The U.S. ambassador to Russia said Washington was committed to defending Ukraine's territorial integrity, saying the issue of Moscow's annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine was "a core part of our estrangement with Russia."

In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service published on April 13, Jon Huntsman also called on Russia to "engage in a helpful process that will allow the people of Ukraine to see their nation restored," RFE/RL wrote.

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"We do care deeply about the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which has been badly violated," Huntsman said. "[Moscow's 2014] annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine… – it has not been resolved. Nothing has been done in terms of positive steps toward recreating the contours of a whole and free Ukraine…."

"It is time to get to the negotiating table and find some solutions, which has not been the case for the last many years," he added.

Huntsman's comments come just over five years after Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and then annexed it, a move that has been rejected by the overwhelming majority of United Nations members.

In April 2014, the month after the Crimea annexation, armed men began seizing key buildings in parts of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, and a full-blown war broke out shortly thereafter.

Diplomats and journalists have documented Russia's backing for the fighters, who have battled Ukrainian government-backed forces. More than 13,000 people have died.

The United States, the European Union, and others imposed economic sanctions against Russia following the annexation and the outbreak of fighting, sanctions that remain in place despite indications from U.S. President Donald Trump that he might consider easing them.

Huntsman said that maintaining sanctions against Russia is one of the few matters on which both major U.S. political parties agree.

"This issue, in the United States Senate, has united almost 100 percent of Republicans and Democrats," he said.

The International Criminal Court ruled in November 2016 that the war in eastern Ukraine was "an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation."

In addition to Crimea and the Donbas conflict, Huntsman cited the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

And he cited the case of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose 2009 death in a Russian prison led to the passage of a U.S. law that has infuriated the Kremlin.

"People uniformly in Congress feel very strongly about these issues and how we should respond," he said.