BBG Watch Commentary

President Obama with Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev in Warsaw,  June 3, 2014. The meeting was not reported at the time by VOA English News. It was reported by VOA Ukrainian Service and RFE/RL.
President Obama with Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev in Warsaw, June 3, 2014. The meeting was not reported at the time by VOA English News. It was reported by VOA Ukrainian Service and RFE/RL.

Voice of America (VOA) Russian Service correspondent in Moscow Danila Galperovich interviewed Mustafa Dzhemilev, the former head of the Mejlis, the executive representative body of the Crimean Tatars, after the Supreme Court in Russian-annexed Crimea banned the Mejlis as an “extremist organization.”

Congratulations to VOA Russian Service and its Moscow correspondent, Danila Galperovich, for this excellent and timely interview.

VOA English newsroom, however, failed to report for several days on the official U.S. position on the suspension of the Crimean Tatar assembly by the Russian authorities.

Top photo: John Kirby, Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesperson, Bureau of Public Affairs. His statement on Russia’s decision to suspend the Crimean Tatar Mejlis was not reported online by Voice of America English newsroom.

Because of years of poor management, lack of proper leadership and decreasing resources, VOA English newsroom continues to disappoint. Overall, Voice of America’s performance as a news organization is highly uneven. Hopefully, new VOA director Amanda Bennett, who came on board last week, will be successful in making it better. VOA has many capable reporters but also many poor and disliked managers, inexperienced reporters, and poorly-paid, poorly-supervised stringers and contract employees. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once described VOA’s parent federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), as “practically defunct.” Members of Congress of both parties describe it as “broken.”

“…we don’t see a military option for liberation; therefore, we say that the main method is the strengthening of economic sanctions,” Mustafa Dzhemilev told VOA Russian Service. The former head of the Mejlis was also quoted as telling VOA Russian Service that “sanctions should be painful enough to force Russia to behave internationally in a humane way, not in a gangster-like fashion, as it does now.”

VOA English News had reported yesterday on the banning of the Mejlis but used a Reuters report instead of generating its own.

The Reuters report, posted on the VOA English news website on Tuesday, April 26, made no reference to the U.S. government’s official position on the Russian government’s decision to suspend the Crimean Tatar Mejlis.

The VOA Charter requires the Voice of America to “present the policies of the United States clearly and effectively.”

One day after its posting by VOA, the Reuters report on the VOA website is showing only 3 Facebook “Recommend/Share.”

VOA English newsroom had failed to report earlier on the U.S. State Department statement of April 21 calling on the Russian Federation to reverse the Russian Ministry of Justice’s recent decision to designate the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist” organization and the decision by de facto authorities in Crimea to suspend the democratically elected assembly.

The day after the U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby announced in a statement on the banning of the Mejlis that “sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as the occupation continues,” VOA English newsroom, which did not put that statement online, posted a speculative report on the possibility of EU sanctions being soon “lifted or at least reduced.” The VOA report was not labeled as a news analysis or a commentary. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which like VOA is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), had made a similar prediction in December 2015 on prompt lifting of EU sections against Russia. The RFE/RL prediction turned out to be wrong when EU representatives met on the issue in Brussels last December and decided to renew the sanctions.


The April 22 VOA English News report, “NATO-Russia Talks Fail, But Raise Hopes,” quoted only one European expert in support of new speculations on the lifting of EU sanctions. Whether EU sections against Russia will be lifted or reduced anytime soon still remains to be seen. If VOA newsroom is convinced that these sanctions indeed will be lifted soon, it should have provided more evidence or at least more official or unofficial statements to that effect. The eagerness of some RFE/RL and VOA reporting to declare that sanctions against Russia will be over very soon, without even bothering to explain at some depth why they were imposed in the first place, seems to be somewhat puzzling.

Furthermore, in an display of imperial attitude and disregard for the need to provide balance, the VOA English News report failed to include any statements from the Ukrainian government or some of the NATO member countries which are more concerned about the security threat from Russia than some of the West European countries. The earlier RFE/RL report also failed to do that. Even if EU sanctions are eventually lifted or reduced, VOA should at the very least let the world know whether the sovereignty and security of some countries might be harmed by such a move and what these countries think about such a prospect. After all this would not be the first time Western European countries, as well as the United States, traded freedom of smaller nations in deals with aggressive dictators or in pursuance of economic interests. Perhaps VOA and RFE/RL English newsroom correspondents should pay attention to how some of their audiences might feel about such actions and report on it.

Ukraine and several Central European countries which are members of both EU and NATO (Ukraine is not) strongly oppose the lifting of economic and political sanctions against Russia over President Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea, a point which the VOA English News report failed to make.

The VOA English News report, with a curious and contradictory tile, “NATO-Russia Talks Fail, But Raise Hopes,” also did not state the official U.S. position on the EU or U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Visitors to the VOA English language news website learned for the first time about the U.S. State Department position on the banning of the Crimean Tatar assembly, which was first announced by the State Department spokesman on April 21, after a delay of six days. This happened only when a VOA Russian Service report and interview with Mustafa Dzhemilev were translated into English and posted on the VOA English News website on Wednesday, April 27.

This is not the first time VOA English newsroom has done sloppy reporting on Crimea. It failed several times in recent years to report promptly or to report at all on important U.S. government statements and actions regarding Russian-occupied Crimea and the oppressed Crimean Tatar minority.

SEE: Voice of America English News fails to report Kerry’s statement on deportation of Crimean Tatars, BBG Watch, May 17, 2014


SEE: VOA English News does not update Obama – Poland story for 11 hours, fails to cover Solidarity Prize for Crimean Tatar leader, BBG Watch, June 3, 2014


SEE: ‘Crimea overwhelmingly happy to be part of Russia,’ Voice of America reported year ago citing faulty BBG poll, BBG Watch, June 14, 2015


SEE: Voice of America ignores White House statement on Holodomor genocide in 1930s Ukraine, as does RFE/RL, BBG Watch, November 8, 2015


Is this Russian RT, SPUTNIK or something else?, BBG Watch, December 19, 2015

BBG Watch is reposting the full text of the U.S. State Department statement on the Crimean Tatars which VOA English News failed to report on when it was first issued and never fully covered in English. VOA Russian and Ukrainian services did have reports on the State Department statement.



U.S. State Department

Russia’s Decision To Suspend the Crimean Tatar Mejlis


Press Statement
John Kirby
Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesperson, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC
April 21, 2016

We call on the Russian Federation to reverse the Ministry of Justice’s recent decision to designate the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as an “extremist” organization and the decision by de facto authorities in Crimea to suspend this democratic institution. The Mejlis has long been a representative body for the traditionally under-represented and historically oppressed Crimean Tatar population. It has also served as an important independent voice in preserving their culture and protecting them from discrimination.

Russian authorities have no basis or jurisdiction to assert Russian law over Tatar conduct in Ukraine. A ban on the Mejlis would prohibit it from convening, publishing its views in mass media, or holding public events, which contravenes basic democratic principles. This action is the latest in a series of abuses perpetrated by de facto authorities against those in Crimea who oppose the occupation, including Crimean Tatars and members of other ethnic and religious minorities in Crimea. Such abuses include arbitrary detentions, beatings, and police raids on their homes and places of worship.

We again call on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea and return control over this piece of Ukrainian territory. Sanctions related to Crimea will remain in place as long as the occupation continues.


Voice of America

Crimean Tatar Leader: Ban on Representative Body Act of ‘Updated Soviet Union’

Danila Galperovich

April 27, 2016 2:55 PM

MOSCOW—The international community is criticizing Moscow for the decision by the Supreme Court in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014, to ban the Mejlis, the executive representative body of the Crimean Tatars, as an “extremist organization.” In rendering its decision Tuesday, the court was following the lead of Russia’s Justice Ministry, which last week suspended the Mejlis for what it called “extremist activities.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said banning the Crimean Tatar Mejlis “removes what little representation and recourse that the Tatars have left under Russian occupation.” The Crimean Tatars, he said, face oppression, repression, and discrimination, adding that nearly 10,000 of them “have been forced to flee their homeland and those who remain have …been subjected to abuses, beatings, arbitrary detentions.”

European officials also denounced the Russian move against the Mejlis.

[Photo Not Reposted – Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, takes part in the Ukrainian Cabinet session in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 23, 2015.]

VOA’s Russian Service discussed these developments with the former head of the Mejlis, Mustafa Dzhemilev. Currently based in Kyiv, he is a member of Ukraine’s parliament and heads the Ukrainian president’s commission for the Crimean Tatar people.

Q (VOA): Did the Russian court decision come as a surprise to you?

A (Dzhemilev): It was no surprise. We understand that we are still dealing with an updated Soviet Union. We’ve already gone through this: the Crimean Tatar national movement was always banned [during the Soviet period]. We were called “agents of the West,” “anti-Soviet,” “slanderers.” We were persecuted, imprisoned. But it all ended up with the national movement being able to return its people to their homeland, and the Soviet Union collapsed.

Q: What will the Mejlis do now?

A: The Mejlis will now go into emergency mode. Its center will be in Kyiv. All of the Mejlis members who were refused entry into Crimea will be here. There are eight such people. But those members of the Mejlis who are in Crimea, of course, will not be allowed to assemble [there], and it will not be possible to hold meetings by video link, as before. Still, we will find ways to ensure that decisions are approved by all members of the Mejlis … In addition, a council will meet here that will include delegates of the Kurultai [the Crimean Tatars’ elected representative council, which chooses the Mejlis members-ED] who ended up outside Crimea, and members of the Mejlis. And I will also be part of this. And we will promptly take decisions on everything concerning Crimea – for the de-occupation of Crimea.

Q: And what about trying to convene the Kurultai?

A: That’s impossible because if, let’s say, the Kurultai is held in Kyiv, the Kurultai delegates in Crimea either will not be allowed to come, or if they find some way to leave, they might not be allowed back … Therefore, we will not risk that. And, of course, it will be impossible to hold [such meetings] in the occupied territory. The occupation authorities are trying to create their own domesticated Mejlis but have failed to do so. The tried to convene the Kurultai delegates, working personally with every delegate. That also did not work. Now they have switched to the traditional method – repression. We expect that the repression will expand.

Q: How many of your activists are imprisoned?

A: Twelve people are now in custody. Some on religious grounds – no specific charges, but they were found with literature which, from the point of view of the authorities, is called extremist. The second group of prisoners are those accused of involvement in the events of early 2014, even before the so-called “accession” of Crimea to Russia. They are accused of organizing riots, [using] anti-Russian slogans. These are absurd accusations … And the third point is the events of May 3, 2104, when people broke through the so-called “border” between Crimea and mainland Ukraine to meet me. They are accused of having pushed some of the riot police – that is, the organization of mass riots. In total, to date – we have already stopped counting how many of searches have been carried out — but more than 250, probably, and more than 95 percent of those were at the homes, schools and mosques of the Crimean Tatars.

Q: How is Ukraine’s leadership reacting to the ban?

A: The attitude towards the Crimean Tatars is quite different than it was in Crimea under the previous [Ukrainian] government, under [former president Viktor] Yanukovych. Under Yanukovych, all the services of the Crimea — first and foremost, the security service, the bodies of the prosecutor’s office – worked against the Mejlis. They adhered to the idea imposed on them that we are the main separatists, that we pose a threat to Ukraine. Now, of course, everything has changed radically. After the ban on the Mejlis, after the [Russian] Justice Ministry listed the Majlis as an “extremist organization,” the Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine’s parliament] adopted an appeal, a statement calling on all parliaments to condemn it. At Ukraine’s initiative, the United Nations Security Council was supposed to hold a session on April 29 specifically on the Mejlis ban – but, as I understand it, this meeting is postponed indefinitely at the initiative of China. It has not been canceled, however: it will be held. The U.N., the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, Amnesty International, many international organizations that monitor human rights, have made statements on this matter, because the Mejlis is not a club of like-minded people, it is a structure elected by the people. If you ban the Mejlis, subject to this action is not only the 33 members of the Mejlis, who are chosen by the Kurultai, but the whole system of [Crimean Tatar] self-government, i.e. local councils, consisting of around 2,500 people. In addition, because the people elected these “extremists,” the entire Crimean Tatar people fall under this [label]. In such a situation, of course, it would be very strange for the international community to show indifference. Thank God, that has not happened yet.

Q: Beyond expressions of concern, how can the international community protect the Crimean Tatars?

A: It is impossible to protect the rights of the Crimean Tatars before the liberation of Crimea from the occupiers. Therefore, all efforts should be made to liberate it. It is possible, of course, through the efforts of various international organizations, the involvement of diplomats, to release someone who has been arrested. Maybe you can limit the number of abducted and tortured people, but Crimea cannot be an island of democracy in a state that has been totalitarian in recent years. Thus, the only way is the liberation of Crimea from the occupiers. But we don’t see a military option for liberation; therefore, we say that the main method is the strengthening of economic sanctions. Those sanctions should be painful enough to force Russia to behave internationally in a humane way, not in a gangster-like fashion, as it does now.