Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo Reuters
A Crimean Tatar leader has told Russian President
Vladimir Putin that the secession of Crimea from Ukraine to
join Russia would violate an international treaty in which
Russia, Britain and the United States vowed to keep Ukraine
Putin spoke by phone with Mustafa Dzhemilev, a senior figure
in the Crimean Tatar community, in what may have been an
effort to ease their concerns over a referendum on Sunday in
which Crimeans will be asked whether they want to join
Many Crimean Tatars, who make up about 12 percent of the
population of the Black Sea peninsula, are strongly opposed
to falling under Russia's control and want be governed from
Kiev. Their leader has called for a boycott of the
"I, of course, expressed doubt about the expediency of
holding this referendum, and about its legitimacy," Dzhemilev
said in remarks to Ukraine's Channel 5 television.
The United States and European nations have said the
Russian-backed vote would be illegitimate and are threatening
to impose sanctions on Moscow if it goes ahead as planned.
They say Russia has already seized control of Crimea.
"I told Putin that the issue of the territorial integrity of
our country is very important," Dzhemilev said, according to
the Ukrainian news agency Unian. Dzhemilev was in Moscow when
he spoke to Putin, who was in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
He said he told Putin Crimean secession would violate a 1994
pact in which Russia, Britain and the United States committed
to assuring Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity
in return for its pledge to give up its ex-Soviet nuclear
If this happens, "nobody will trust such agreements and there
will be efforts to obtain nuclear weapons by every country
with the financial wherewithal to do so - and Ukraine will be
no exception," Unian quoted him as saying.
The 1994 treaty was part of an effort to ensure the Soviet
collapse of 1991 did not lead to the proliferation of nuclear
weapons. The superpower's breakup left Ukraine with the
third-largest arsenal after the United States and Russia.
Exiled en masse by the Soviet authorities during World War
Two, many Crimean Tatars are very wary of Russia.
Dzhemilev told Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy that Putin
had promised that the security and rights of Crimean Tatars
would be protected.
Putin said "measures will be taken to solve all the social
and legal problems of Crimean Tatars that went unsolved by
the Ukrainian authorities for many years," he was quoted as
But Dzhemilev said he told Putin the best security guarantee
would be the withdrawal of Russia forces from Crimea, Ekho
Russia denies sending troops into Crimea, saying armed men
who have established what Western governments describe as
"operational control" over the region are "self-defence