Turkey’s President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko by the end of June 2016 had embarked on a further escalation of their confrontation with Russia through the sponsorship of jihadism on the Crimean Peninsula.
This campaign is picking up pace to the point of becoming irreversible because of the recent activation of the Crimean Tatar Battalion and a Turkish-Ukrainian comprehensive program to Islamicize the border area with Crimea.
Kiev is an eager participant because this is the only program with the potential of markedly escalating the confrontation with Russia and preventing a political solution, even if the U.S.-led West attempts to impose one.
The escalation of the Crimean Tatar jihad is no longer influenced by the international diplomatic negotiations to solve the Ukraine crisis and will escalate should there be an attempt to impose a solution which does not recognize Crimea as an independent, Turkish-dominated Muslim state.
In March 2016, during Poroshenko’s visit to Turkey, the Crimean Tatar Battalion was declared fully operational after lengthy training in Turkey. Poroshenko spent time in Turkey dealing with the Crimean jihad.
The militant Crimean Tatar leaders — Refat Chubarov and Mustafa Dzhemilev — were part of President Poroshenko’s official delegation and joined him and Ukrainian senior officers in visiting the Crimean Tatar Battalion. Significantly, Poroshenko brought with him Ukrainian uniforms for the graduating Crimean Tatars. The Turkish military committed to providing the unit with weapons and other military equipment.
The Crimean Tatar Battalion deployed in the Kherson region on the border with Crimea in early April 2016. Refat Chubarov declared the unit to be “a national military unit”. However, Mustafa Dzhemilev announced that the new battalion would be called “Asker”: a Muslim Army.
The Crimean Tatar soldiers describe their unit as a “Suicide Bomber Battalion” committed to the liberation and Islamicization of Crimea. “If there is bloodshed and ethnic cleansing in the Crimea, this battalion will rescue its compatriots and do whatever it takes. That’s why they call themselves the Suicide Bomber Battalion,” Dzhemilev explained.
According to Refat Chubarov, the establishment of the Crimean Tatar Battalion was the beginning of a major historic program agreed upon by Erdoğan and Poroshenko. “Turkey and Ukraine worked out a plan to occupy Crimea by doing subversive actions,” he explained.
At the heart of the program was the transformation of Ukraine’s Kherson Province into a Turkic bastion from where the liberation campaign would be launched. The demographic change would commence with the emigration of 200,000 Meskhetian Turks from Turkey. They would be followed by Crimean Tatars and other refugees from the North Caucasus, currently in Turkey.
This new Muslim population would provide a manpower pool for the recruitment of the Muslim forces needed for what Refat Chubarov called the “reoccupation of Crimea”.
The new province would serve as the springboard for a comprehensive jihadist campaign throughout Russian Crimea aimed, in the words of Refat Chubarov, to “explode social and political situation in this region”. Moreover, a Turkic-Muslim Kherson would also break in two the presently contiguous Russian-speaking part of Ukraine which seeks secession.
Refat Chubarov noted that Erdoğan and Poroshenko agreed that Kherson would be named the Khan Giray Province. The Giray dynasty was the Genghisid/Turkic dynasty which ruled the Khanate of Crimea from its formation in 1427 until its occupation by the Russians in 1783. The Giray Khans had special standing in the Ottoman hierarchy the early 15th Century, and in the rebellion of Semiz Mehmed Giray in the early 16th Century.
By Ottoman protocol, the Giray Khan was second to the Ottoman Emperor and superior to the Grand Vizier. Subsequently, the Ottoman Sultan demoted the Crimean Khan to the level of Grand Vizier and the Sultan retained the right to install and depose the Khans.
Senior Turkish Intelligence officials acknowledge that Erdoğan’s “Ankara has been dreaming for long of occupying Crimea again, which was lost during Russian-Turkish wars”.
Erdoğan and Poroshenko also agreed that the U.S. was to be offered naval, air, and military bases in de-occupied Crimea in order to guarantee U.S. and NATO umbrella against Russian retaliation.
Significantly, the current flag of the Crimean Tatar Battalion under the command of Lenur Islyamov has the emblem of the Giray dynasty at the center.
LenurIslyamov is the commander of the battalion of the “activists” who blockade the traffic between the Crimea and Ukraine. He is a Ukrainian Crimean Tatar oligarch with major investments in both Ukraine and Turkey. Islyamov claimed that he “personally invested $10-million in an enterprise on the [Crimean] peninsula but later had to leave” when the Russians took over. Islyamov expects Kiev to compensate him for his losses.
In the last week of June 2016, President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan committed to the marked escalation of training and preparing Turkic jihadists for the escalation of the pan-Turkic jihad. This is going to be a most audacious and risky undertaking for Ankara is going out of its way to ensure credible deniability of the entire program.
Turkish Intelligence nominated a retired general, known for his chauvinistic pan-Turkic ideology, to head the undertaking. He was instructed to set up a private security firm which would provide cover for the undertaking.
The security firm would recruit retired or fired high-ranking officers from the military, intelligence, and security services to run the training program. The retired Turkish general was explicitly told to focus on recruiting retired and expelled generals and colonels in order to reinforce Ankara’s ability to deny all association with the security firm and its efforts. The former senior officers were promised immunity from future prosecution regarding coups and other plotting against Erdoğan if they committed to the new training initiative.
The funding of the new “firm” comes from President Erdoğan‘s son, Bilal Erdoğan’s, various energy and transportation companies. Bilal is already funding a myriad of deniable sensitive operations for his father.
As well, Ankara is expecting Riyadh to provide lavish funding, albeit through deniable third parties and individuals. Erdoğan is convinced he has the commitments of both King Salman bin ‘Abd al-’Aziz al Sa’ud and the all-important Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister.
The Turkish military and intelligence services would provide all the weapons and other military equipment through deniable fronts.
In the first phase, the security firm was tasked to formulate for, and present to, Erdoğan “important security master plans for the war” throughout the Turkic world. Erdoğan wants to create an “Army of Islam” which would spread his neo-Ottomanism and pan-Turkism. The master plans would include specific plans for specialized training for the various jihadists of this “Army of Islam” who would spread the pan-Turkic jihad.
The company was to quickly take over a few training camps currently used by the Turkish military and intelligence services in order to train jihadists for both Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State/Caliphate. They will introduce their own highly experience trainers and experts as well as retain some of the current staff as “volunteers”. The company would continue to train the jihadists for the al-Sham front, but would increasingly focus on highly special training for jihadist from 34 Sunni Islamic nations.
The first non-Arab trainees were to come from nations which had distinguished themselves in combat in the al-Sham jihad front. These are, in the order of priorities of Turkish Intelligence, the Chechens-Dagestanis (and all other North Caucasus jihadists), the East Turkistanis/Uighurs from China, the Uzbeks, and the Greater Albanians (from Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia).
A special training program would be set for the Crimean Tatars on account of their geopolitical importance rather than combat record in al-Sham.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan rushed to reassure Poroshenko of Turkey’s enduring commitment to the confrontation with Russia.
Erdoğan called Poroshenko, who was in Brussels, on June 27, 2016.
“Turkey is a strategic partner for Ukraine, and Ukraine is a strategic partner for Turkey,” Erdoğan stated.
He also guaranteed that “all of our existing projects would be continued and would be broadened.” Erdoğan assured Poroshenko that there was no real rapprochement with Moscow, and that Ankara only expressed “sympathy for the family of the killed [pilot]” rather than apologized for the shoot-down of the Russian Su-24 in northern Syria on November 24, 2016.
Poroshenko was most satisfied with Erdoğan’s assertion and promised Kiev’s unyielding commitment to their joint confrontation with Russia.
The next day, June 28, 2016, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım formally repudiated all reports about a rapprochement with Russia.
“Compensating Russia is not on the table, we have only expressed our regrets,” he stated on Turkish TV. There would be no change in the Turkish policy. Ankara “reached an understanding on this affair. We will put this incident behind us and continue on our path,” Yıldırım said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdoğan spoke by telephone for about half-an-hour on June 29, 2016.
According to Ankara’s version, the presidents discussed “bilateral relations and cooperation on regional issues and humanitarian crises … as well as taking necessary steps to revive the bilateral relations”. Turkish Presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said the conversation was an “important step” toward the normalization of relations. Turkey and Russia “opened a new page in which problems regarding bilateral ties and regional issues such as Syria, Ukraine and Crimea will be handled through dialogue and negotiation”.
The Kremlin sees things differently. Erdoğan was conciliatory, especially after Putin delivered condolences over the Ankara airport bombing of June 28, 2016. However, Erdoğan only expressed “sympathy and condolences to the relatives of the deceased Russian pilot” rather than apologize for the shoot-down.
Although Erdoğan called Russia “a friend and strategic partner” in an effort to have Putin commit to cooperation in defense and foreign affairs issues, Putin would not budge. Putin told Erdoğan that Moscow was ready to start negotiations with Ankara in order “to restore the mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation in trade, economy and other spheres”, but not defense and regional issues. Ankara would have to change policies — something Erdoğan has repeatedly refused to even consider — before the Kremlin changes position on these issues.
Simply put, the crisis and confrontation in the Middle East and the Greater Black Sea Basin will continue to escalate.