On June 9, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked about a proposed Ukrainian law on “indigenous peoples” and its connection with Crimea, which has been illegally occupied by Russia since 2014.
"In general, the division into indigenous, first-class, second-class categories of people and so on – this, for sure, completely smacks of … the theory and practice of Nazi Germany," Putin said in an interview with the Russian state-owned TV channel Rossiya 24.
"It is an obvious fact that the people who came with these territories to the Russian state called themselves Russians. Therefore, to speak of Russians as a non-indigenous people is not just incorrect, it is ridiculous and stupid.”
Putin’s comments echoed those made the previous day by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
"The adoption of such marginal laws rivets Ukraine more strongly to its nationalist, neo-Nazi stance," the Russian state-owned news service TASS quoted Zakharova as saying. "Kyiv's signal to the population is clear: your nationality, your ethnic group, your people has its own state. You cannot lay claim to having equal rights with the 'Ukrainian' nation. Remember that at any moment you may have to leave for where your nation-state is. This law will apply to millions."
Putin’s reference to “the people who came with these territories to the Russian state” is another rendering of the false Russian narrative that Crimea voluntarily chose to join Russia, a claim Polygraph.info and many other outlets have debunked in the past.
His and Zakharova’s characterizations of the intent of the Ukraine draft law also are misleading.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky submitted the proposal to the country’s parliament on May 18 – the anniversary of the Soviet regime’s mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944.
Draft law 5506, “On Indigenous Peoples of Ukraine,” does not concern Russians or even Ukrainians, but rather three minority groups – the Crimean Tatars, Krymchaks and Karaits.
The law is specifically aimed at legalizing and safeguarding the rights of minorities indigenous to Crimea and does not discriminate against any other groups. Ukraine has no legal definition of “indigenous peoples,” and the law aims to correct that.
In addition, the proposed law helps Ukraine come into conformity with international law on indigenous peoples.
“The bill guarantees these indigenous peoples collective and individual enjoyment of all cultural, education, linguistic and other rights as per Ukraine’s Constitution and legislation; all human rights as per general international rights documents and in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” wrote Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.
Coynash called the law is “belated,” noting that Crimean Tatars have sought legal recognition for nearly 30 years. It was only after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 that the Ukraine government began to officially recognize Crimean Tatar political bodies like the Crimean Tatar Mejlis.
Crimean Tatars were most active in opposing Russia’s takeover of the peninsula. Since then, several hundred Crimean Tatars have been targeted by Russian occupation authorities, mostly on dubious “terrorism” charges.