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Crimean Tatar Leader Backs EU, NATO Membership For Ukraine

Mustafa Dzhemilev at the World Congress of Tatars in May
Mustafa Dzhemilev at the World Congress of Tatars in May
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- The outgoing leader of Crimea's Tatars says that NATO membership for Ukraine is the safest way to avoid a repeat of the Russian-Georgian war of 2008, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, the head of the Crimean Tatars' Mejlis or parliament, spoke to RFE/RL on December 4 ahead of the Kurultai, or Crimean Tatar Assembly, to be held in Sevastopol on December 5-6.

Dzhemilev said he supports Ukraine's moves to join the European Union and NATO. He added that although a referendum in Ukraine might show a lack of support for joining NATO, it is the duty of politicians to convince people to take "the right direction."

Dzemilev said European integration will be useful for Crimean Tatars in terms of protecting human rights and gaining support for minority issues.

The agenda of the Kurultai will include discussion of the January presidential election in Ukraine and the election of a new head of Mejlis, replacing Dzhemilev.

He said his decision to leave the post is not supported by many members of the Crimean Tatar diaspora or the Kurultai.

Dzhemilev, who spent many years in the gulag as a Soviet dissident, has been the chairman of the Crimean Tatar Assembly since 1991.

He said incumbent Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko had unfortunately failed to keep his campaign promises.

Dzhemilev called for a tolerant election campaign to take place without insults and social polarization, and said many people still have to overcome "Soviet propaganda" and review their personal values.

Dzhemilev said that any discussion about Crimean Tatar separatism or annexation to Russia is baseless, but he said that one of the most important and worrying questions for Crimean Tatars is the preservation of their national identity.

He added that more efforts should be made in terms of security because of attempts made by Russian authorities to undermine Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar bodies.

Dzhemilev said he believes that Russia's Federal Security Service is behind reported operations to assassinate him. He referred to the arrest on October 26 of two alleged members of an Islamist group, At-Takfir wal-Hidjra, who were reportedly planning to kill Dzhemilev.