After the collapse of the USSR, in the countries of the post-Soviet space, civil society could manifest itself only by breaking through the state and commercial sectors. And only at the end of the 20th century, non-profit, non-governmental, public organizations engaged in social and cultural projects, religious activities began to gain real political weight. The growing activity of NPOs caused concern among authoritarian regimes considering such organizations as a threat. The authorities tried to solve this problem by closing the non-profit organizations not affiliated with the state and creating controlled organizations under their brand name.
This is exactly the way the Russian authorities acted in the annexed Crimea. In 2016, the local, most influential social and political organization — “Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people” — was ranked among the extremist organizations and, despite the condemnation of these actions by the UN International Court of Justice, its activities were banned. Instead, the Russian authorities created a number of structures designed to imitate public activities and the expression of the will of the indigenous inhabitants of the peninsula.
First, a pro-Russian public organization of the Crimean Tatars, Milliy Fırqa (“People’s Party”) was founded with the money of the Kremlin, which based its activities on opposing the Mejlis, but it had no real influence. Then, in opposition to the Mejlis, a public movement Qırım (“Crimea”) was created, which the new authorities are trying to present as a true spokesman for the will of the Crimean Tatars in the international arena. Also, as a safety net, a number of organizations have been created to drown out the voice of the Mejlis, such as, for example, “Unity of Crimea”, “Council of Crimean Tatar Elders” and others.
Now, when the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) is held the Russian Federation sends members of these Kremlin-controlled organizations that actively oppose the participation of representatives of the Mejlis in the forum as representatives of the Crimean Tatar people. Although it is this organization that is a real representative of the interests of the Crimean Tatars, who are persecuted and repressed on the territory of the annexed peninsula. Many of them were forced to move to mainland Ukraine. Most of the Crimean Tatars who moved to Ukraine after the annexation settled in Kherson region, bordering Crimea.
For Russia it is extremely important to gain control over this Ukrainian region, as this would ensure the life of the peninsula. The reason is quite clear — here the Kakhovka Reservoir is located and the North Crimean canal, built in 1961–78, originates with. It was Ukraine which built it to provide water to the Crimean Peninsula. And although 82% of the population of this region of Ukraine are ethnic Ukrainians (and only 14% are Russians), the Kremlin is betting on the fact that the majority of the region’s residents (as well as the entire South of Ukraine) speak Russian. Taking into account this situation, Russia is implementing its far-reaching plans by creating controlled NGOs in this Ukrainian region, carrying out cultural and religious projects aimed primarily at Russian-speaking citizens.
However, through such NGOs it is not always possible to raise such “explosive” topics as violation of the rights of Russian-speaking citizens, revision of attitude towards the Soviet past, infringement of the rights of parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Church politicizing the situation and stirring up a noticeable scandals on this basis. For said purpose, the Kremlin uses a proven mechanism: through the branch of the federal agency Rossotrudnichestvo in Ukraine (in Kyiv) or through the consulate of the Russian Federation (in Odessa) funds are transferred to certain persons and further allotted to create and support the activities of new “appropriate” NPOs operating within the territory of the neighbouring state in the interests of the Kremlin.
These pro-Russian NPOs founded in Ukraine and funded by Moscow, are rooting the narratives the Kremlin needs. Their main task is to undermine and destabilize the situation in the region so important for the Kremlin. It is these organizations that also prepare the ground so that Moscow could, under a plausible pretext, bring its troops again, now into the territory of Kherson region, securing a land corridor from Rostov region of the Russian Federation to the Crimea.
Meanwhile the pro-Russian “fifth column” disguised as NPO often experiences fails. So, in August this year, on charges of espionage in favor of Russia the head of the public organization Russian national community Rusich Tatyana Kuzmich was detained.
For many years, members of various NPOs, who are agents of influence of the Russian Federation, have tried to infiltrate the leadership of the Coordination Council for National Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, operating under the auspices of the administration of Kherson region of Ukraine. However, local organizations of the Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Lithuanians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis put up a barrier against the pro-Russian forces. Having failed, the agents of influence of the Russian Federation from the organizations “Center of Russian Culture” (Igor Polevikov) and “Rusich” (Tatiana Kuzmich) in 2019 tried to create an alternative Council of Ethnic Organizations. This imitation structure was supposed to present advantageous for Russian propaganda statements on behalf of the national minorities of Kherson region. But, this idea did not gain support among ethnic communities, it was supported only by head of “Kherson Roma Association” Yuriy Ivanenko. Therefore, it was not possible to create a mouthpiece for the Kremlin under the leadership of Kherson region of Ukraine.
However, in general, pro-Russian activists act quite arrogantly and confidently in Ukraine, hiding behind contests for performers of musical works of Russian composers, organization of Russian language courses and historical reconstructions.
So, for example, in such an important for Russia Kherson region, the well-known distributor of the ideas of the “Russian World” Alexander Kondryakov, who generously sponsored the Crimean charitable organization “The 35th Coastal Battery”, has become active. This very organization financed the pro-Russian movement in Crimea in 2013–2014 and actively assisted the Russian military during the armed takeover of the peninsula.
The organizations under his control — Public Organization “Russian School”, Public Organization “International Pedagogical Club” (registered in Ukraine) and Public Association “Student Association “45th Parallel” (registered in Crimea) — are co-founders of the apparently harmless music festival “Autumn season”, which, along in Kherson, is also being held in the cities of Saki (Crimea) and Minsk (Belarus) with the quite transparent purpose of rooting and strengthening the ideas of the “Russian World”.
It must be admitted that the aforementioned co-founders of the festival have been successfully rooting messages of Russian propaganda into the heads of students and teachers of music schools, youth creativity centers, culture schools, conservatories and art academies for several years. And only in 2020, due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the leadership of Kherson region banned “Autumn season” (for the first time in six years since the conflict in southeastern Ukraine). After that, the main “stakeholder” in holding the provincial festival has immediately emerged — the federal agency Rossotrudnichestvo, which addressed to international institutions with an urgent demand to pay attention to the situation. Russian officials address the case as politically motivated, accusing Ukraine of violating the rights and freedoms of the Russian-speaking population of Kherson.
Unfortunately, there are more than enough characters similar to A.Kondryakov in all regions of Ukraine. They are especially active in the East and South of the country. Most regrettably, not everyone sees and understands the causal relationship, within the framework of which, first, city festivals of Russian songs, competitions for knowledge of Russian history and the Russian language contests are held, then armed people appear in that city without identification marks (the so-called “green men”), and then the population of the city suddenly proposes to hold a referendum to express a desire to urgently and voluntarily join Russia.