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US issues ‘Crimea Declaration’ reaffirming rejection of Russia’s annexation

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is seen during his news conference at the 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, on July 12, 2018. (Jaap Arriens/Sipa USA/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States announced a formal policy reaffirming its rejection of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasting Moscow for seeking “to undermine a bedrock international principle shared by democratic states.”

Pompeo’s announcement July 25, released an hour before his scheduled testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, followed recent conflicting remarks by President Donald Trump and administration officials about whether Washington was moving to reverse a policy in place since Russia’s seizure of the Black Sea peninsula in 2014.

“The United States reaffirms as policy its refusal to recognize the Kremlin’s claims of sovereignty over territory seized by force in contravention of international law,” said Pompeo’s statement, titled the Crimea Declaration.

“In concert with allies, partners, and the international community, the United States rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored,” it added.

It said the United States called on Russia to respect the “principles to which it has long claimed to adhere and to end its occupation of Crimea.”

Moscow in 2014 forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, a move condemned by the international community. It has also backed separatists in eastern Ukraine fighting against the Kyiv government in a war that has killed more than 10,300 people — actions that led to U.S. and EU sanctions being imposed against Moscow.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the declaration would entail, but Pompeo in his announcement referenced the Welles Declaration of 1940. That act was a decision by the United States not to recognize the Soviet annexation of the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. That policy lasted for 50 years and outlasted the Soviet Union.

Nonrecognition of the Crimea annexation was also the policy of the previous administration of President Barack Obama, but Pompeo’s remarks appear to be an effort to clearly state the current administration’s attitude after the recent diplomatic confusion.

Asked by reporters on June 29 whether reports about him ending Washington’s longstanding opposition to the Crimea annexation were true, Trump replied: “We’re going to have to see.”

Trump answered in a similar manner when asked whether he would consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia.

“We’ll see what Russia does,” Trump said. The remarks caused concernsthroughout Europe, and particularly in Ukraine, that Trump could overturn U.S. policy and effectively accept the first major land grab on the continent since World War II.

In the face of Russian aggression, Ukraine has relied on U.S. diplomatic, financial, and military support that has so far remained steady and featured the delivery of lethal Javelin antitank missile systems and $200 million in additional security funding to boost defensive capabilities.

The announcement also comes as Trump continues to insist that no president has ever been tougher on Russia amid criticism from Democrats and others that he has been too complimentary toward Putin and has overlooked alleged wrongdoing by Moscow regarding meddling in elections and activities in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere.

Trump has regularly questioned the findings by U.S. intelligence agencies and congressional panels that Moscow interfered in the election, often calling an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into the meddling a “witch hunt.”