Key blasts Crimea referendum

20:03, Mar 16 2014

Prime Minister John Key has denounced today's referendum on the status of Crimea, saying it'd be as legitimate as Timaru wanting to annex itself and join Australia.

"It's not quite the way these things work," he said.

Key joined Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully in expressing his disregard for the process, which saw Crimeans vote to become part of Russia by 96 per cent.

But the referendum, held under in Crimea under Russian occupation, has been slammed by Western leaders as illegal and hastily-arranged.

The West has spoken out strongly against it, threatening sanctions and attempting to pass a UN Security Council resolution declaring it invalid, though this was blocked by Russia, which has massed troops on the Crimean border.

McCully said yesterday that New Zealand would not recognise the result of the referendum.

"This referendum has been organised hastily, under the threat of force, and without any prior efforts to consult or negotiate a settlement consistent with the Constitution of Ukraine," he said.

The situation in the Crimea "represents an unjustified threat to the territorial integrity of Ukraine," he said.

McCully expressed his disappointment that the UN resolution failed.

"New Zealand strongly supports the right of citizens to determine their own future," he said.

"However this should be done in an environment that is free and fair, and in accordance with accepted democratic principles."

Proceeding with the referendum worsened the tensions in the area, he said.

Key this morning agreed.

"Murray's right, you can't have a situation where, under threat of force - because that's what's effectively happening in Crimea - a referendum is organised, and believe that it's legally binding," he said.

"I don't think it's actually legally binding under Ukrainian law anyway. In a way, it'd be like Timaru saying they want to annex themselves and become part of Australia, you know. It's not quite the way these things work.

"So in the end, they theoretically could have a vote possibly, but certainly not the way it's been organised, and you wouldn't rush that process if it was a genuine process."

But Key said he doubted Russian President Vladimir Putin would listen to the West anyway.

"I doubt it, I can't see him really changing, not off the back of that," Key said.

"But it is really important that we make our position clear and we say in the end, 'you can have processes, and have it done the right way - we believe in self-determination', plenty of countries will go through that."