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Ukraine's Savchenko Draws Fire For Crimea Comments

  • RFE/RL

Nadia Savchenko suggested that if Kyiv focuses on demands for the return of control over Crimea, the Donbas will become "another Transdniester."

Ukrainian lawmaker Nadia Savchenko has caused controversy by suggesting that Kyiv must accept Moscow's grip on Crimea for the time being if it wants to regain control over eastern territory held by Russia-backed separatists.

Speaking on 112 Ukraine TV on January 17, Savchenko said that "the only peaceful way" to resolve the status of the eastern Donbas region in Kyiv's favor is to put the issue of Crimea, which was seized by Russia in March 2014, "on the back burner."

"We must not abandon" Crimea or the Donbas, Savchenko said. But she suggested that in order to regain control of separatist-held territory in the east, Ukrainian politicians will have to "give up" Crimea "for a certain period."

She suggested that if Kyiv focuses on demands for the return of control over Crimea, the Donbas will become "another Transdniester" -- a reference to a sliver of neighboring Moldova that has been held by pro-Russian separatists since a war in 1992.

The only other way to regain control over the Donbas is by force, she said.

Russia took control of Crimea in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum condemned by Ukraine and 99 other countries in the UN as illegitimate.

More than 9,750 people have been killed since the conflict between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists erupted in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces the following month.

Savchenko faced criticism over her comments from politicians and people posting on social media.

"We will not exchange Crimea for the Donbas, and we will not give up the Donbas either. We will claw back every meter of Ukrainian land," Iryna Herashchenko, first deputy speaker of Ukraine's parliament, said on Facebook. "We will fight for every Ukrainian. Ukraine is Kyiv and Lviv but also Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk."

Refat Chubarov, a lawmaker and leader of the Crimean Tatars -- an ethnic minority whose members mostly opposed Russia's takeover and have faced oppression from the Russian-imposed authorities on the peninsula -- said her remarks were "not only extremely unacceptable and deeply offensive, [but] cynical and traitorous to all citizens of Ukraine and the Crimean Tatar people, [some of whom] are still held hostage by Russian occupiers."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, meanwhile, reiterated that Moscow has no intention of ever ceding control of Crimea.

"Russia does not discuss the status and future position of Russian regions," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Savchenko, a former military aviator, says she was abducted by separatists in June 2014 and taken illegally into Russia, where she was jailed and tried on charges of involvement in what Moscow called the killing of two Russian journalists who died in the conflict.

Savchenko was convicted last year and sentenced to 22 years in prison but was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin in May and released in a swap for two Russians held by Kyiv. She was widely hailed as a hero upon her return to Ukraine, but has faced criticism from nationalists since then.

With reporting by Christopher Miller in Kyiv
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