If the Crimean Tatar problem explodes, the blowback for Moscow will be immense. Russia’s relationship with Turkey is already under threat. Its reputation as a friend of Islam in the Middle East will be damaged.
Russia has millions of Muslims of its own, the vast majority of whom are Sunni, including next door in the North Caucasus. Historically, the Crimean Tatars had close ties with the Circassians, who were driven from the Sochi area in 1864. And one reason why Putin has invested so much in backing Syrian President Bashir al-Assad’s Alawite regime against the Sunni majority was his fear of Sunni unrest at home.
Andrew Wilson is an author and reader in Ukrainian Studies at University College London.