Kiev: A Crimean Tatar leader said today he questioned the legitimacy of a referendum in the peninsula this weekend, which could see the Black Sea region become part of Russia, in a phone call with President Vladimir Putin.
"I expressed doubts over the decision to organise a referendum and its legitimacy," Mustafa Dzhemilev, one of the most senior representatives of the Muslim Tatar minority, told Ukrainian Kanal 5 television, hours after speaking to the Russian leader.
The two leaders spoke for 30 minutes amid concern for the Muslim community in Crimea, now under de facto control of Russian forces, the Mejlis Crimea Tatar assembly said.
"We agreed on the need to overcome the crisis without any victims," Dzhemilev added, saying he had stressed during the conversation that Ukraine`s territorial integrity must "not be contested".
The Tatar leader also complained to Putin about the "arbitrary" behaviour towards the Tatar minority of Russian forces stationed in Crimea.
Ukraine`s border guards service said Wednesday that hundreds of people had fled Crimea amid the heightening crisis, many of them Tatars.
The Tatars of Crimea have traditionally been staunch supporters of Ukraine`s independence, while the Russian speaking majority on the peninsula is more oriented towards Moscow.
Dzhemilev, a former head of the assembly for the Turkic Tatar minority in Crimea and currently a lawmaker in the Ukrainian parliament for former premier Yulia Tymoshenko`s Batkivshchyna party, flew into Moscow on Tuesday to hold talks about the situation in Crimea, according to a statement from the Mejlis.
The statement said he had been invited by Mintimer Shaimiyev, the former leader of Russia`s region of Tatarstan, many of whose residents are close ethnic kin to the Crimean Tatars.
Crimea is to hold a referendum on joining Russia on Sunday, after which it is expected to be rapidly absorbed into Russian territory.
The Tatars of Crimea have however expressed huge alarm about Russia`s swoop.