Spokesperson for the U.S. Department Heather Nauert has reminded Russian President Vladimir Putin that the illegally annexed territory of Crimea belongs to Ukraine.
"Four years ago this week, Russia held an illegitimate, fabricated 'referendum' in Ukraine in a futile attempt to legitimize its purported annexation of Ukrainian territory. Crimean residents were compelled to vote under scrutiny by heavily armed Russian troops. Russia's claim that Ukrainians made a free choice in that sham 'referendum' has always lacked credibility," Nauert told a briefing in Washington March 14, 2018.
"In his campaign rally in Crimea today, President Putin reiterated Russia's false claims to Ukrainian territory in another open admission that the Russian government disdains the international order and disrespects the territorial integrity of sovereign nations," Nauert stressed.
"In light of Putin's remarks, it is important to call attention to the illegitimacy of the staged 'referendum,' but also to the tremendous human costs the Russian government has imposed on the people of Crimea. Over the past four years, Russia has engaged in a campaign of coercion and violence, targeting anyone opposed to its attempted annexation," she said.
According to Nauert, Russian occupation authorities have subjected Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, pro-Ukrainian activists, civil society members, and independent journalists to politically motivated prosecution and ongoing repression, while methodically suppressing nongovernmental organizations and independent media outlets.
"We stand behind those courageous individuals who continue to speak out about these abuses and we call on Russia to cease its attempts to quell fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and religion or belief," Nauert said.
"We reaffirm our commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. Crimea is part of Ukraine and our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine," she added.
UNIAN memo. Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea in March 2014 after its troops had occupied the peninsula. An illegal referendum was held for Crimeans to decide on accession to Russia. De-facto Crimean authorities reported that allegedly 96.77% of the Crimean population had voted for joining Russia. On March 18, 2014, the so-called agreement on the accession of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to Russia was signed in the Kremlin. The West did not recognize the annexation in response to which sanctions against Russia were introduced. Ukraine's parliament voted to designate February 20, 2014, as the official date when the temporary occupation of Crimea began.