With tensions escalating in Crimea, Mustafa Dzhamilev, a local Tatar leader and former Soviet dissident, spoke on March 1 to RFE/RL Russian Service's Dmitry Volchek. Dzhamilev says that he is telling local Tatars to stay away from protests and to avoid any provocations.
RFE/RL: Did you expect events to take this kind of turn?
Mustafa Dzhamilev: I did not quite expect [the intention] to send troops because I think the Russian Black Fleet has enough manpower to do anything they like here. This is why we were categorically against the extension of the Kharkiv Agreements [extending Russia's lease of its Crimean Black Sea bases] and consider them an act of treason. We were calling for the denunciation of this agreement and withdrawal of [Russia's] Black Sea Fleet because this is where all anti-Ukrainian activities are concentrated, financed, and propped up. On top of that, [these bases] constitute some sort of structure, which keeps inspiring separatist sentiments of Russian separatists in Crimea.
Now, however, as far as I understand, we are not talking merely about Crimea any more. Judging from the scenario that is unfolding now, which includes statements like "[Ukraine] is Russia, it's a part of Russia" -- we have been seeing this in Donetsk, Kharkiv, the Nikolayevsk region. In a nutshell, the plan to split Ukraine that everyone was watching out for has been put in motion.
RFE/RL: What are you telling Crimean Tatars who approach you asking what they should do?
Dzhamilev: We are telling them to stay put for now. All our activities ought to be coordinated with the highest authority in Ukraine -- the Ukrainian parliament. We would prefer to refrain from any independent activities that could be without our knowledge used against the interests of Ukraine.
RFE/RL: Nevertheless, there are Crimean Tatar self-defense units being formed. Is it a preventive measure or do you have credible concerns?
Dzhamilev: The idea was that those Crimean Tatars who really want to defend the interests, integrity, and sovereignty of their country should join the ranks of the official law enforcement bodies of Ukraine. This is especially the case in Crimea where local authorities, like the police, security service, and others, are infiltrated with separatist elements. This is the whole point.
RFE/RL: What is your stance towards a referendum slated for March 30? Do you think Crimean Tatars ought to participate or rather ignore it as illegitimate?
Dzhamilev: It's absurd. First, this referendum is illegal. Issues of territorial identity of any Ukrainian region are not decided in local ballots but through a Ukrainian-wide referendum. On top of that, the decision [to call a referendum] has been adopted under the barrels of guns pointed [at the local parliament members] by terrorists who took over the [Crimean] parliament. It is simply absurd. Thus the decision on the referendum is illegal and obviously Crimean Tatars will in no way take part in it.
RFE/RL: Have the new Crimean authorities attempted to get in touch with the Crimean Tatar community, its majlis? Have they tried to negotiate with you or offer you anything?
Dzhamilev: It went as far as them offering us, Crimean Tatars, the position of [Crimean] prime minister only to get our support for the idea of this referendum. However, the leader of the majlis [of Crimean Tatars, Refat Chubarov] responded by saying that he will not negotiate with illegal authorities.
RFE/RL: Crimean Tatars spoke out very resolutely last week, which actually tipped the balance [in favor of the new authorities in Kyiv]. Now you seem to be staying away from rallies. What happened?
Dzhamilev: It is simple -- Kyiv [authorities] told us that there should be no confrontations because it can be used by Russia to justify its aggression against Ukraine, should any scuffles take place and somebody dies there -- not necessarily a victim of Crimean Tatars because they themselves can easily gun down a couple of their own Russian nationals. Now, with none of that taking place, with no grounds [for response] whatsoever -- I dare say that even [Joseph] Goebbels' propaganda machine is no match to what is being staged here -- they are saying that Russians in Crimea are under threat. I haven't seen anything as absurd as this. [Does it mean that] Crimean Tatars who make up only 16 percent of the population of the peninsula are all of a sudden a threat to the overwhelming majority of the Crimean population backed by the [Russian] Black Sea Fleet?
RFE/RL: Do you expect the international community to break the current standoff and somehow tame Russia? Are you planning to appeal to foreign countries for support?
Dzhamilev: We will certainly do everything we can to protect the national sovereignty and integrity of our country. However, I was a little discouraged by [U.S. President Barack] Obama's statement [in which he said that] he is sort of concerned, that it is not nice [what Russia does], etc. It reminds me of the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 -- once it happened everyone swallowed it. This is why Ukraine is also weary that it may end up brushed aside. Moreover, there is the Budapest Memorandum, in which the Great Britain and the United States in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal guaranteed its safety and territorial integrity. We expect them to honor their commitments and take all measures to thwart the aggression.