SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (AFP) - Tatar community leader Mustafa Dzhemilev on Thursday urged Nato to intervene in Crimea to avert a "massacre" and called on the Crimean Tatars to boycott the upcoming referendum to join Russia.
"If other measures do not work, then Nato should intervene like in Kosovo," Mr Dzhemilev told AFP in a phone interview from Brussels, where he was preparing to meet Nato officials on Friday.
Nato intervention "usually only happens when there is a massacre, we want it to happen before there is a massacre," said Mr Dzhemilev, currently a lawmaker in Kiev who spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call earlier this week.
"I told him that we would not wage war against Russia but that we would struggle for the territorial integrity of our country. We still have to decide on what methods we will use," the Tatar said.
Mr Dzhemilev also criticised inaction in the West, saying: "We haven't seen any serious steps from the West. They imposed visa bans but so what? Those people (targeted by the bans) have a comfortable enough life in Russia." Tatars are planning a series of demonstrations across Crimea on Friday ahead of Sunday's vote under the slogan: "No to the illegal referendum!" "We are calling for the Crimean Tatars to boycott the referendum," Mr Dzhemilev said.
"This referendum has no meaning. I told Putin it was against our law. Nobody will recognise it, especially since it's being held in an occupied territory." Suspicion of Moscow is high among the Tatar community, who were the original population of the Crimean peninsula and were deported en masse by Stalin to Central Asia during World War II.
The Tatars only started returning home in the late 1980s and currently number around 12 per cent of Crimea's mostly Russian-speaking population of two million people.
They have maintained their Turkic language and Sunni religion and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also pledged his support.
Referring to the deployment of Russian forces across Crimea, Mr Dzhemilev said: "They've occupied our land and are planning to annex it in front of the whole world. This wasn't allowed in the 20th century but now it seems it is."
"They said there's a threat to Russians? What threat? They're all Russians there! Are they going to deport the Tatars again?"
"I told Putin that this is unjust and I expressed our deep concern that there could be clashes," he said of his Wednesday conversation with the Russian leader.
"He said he would ensure this would not happen and asked that the Crimean Tatars not carry out any acts of violence."
"Putin said he had given an order not to touch the Crimean Tatars," Mr Dzhemilev added.
Summarising the interaction between the two men, the Tatar leader said: "He told me his point of view, I told him mine." "He said: 'Let's wait for the referendum'. I said: 'We know what's going to happen and there's no point'. He said: 'Let's talk again after March 16'".
Crimeans will vote Sunday on whether to join Russia, in a referendum that has been slammed by the pro-European authorities in Kiev and world powers as illegal, while Russian forces continue to occupy the strategic Black Sea peninsula.