US Lambasts Russia’s Annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea 3 Years after ‘Illegitimate Referendum’

A monument of a Russian soldier Greeted by a young girl in Crimea’s capital Simferopol opened in June 2016 celebrates the Russian occupation and annexation of the Republic of Crimea. Photo: Artur Shvartz/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • US State Department has issued the Trump Administration’s harshest statement against Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea so far.
  • Statement has declared America’s commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
  • It has stated that Russia’s annexation referendum in Crimea was illegitimate, and dissent on the peninsula has been cracked down upon.
  • It has made clear America’s expectation that Crimea will be returned to Ukraine.

The US Department of State has issued a statement of extremely harsh wording on the occasion of the third year since Russia’s occupation and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, demanding that the strategic Black Sea peninsula be restored to its original owner.

The statement appears to the Trump Administration’s strongest on the issue of Crimea’s annexation by Russia so far.

It was worded more strongly than White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comment in early February that made clear Trump’s expectation that Russia was going to return the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine, which was later implicitly confirmed by the US President in a tweet stating that Russia had “taken” Crimea during the Obama Administration.

Under President Vladimir Putin, in February-March 2014, Russia occupied and then annexed Crimea in reaction to the Euromaidan Revolution in Kiev which ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych and promised to bring Ukraine closer to the West, including through EU and NATO membership.

Russia’s seizure of Crimea started on February 27, 3 years ago, when uniformed Russian soldiers without insignia (known as “little green men”) took over the Supreme Council (Parliament) of Crimea, and a number of other key spots across the Black Sea Peninsula.

Subsequently, a pro-Russian insurgency possibly instigated and aided by Moscow began in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine and has been raging ever since, resulting in nearly 10,000 deaths and millions of displaced persons.

In its latest statement, the US State Department fails to mention the ongoing war in Ukraine’s Donbass which is closely linked to the fate of Crimea, but it already condemned Russia and “the separatist forces it backs” in another statement from late February.

A new Russian destroyer, the Admiral Grigorovich, is moored at the Sevastopol Navy Base in Crimea, July 8, 2016. Photo: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

US Commitment to a ‘Whole Ukraine’

The US State Department’s statement entitled “Reaffirming U.S. Commitment to a Sovereign and Whole Ukraine on the Third Anniversary of Russia’s Crimean ‘Referendum’”, was issued on Thursday, March 16, on behalf of Spokesperson Mark Toner.

The statement is especially blunt and seems to be dispelling further existing suspicions that the Administration of US President Donald Trump might be inclined to international compromises, for example, with the security of America’s allies in Eastern Europe, in order to achieve a rapprochement with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“Three years ago, Russia seized and occupied Crimea. Russia then staged an illegitimate referendum in which residents of Crimea were compelled to vote while heavily armed foreign forces occupied their land,“ US State Department spokesperson Marc Toner declared.

“The United States does not recognize Russia’s “referendum” of March 16, 2014, nor its attempted annexation of Crimea and continued violation of international law. We once again reaffirm our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,“ he added.

In the statement he further emphasized that over the past three years, “Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea have engaged in a campaign to suppress dissent”.

Toner pointed out that in Crimea under Russian occupation human rights monitors have documented “enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and punitive psychiatric hospitalizations”.

“Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, pro-Ukrainian activists, and independent journalists have been subjected to politically motivated prosecution and face ongoing repression,“ Toned said.

He added that Russian “occupation “‘authorities’” had silenced and forced the closure of nongovernmental organizations and independent media and have consistently denied international observers access to the peninsula.

The US State Department called on Russia to cease its attempts to suppress freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion.

“Crimea is a part of Ukraine. The United States again condemns the Russian occupation of Crimea and calls for its immediate end. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine,“ State Department Spokesperson Toner declared.

The European Union, the other most important Western actor alongside the USA, recently prolonged one of its three sets of sanctions against Russia over the situation in Ukraine.

Ukrainian activists hold portraits of jailed people jailed by Russia during a rally in support of the Crimean Tatar Activist Llmi Umerov on Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, August 26, 2016. Photo: Sergey Dolzhenko /EPA/REX/Shutterstock

3 Years Ago

After initially seizing Crimea “anonymously” by sending troops without identification signs at the end of February 2014 so as to deny its involvement, Russia formally recognized the presence of its armed forces on Ukraine’s territory, held a referendum for joining Russia among the Crimeans, and then moved to annex the peninsula on March 18, 2014.

While 97% of the voters (with an 80% turnout) in the so called Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol (a Black Sea city with special status) allegedly voted to be annexed by Russia, the legitimacy and fairness of the referendum have been widely questioned by international experts and officials.

Crimea is a strategically located peninsula in the Northern Black Sea with a territory of about 27,000 square kilometers (10,000 square miles) and a population of 2.2 million, the vast majority of whom are ethnic Russians.

A repressed ethnic Tatar minority is also present, a remnant from the period before 1783 when the Russian Empire conquered the peninsula.

Even though in the late 18th century, the Ottoman Empire lost the Crimean Peninsula to the Russian Empire, modern-day Turkey has seen itself as a defender of the Muslim Crimean Tatar community.

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