BRUSSELS -- The European Union’s foreign policy chief has marked the fifth anniversary of Russia’s seizure and "illegal annexation" of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula with scathing criticism of the Kremlin.
In a statement issued on March 17, a day before what in Moscow's eyes is the fifth anniversary of the day Crimea became part of Russia, Federica Mogherini said the EU “remains steadfast in its commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity."
“The European Union reiterates that it does not recognize and continues to condemn this violation of international law,” Mogherini said. “It remains a direct challenge to international security, with grave implications for the international legal order that protects the territorial integrity, unity, and sovereignty of all states.”
Meanwhile, the Kremlin press service announced on March 17 that Russian President Vladimir Putin will mark the anniversary by visiting Crimea and its Black Sea port city of Sevastopol.
Mogherini warned that “Russia’s violations of international law have led to a dangerous increase in tensions at the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov.”
She said Russia’s “unjustified use of force” on November 25 against the Ukrainian Navy and its seizure of Ukrainian sailors off the coast of Crimea near the Kerch Strait is “a reminder of the negative effects of the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula on regional stability.”
She repeated the EU’s call for Russia “to release the illegally captured Ukrainian crew members, vessels, and equipment unconditionally and without further delay.”
She also condemned Russia’s construction of the Kerch Bridge, which links Russia’s Taman Peninsula with Crimea, saying the building of the bridge without Ukraine’s consent “constitutes a further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“The EU expects Russia to ensure unhindered and free passage of all ships through the Kerch Strait to and from the Azov Sea, in accordance with international law,” she said.
Mogherini also said the EU “does not and will not recognize the holding of elections” by Russia on Ukraine’s occupied Crimean Peninsula.
“The increasing militarization of the peninsula continues to impact negatively the security situation in the Black Sea region,” she said.
Mogherini also blamed Moscow for the deteriorating human rights situation in Crimea “since the illegal annexation by the Russian Federation.”
“Resident of the peninsula face systematic restrictions of fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression, religion, and association, and the right to peaceful assembly,” she said, adding that international human rights monitors and nongovernmental human rights organizations must have “unimpeded access” to Crimea and its Russian-occupied Black Sea port city of Sevastopol.
“The rights of the Crimean Tatars have been gravely violated through the shutting down of Crimean Tatar media outlets, the banning of the activities of the Mejlis, their self-governing body, and the persecution of its leaders and members of their community,” she said.