Merci, François, and before I turn to my remarks on Crimea, the United States strongly condemns today’s attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, and we stand in solidarity with the people of New Zealand and their government against this vicious act of hate. Thank you today to France and Germany for your lead in organizing this session and to the briefers for your insightful presentations. The United States is pleased to co-sponsor this important meeting.
At the outset, to echo Ms. Opyrsko, the United States joins others in reiterating our call on Russia to immediately release the vessels and crews seized in November.
Five years ago this week, Russia conducted a sham referendum in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in a futile attempt to justify its purported annexation – an act that the United States and the international community widely condemned.
We reject Russia’s lies and efforts to mask its illegal seizure of Ukrainian territory. As U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo has declared, “we do not, and will not, recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea.” More recently, marking the fifth anniversary of Russia’s occupation of Crimea last month, Secretary Pompeo underscored: “Crimea is Ukraine and must be returned to Ukraine’s control. We will never accept anything less than the full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
Russia’s occupation has been a disaster for the Crimean people, who find themselves increasingly isolated from the world. Over the past five years, Russia’s engaged in a campaign of coercion and violence against anyone in Crimea opposed to its attempted annexation. The Crimean people face economic hardship, and the loss of business and opportunities, all while witnessing Russia’s kleptocracy and plundering of Crimea’s wealth and resources.
Russian occupation authorities use force, harassment, and intimidation to suppress dissent and opposition to their occupation. Dozens of killings and apparent disappearances committed since the occupation began remain unsolved, with many individuals detained under abusive conditions. The number of Ukrainian prisoners of conscience held by Russia – now over 70 – is growing. We strongly condemn Russia’s use of its legal system to suppress dissent, and reiterate our call for Russia to immediately release all those it unjustly detains.
Russia’s occupation has severely violated the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Russia has also sought to impose its laws in occupied Crimea without legitimacy – particularly its so-called “extremism” laws. We’re concerned with Russia’s forced closure of non-governmental organizations and independent media in Crimea, and its denial of international observer access to the peninsula, and we condemn the occupation authorities’ suspension of democratic institutions. The United States will continue to work with its allies and partners to call on the government of Russia to uphold its international obligations, including with respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms.
We also urge Russia to cease its increasing militarization of the Crimean peninsula, including the conduct of military exercises and the transfer of weapon systems and military personnel to Crimea. By continuing its aggressive acts against Ukraine, Russia only further isolates itself and reduces the possibility of a better future for its people and its neighbors. Russia must rethink this approach.
The United States will continue to draw on the range of measures we have at our disposal, including diplomacy, sanctions, and security assistance to ensure that Russia pays a price for its occupation of Crimea. Our sanctions on Russia for its aggressive acts in Ukraine will remain in place until Russia returns control of the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine and fully implements the Minsk agreements.
We remain firmly opposed to Russian attempts to normalize this unlawful situation, and urge others to refrain from actions that might be interpreted as recognizing any change in the status of Crimea. Together we must continue to shed light on Russia’s brutal occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and reject Russia’s attempts to normalize or legitimize its purported annexation of Ukrainian territory.
I thank you for your attention.