LAURA, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin met the head of Ukraine’s Paralympic committee on Saturday, a day before the Games’ closing ceremony and a referendum in the Ukrainian region of Crimea on whether to become part of Russia.
Ukrainian Paralympic committee head Valeriy Sushkevich told Reuters after the meeting that it was “profound, long and substantive”, but declined to give further comment.
Earlier on Saturday Sushkevich had said he regarded the Crimean referendum as illegitimate, echoing the position of Ukraine’s interim government and Western countries.
“When a referendum is being carried out at gunpoint, when a referendum is accompanied by foreign troops on one’s country’s territory ... what legitimacy are we talking about?” Sushkevich told reporters in the highland Olympics cluster near Sochi.
He added that he hoped “the consequences of this absolutely illegal situation will be realized”.
Sushkevich said ahead of the Games that his team would pull out if violence escalated in the region. On Saturday he said the Ukrainian team was considering whether to snub the closing ceremony, or use it to make a statement in support of peace.
The United States and the European Union have threatened sanctions including visa bans and asset freezes against Russia if Crimea presses ahead with the plebiscite, which the West says would breach of international law, in a dramatic escalation in tensions unseen since the Cold War.
Pro-Russian forces have taken charge in Crimea, a Russian-majority region of Ukraine, since the country’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich was toppled by protesters angered over his rejection of closer relations with the European Union.
Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk, writing by Jason Bush; editing by Mark Heinrich