Russia turned Crimea into a military base: Tatar leader

Flags waving in front of the Soldier and Sailor monument during celebrations in Sevastopol on March 18, 2015, to mark one year since Russia's President Vladimir Putin signed off on the annexation of Crimea (AFP Photo/Yuri Lashov) (AFP/File)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - In just one year, Crimea has gone from being a picturesque tourist destination in Ukraine to a Russian military base that will likely end up hosting nuclear weapons, the United Nations heard Thursday.

Prominent Soviet-era dissident Mustafa Dzhemilev, spiritual leader of Crimea's minority Tatar ethnic group, also said that the rights situation on the peninsula had deteriorated drastically since Moscow took over Crimea a year ago, sparking condemnation in the West.

"Crimea that used to be a tourist area is being turned into a military base... and the most alarming is that Crimea is likely to return into a nuclear weapons base," Dzhemilev told a press conference at UN headquarters in New York.

"There are no freedoms and rights in Crimea right now... those who stand up for their beliefs, and first of all for their willingness to go back to become part of Ukraine, are being repressed."

Between 10,000 and 15,000 Tatars -- a minority Muslim community with a distinct language and culture -- have fled Crimea since the Russian flag was raised there.

Dzhemilev was invited to the UN by Lithuania, a member of the UN Security Council, to attend an informal closed meeting on Crimea's human rights situation.

The meeting was boycotted by Russia, which considers the Crimea an integral part of its territory.

Besides Russia, two other members of the Security Council -- China and Venezuela -- did not send a representative to the meeting.