Russia Tells West to Stop ‘Obsessing’ over Crimea, Denies It Occupies Ukraine’s Insurgents-Controlled Donbass

People wave Russian national flags and a portrait of President Vladimir Putin as they attend a concert marking the three-year anniversary of the annexation of Crimea by Russia in front of Moscow's State University (MGU) in Moscow, Russia, 18 March 2017. Photo: Maxim Shipenov/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Senior Russian officials have once again defended Putin’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, while denying that Moscow is involved in any way in the ongoing pro-Russian insurgency in Donbass.
  • Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman has told the West to ‘stop obsessing over Crimea’.
  • To Moscow’s pleasure, the Daily Mail has ‘casually recognized’ Russia’s annexation of Crimea in an article about a World War II bomb.
  • Putin’s spokesman Peskov has once again denied Russia is involved in the war in Ukraine, or that it is occupying Ukrainian territory.
  • Peskov’s comment came in response to a question over draft Ukrainian legislation stipulating that Kiev should declare the Donbass region as occupied by Russia.

Top Russian government officials have fired a new volley of statements lambasting the West for punishing Russia with sanctions over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, and denying Russian involvement in the ongoing war in Ukraine which boils down to a pro-Russian insurgency in the Donbass region.

In the winter of 2013-2014, the Euromaidan Revolution in Kiev ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, and promised to bring Ukraine closer to the West, including through EU and NATO membership.

In response, led by President Vladimir Putin, in February-March 2014, Russia occupied and then annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea.

Shortly after Russia’s seizure of Crimea, a pro-Russian insurgency possibly instigated and aided by Moscow began in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine and has been raging ever since.

Since then, war in Ukraine has claimed some 10,000 lives, and has displaced millions of people.

The Ukrainian’s standoff with the forces of the separatist so called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic along a 400 km (250-mile) frontline has thus turned into a “cold’ conflict with “hot” flashpoints.

The US, the EU, and other Western nations have imposed sanctions on Russia over both the annexation of the Crimea and the insurgency in Ukraine’s Donbass which the West deems to be instigated and supported by Moscow.

Ukraine has adopted a course of integration with the West which, however, has been hobbled by serious challenges ranging from the weaknesses of the Ukrainian economy to the failure to tackle the privileged position of the Ukrainian oligarchs.

Nonetheless, Ukraine has recently achieved visa-free travel for its citizens to the European Union and Schengen Area countries, and EU – Ukraine Free Trade and Association agreement – over which the Euromaidan Revolution erupted – has finally fully entered into force after the Netherlands ratified it.

What is more, Ukraine recently adopted new legislation making the achievment of NATO membership the country’s top foreign policy priority.

‘Avoid Facing Facts’

The West should “stop obsessing” over Crimea and “face facts” on it, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova at an event styled the first international media forum dubbed “Open Crimea: with One’s Own Eyes”, apparently referring to the fact that Russia views Crimea as part of is own territory.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman stated that there was “an obsessive drive to avoid facing facts that problems are being resolved”, as cited by state-run news agency TASS.

“I do not think an erroneous image of Crimea remains,” she said replying to a question about the West’s perception.

“Efforts are still being carried out at propping up those issues, which the West points to as essential, please note in particular ‘points to’ – extolling them as their focal point, and not those which do exist,” Zakharova argued.

“[The West has] an obsessive drive to avoid facing facts that problems are being resolved, and to avoid seeing that these dynamics are absolutely positive,” she said, adding that Russia has accomplished major achievements in Crimea within a short time period.

“The West’s persistency in turning a blind eye to Crimea is astounding. It is high time to open up one’s eyes, and that is why events like these are organized,” the Russian official argued.

Daily Mail’s ‘Recognition’

On Monday, The Daily Mail, Britain’s second biggest selling daily newspaper, brought much joy to Moscow and the Russian media controlled directly or indirectly by the Kremlin by styling Ukraine’s annexed Crimean Peninsula part of Southwest Russia.

The Daily Mail’s “casual recognition”, as it has been described by some commentators, of Russia’s Crimea annexation came in a story about the detonation of a World War II-era bomb on the Black Sea peninsula.

“The dramatic incident took place in the port city of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, in south-western Russia,” the Daily Mail article reads.

TASS points out that one Russian reader of the newspaper wrote on the website’s forum “thanks” for recognizing Crimea as part of Russia, while Ukrainian readers reacted emotionally insisting that Crimea is Ukrainian territory.

‘Territory Occupied by Russia’

Meanwhile, speaking to the press on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov denied once again that the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine had been under Russia’s occupation

Ukraine’s southeast is not occupied by Russia, but rather a civil war continues to rage on there, Peskov said.

His comments were in response to a question over proposed legislation in the Ukrainian Parliament stipulating that Ukraine should formally declare Donbass a territory occupied by Russia.

Putin’s government has been denying any involvement in Donbass, stating that any Russian citizens who might be partaking in the conflict do so at their own discretion.

Back in 2014, Putin and other senior Russian officials kept denying that the troops occupying Crimea were Russia’s. Days later, as the annexation went down, they admitted the opposite.

Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has been exposed by Russian servicemen captured by the Ukrainian forces at the beginning of the conflict.

Furthermore, on February 18, 2017, Putin issued a decree recognizing all civilian documents issued by the authorities of the separatists’ Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

“[Southeast Ukraine] is not occupied by Russia, Russia is not occupying any territories,” Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.

“It is Ukraine’s internal conflict. I call a spade a spade and it is a civil war, which Ukraine only can stop,” he added.

He argued that Ukraine could stop the war by acting in line with implementation of the Minsk agreements.

In February 2015, the leaders of Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine – Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, and Petro Poroshenko – negotiated the so called Minsk II Agreement, under which warring parties are to stick to a full ceasefire, withdraw heavy weapons from the frontline to establish a security zone, and release all hostages on the basis of an “all for all” exchange.

The Minsk II ceasefire deal has been broken many times on the 400 km (250-mile) frontline between the Ukrainian troops and the forces of the so called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics established in the rebel-controlled zones.

In recent months, Ukraine has moved to isolate the pro-Russian separatists in Donbass by blocking trade and shutting off supplies of electricity and gas.

Several factions in the Ukrainian Parliament have introduced legislation that would designate those territories outside of Kiev’s control as “occupied.”

For the time being, the legislation in question appears to be unlikely to be adopted.

However, in May, a public opinion poll conducted by the Razumkov Center found that nearly half of Ukrainians were in favor of declaring the separatist-controlled parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions to be occupied by Russia.

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