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Crimean Tatar Leader Says Turkey's Erdogan Promised 'To Talk To Putin' Regarding Ukrainians Jailed In Russia

Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev (left) meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara in July 2017.
Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev (left) meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara in July 2017.

KYIV -- Ukrainian lawmaker Mustafa Dzhemilev, a veteran leader of the Crimean Tatars, says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised "to talk" to Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding the situation for Ukrainian nationals jailed in Russia.

Dzhemilev told RFE/RL on August 21 that Erdogan had asked him to present the list of Ukrainian citizens serving prison terms in Russia so that he could discuss their possible release with the Russian leader.

According to Dzhemilev, he talked to Erdogan on July 12 at an event in Turkey, and the Turkish Foreign Ministry requested the list of the Ukrainians jailed in Russia "several days ago."

In October 2017, two Crimean Tatar leaders, Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, who were jailed in Russia over their rejection of Moscow's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, were suddenly brought to Turkey and released.

Although there was no official explanation for their sudden release, unofficial reports said then that the two Crimean Tatar leaders' release was a result of an agreement reached by Erdogan and Putin.

Rights activists in Ukraine and abroad say there are more than 60 Ukrainian nationals serving prison terms in Russia and Russia-annexed Crimea on politically motivated charges.

One of the best-known Ukrainians serving his term in Russia is Crimean native and film director Oleh Sentsov, who has been on hunger strike for more than 100 days in a penal colony in Russia's far northern region of Yamalo-Nenets.

Moscow's takeover of Crimea in March 2014 was vocally opposed by a majority of the peninsula's indigenous Turkic-speaking and mainly Muslim Crimean Tatars.

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