MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has told Western leaders that the government of Crimea, which wants to hold a referendum on breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia, is a legitimate body, the Kremlin said on Sunday.
In telephone talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr Putin said the pro-Russian politicians on the peninsula were doing their duty to the people they represent.
"The lawful leadership in Crimea is taking actions based on international law and with the aim of guaranteeing the legitimate interests of the population of the peninsula," Mr Putin told his fellow leaders.
Mr Putin "also drew the attention of his interlocutors to the lack of any action by the current authorities in Kiev to restrict the lawless activities of ultra-nationalist and radical forces in the capital itself and in many regions", the statement said.
Russia has frequently sought to portray events in Ukraine as out of control, with ethnic Russian or Russian speakers the target of mobs. The West says there is no evidence of any inter-ethnic violence, and accuses Moscow of propagandising.
"Despite existing differences in the assessment of what is happening, (the leaders) expressed a common interest in the de-escalation of tension and the speediest possible normalisation of the situation," the statement added.
"The leaders exchanged views on possible international efforts to settle the crisis. It was agreed to continue close working contacts, including at the level of foreign ministers."