Crimea's Vice Premier Rustam Temirgaliyev was all smiles as he spoke to journalists near the autonomous repbulic's parliament building in Simferopol, boasting that some 82 percent of people here will vote for joining Russia in today's referendum.
"About 58 percent of persons in Crimea are ethnic Russians. And our sociology says that approximately 50 percent of Ukrainians want to join Russia and some 38 percent of Crimean Tatars want it as well," he said adding that the referendum was conducted transparently and fairly.
His comments are in strict contrast, however, to those in the Crimean Tatar community, who have said they will boycott the referendum as it does not include an option to keep the status quo. Several the Kyiv Post spoke with over the past two weeks in several cities and villages across Crimea told stories of intimidation at the hands of pro-Russian militia units, and said that some within their communities have already fled the Black Sea peninsula for mainland Ukraine, seeking safe harbor in Kyiv and western cities such as Lviv and Ternopil.
Temirgaliyev also posed this rhetorical question to journalists:
He also admitted that presence of Russian troops in Crimea, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's repeated denials that Moscow had put boots on the ground here.
"Yes, we have Russian troops in Crimea, but they are absolutely legal. We also have 8,000 Crimean self-defence forces," he added.
Temirgaliyev said he was sure that the Russian occupation wouldn't stop at the Crimean peninsula, but would spread to regions in Eastern Ukraine, where separatist movements have sprung up in recent weeks.
What's more, Temirgaliyev said that preparations to join the Ruble zone are already underway in Crimea. "In April, Russian rubles will start functioning here," he told journalists, adding that the Hryvnia will stay in use for a year.
Regarding the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers barricaded behind the walls of their own bases by Russian troops, he said that they will have to choose come tomorrow to either take an oath to the Crimean authorities, or leave after the referendum.
"We can allow them safe passage to Ukraine," he said. "But about 85 percent of Ukrainian troops have already joined Crimean forces."
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