U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Washington "does not and will not ever recognize" Moscow's claim to Ukraine's Crimea region, which it seized in 2014 and annexed.
Pompeo said that "February 27 will mark the sixth anniversary of Russia's attempted annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, and the United States reaffirms: Crimea is Ukraine."
"As underscored in our July 2018 Crimea Declaration, the United States does not and will not ever recognize Russia's claims of sovereignty over the peninsula. We call on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea," he said.
"Six years on, Russia continues to rely on lies and disinformation in its failed attempt to legitimize the illegitimate. Its efforts are doomed to failure," he said.
Pompeo said the world will never forget "Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine."
"The United States condemns Russia's illegal actions in Crimea and its continued aggressive actions against Ukraine, including in the Donbas, and will maintain sanctions against Russia until it returns control of Crimea to Ukraine and fully implements its commitments under the Minsk agreements," he said, referring to a set of agreements struck in the Belarusian capital aimed at ending the conflict.
Pompeo's remarks came hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a decree designating February 26 a memorial day to mark Russia's annexation of Crimea -- an annexation not recognized by the international community and which has led to a series of sanctions against Moscow.
According to Russian state-run TASS news agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Zelenskiy's move "does not correspond to the real situation around Crimea," adding that Moscow "categorically" disagrees with the wording of Zelenskiy's decree.
Russia seized the Black Sea peninsula in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by at least 100 countries. In April that year, Russia threw its support behind armed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, generally known as the Donbas, where more than 13,000 people have been killed in the ongoing conflict.
Pompeo said that "Russia's occupation of Crimea and its increasing militarization of the peninsula is a threat to our common security."
He added that Moscow's "occupation authorities continue their assault on human rights and fundamental freedoms, brutally silencing critics in civil society and the media, and curtailing religious freedom."
Pompeo said more than 80 people from Crimea, including members of the Tatar community, "have been imprisoned by Russia -- and some subjected to torture -- for peaceful opposition to the occupation."
He also said Moscow had violated international law by forcibly conscripting nearly 20,000 Crimean men, a charge leveled in November by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said the men were being forced to serve in the Russian military.
U.S. President Donald Trump this week extended for one year a series of previously imposed sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine.
Trump's executive order was signed on February 25 and includes a package of sanctions that have expanded in scope over time since March 6, 2014.