Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Crimean Tatars living in Crimea against seeking “special status” for their 300,000-strong community during his visit to the Black Sea peninsula on Monday.
Putin arrived in Crimea yesterday for a three-day visit to the peninsula in which he hopes to boost development and tourism in the region.
Shortly after arriving, Putin met with minority representatives at a luxury resort in the village of Opolznevoe, including representatives of the indigenous Crimean Tatar community, who make up 12 percent of peninsula’s population.
"Inter-ethnic relations are a delicate matter," Putin told the minority leaders during the meeting, adding "I see any speculation on any sort of special rights for one particular ethnicity as extremely dangerous."
“Crimea is essentially a mirror of multi-ethnic Russia. Here, like everywhere in Russia, we need to pay the utmost, constant attention to building greater peace and harmony, combining the efforts of the state authorities and civil society," Putin said.
Putin also warned foreign rights organisations which are campaigning to ensure the rights of the Crimean Tatar people, saying such groups are “trying to somehow destabilise the situation.”
The Crimean Tatar community, a Turkic and mainly Muslim ethnic group have largely opposed the Russian annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine last year.
Crimea was annexed by Russia in March 2014 following a referendum organised by the peninsula’s autonomous authorities, in which the majority ethnically Russian population voted to join Russia just weeks after the same authorities declared independence from Ukraine.
The referendum, which was organised almost immediately after Ukraine’s former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych abandoned his post amid pro-EU protests in Kiev, was condemned by the international community as illegal, especially as it was held under the threatening presence of armed militiamen in unmarked uniforms - believed to be Russian soldiers - who occupied Crimea shortly after Yanukovych's demise.
The Crimean Tatars have since been under pressure from the peninsula’s new Russian authorities to accept the annexation, with those who have refused to adopt Russian citizenship, becoming foreigners in their homeland.
Crimean Tatar leaders Mustafa Jemilev and Refat Chubarov have been barred from entering Crimea for five years, while Crimean Tatar Parliament's deputy chairman Ahtem Ciygoz was arrested for allegedly organising “mass disorder” against the peninsula’s new Russian authorities.
Crimean Tatars were forcibly exiled in their entirety from their homeland by Soviet Russian leader Josef Stalin in 1944 to various parts of central Asia and the Caucasus. A large community of Crimean Tatars also settled in Turkey to escape persecution at the hands of the Soviets.
However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Crimean Tatars began returning to their homeland in droves.