Moscow time - that human rights are limited in the Federation they so desperately opted to join. From a human rights perspective it is a bad idea for people in Ukraine or elsewhere to take steps to join the Russian Federation. Reports show that the authorities in Moscow have little regard for human rights -- hence will sooner or later fail to protect or violate the basic rights of the same people whose land they grabbed under the pretext of protecting them from neo-Nazis in Kiev.

The Kremlin claims it reserves the right to intervene in Ukraine to "protect ethnic Russians" from neo-Nazis in Ukraine. In my view, the claim does not make sense - since Russia does not protect people, including ethnic and sexual minorities in Russia from Russian neo-Nazis. Intervention in Ukraine is not about protecting people -- it is about satisfying the Kremlin's need to maintain its grasp on Ukraine and intimidate former soviet states, including Moldova, Estonia and Georgia. Russia's quest to occupy and annex parts of Ukraine is geopolitical. Ethnic Russians in the region are simply pawns in Moscow's geopolitical game.

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