The United States has reaffirmed that it will maintain sanctions on Russia until it returns control of Crimea to Ukraine, nearly five years after Moscow annexed the peninsula.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Russia's occupation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 has fueled "an escalation of Russian aggression."
"Crimea is Ukraine and must be returned to Ukraine’s control," a U.S.State Department statement quoted Pompeo as saying.
"During the past five years, Russian occupation authorities have engaged in an array of abuses in a campaign to eliminate all opposition to its control over Crimea," Pompeo said.
On February 27, 2014, masked gunmen seized Crimea's regional parliament in Simferopol and the government building and raised the Russian flag.
A referendum on the future of the peninsula, denounced as illegitimate by Washington, was held on March 16 of that year approving Crimea's annexation by Russia.
"The world has not forgotten the cynical lies Russia employed to justify its aggression and mask its attempted annexation of Ukrainian territory," Pompeo said, denouncing "the worsening repression by Russia's occupation regime in Crimea."
"The United States calls on Russia to release all of the Ukrainians, including members of the Crimean Tatar community, it has imprisoned in retaliation for their peaceful dissent," Pompeo said.
"The United States will maintain respective sanctions against Russia until the Russian government returns control of Crimea to Ukraine and fully implements the Minsk agreements," he said, referring to a Western-brokered 2015 peace agreement that has never been applied in its entirety.
Separately, in an opinion piece published in The Guardian newspaper on February 27, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin and 10 other foreign ministers from EU countries and Canada reiterated their condemnation of Russia's seizure of Crimea.
"We will continue our nonrecognition policy with respect to the illegal annexation of Crimea, and continue to condemn Russia's aggression against Ukraine in the strongest terms," the foreign ministers said.