March 20, 2017
Photo courtesy of Istanbul Kırım Derneği @flickr.com
On the occasion of the third anniversary of the illegal Russian takeover of Crimea, on 18 March 2017, the government of the United States (US) pledged to keep their Crimea-related sanctions in place until the illegally-annexed peninsula is returned to Ukraine. Along with the European Parliament, who on 17 March 2017 condemned in a resolution the continued crackdown on the religious freedom and the property rights of the Tatar minority, the US reminded Russia in strong words to cease all violations of human rights in Crimea. The European Parliament further called for the immediate release of all arbitrarily-detained Ukrainian citizens, including Akhtem Chiygoz, Deputy Chairman оf the supreme representative and executive body of the Crimean Tatar people known as the “Mejlis”.
“Crimea is a part of Ukraine. The United States again condemns the Russian occupation of Crimea and calls for its immediate end,” said acting US State Department spokesman Mark Toner in a statement marking the three-year anniversary of Moscow’s takeover of the peninsula.
“Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine,” he said, as quoted by AFP.
Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula on 18 March  following a military intervention and a hastily organised referendum, which was rejected by the international community.
“The United States does not recognise Russia’s ‘referendum’ of 16 March 2014, nor its attempted annexation of Crimea and continued violation of international law,” said Toner.
“We once again reaffirm our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In the statement, the US also called on Russia to “cease its attempts to suppress freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion” among Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, pro-Ukrainian activists and journalists.
The US move is likely to dispel fears that the administration of Donald Trump is likely to lift the sanctions against Russia imposed over its intervention in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
The European Parliament passed a resolution yesterday [17 March 2017], expressing equal concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Crimea, condemning the discriminatory policies against the Tatar minority and the infringement of their property rights.
MEPs also called on Russia to release immediately all illegally and arbitrarily detained Ukrainian citizens, both in Russia and in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, and to provide for their safe return.
These include Mykola Karpyuk, Stanislav Klykh, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Oleg Sentsov, Oleksiy Chyrniy, Oleksandr Kostenko, Serhiy Lytvynov, Valentyn Vyhivskyi, Viktor Shur, Andriy Kolomiyets, Ruslan Zeytullayev, Nuri Primov, Rustem Vaitov, Ferat Sayfullayev, Akhtem Chiyhoz, Mustafa Dehermendzhi, Ali Asanov, Inver Bekirov, Muslim Aliyev, Vadim Siruk, Arsen Dzhepparov, Refat Alimov, Zevri Abseitov, Remzi Memetov, Rustem Abiltarov, Enver Mamutov, Artur Panov, Evheniy Panov, Roman Suschenko and Emir-Usein Kuku, among others.
EU lawmakers also urged Russia to allow all the above-mentioned people to travel freely, including Mykola Semena, who is being prosecuted for his journalistic work for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The resolution was passed with 451 votes for, 73 against and 86 abstentions.
On Russia-related issues there is a tradition of MEPs voting against the instructions of their political group
According to VoteWatch.eu those who voted against are mainly leftwing MEPs (GUE-NGL group), Eurosceptics from Nigel Farage’s EFDD group and right-wingers from Marine Le Pen’s ENF group.
From the mainstream parties, those who voted against are three S&D MEPs (Petar Koroumbashev and Momchil Nekov from Bulgaria and Andrej Mamikins from Latvia), two MEPs from the EPP (Nadine Morano from France and Theodoros Zagorakis from Greece), as well one Green MEP (Tatjana Zdanoka from Latvia).
Among those abstaining are 23 MEPs from the S&D group and 14 from the EPP. Among the EPP rebels are big names such as former European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and former European Commissioner Viviane Reding.
All liberal MEPs voted in favour of the resolution. In recent years ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt has elevated himself to the position of being the main critic of Vladimir Putin’s policies.
Also yesterday the European External Action Service published a wrap-up of the EU’s restrictive measures in response to the crisis in Ukraine.
The latest measure was the prolongation on 13 March of the asset freeze and travel restrictions against 150 persons and 37 entities that are subject to an asset freeze and a travel ban over their responsibility for actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.
On 13 March, the Council prolonged these measures until 15 September 2017. The economic sanctions are due to be reassessed on 31 July, this year.
In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV.com, Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov called the EU Council decision from 13 March “disappointing” and “not leading anywhere”.