MOSCOW, May 19. /TASS/. The presence of Russian military in Crimea in March 2014, ahead of a referendum on reunification with Russia, was absolutely legal, in line with official agreements with Ukraine, Russia’s EU ambassador told German Deutsche Welle on Wednesday.
"The 1997 bilateral agreement between Russia and Ukraine gave the Russian Federation the right to military presence in Sevastopol, where the main naval base of the Russian fleet was situated, as well as across Crimea, with the numerical strength not exceeding 25,000," Vladimir Chizhov explained.
"The real number (of Russian military) was 16,000 when the crisis began," the diplomat went on. "The gap of 9,000 people was quickly filled through airlifting of reinforcement," he said.
Chizhov also noted a key role of Russian military in Crimea, which was "to ensure security for holding a referendum and for expression of political will by the local population".
The Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, a city with a special status on the Crimean Peninsula, where most residents are Russians, refused to recognize the legitimacy of authorities brought to power amid riots during a coup in Ukraine in February 2014.
Crimea and Sevastopol adopted declarations of independence on March 11, 2014. They held a referendum on March 16, 2014, in which 96.77% of Crimeans and 95.6% of Sevastopol voters chose to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the reunification deals March 18, 2014.