Four years ago this month, Russia held an illegitimate, fabricated “referendum” in Ukraine in an attempt to legitimize its purported annexation of Ukrainian territory. Crimean residents were compelled to vote under scrutiny by heavily armed Russian troops. Russia’s claim that Ukrainians made a free choice in that illegitimate exercise lacks credibility.
On March 14, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke in Crimea’s largest city, Sevastopol, before a crowd to mark the fourth anniversary of the sham “referendum.” In this campaign rally, “President Putin reiterated Russia’s false claims to Ukrainian territory in another open admission that the Russian government disdains the international order and disrespects the territorial integrity of sovereign nations,” said State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert in a written statement.
“In light of Putin’s remarks,” Nauert added, “it is important to call attention to the illegitimacy of the staged ‘referendum,’ but also to the tremendous human costs the Russian government has imposed on the people of Crimea.”
Over the past four years, Russia has engaged in a campaign of coercion and violence, targeting anyone opposed to its attempted annexation. Russian occupation authorities have subjected Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, pro-Ukrainian activists, civil society members, and independent journalists to politically motivated prosecution and ongoing repression, while methodically suppressing nongovernmental organizations and independent media outlets.
“[The United States] stand[s] behind those courageous individuals who continue to speak out about these abuses and we call on Russia to cease its attempts to quell fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and religion or belief,” Nauert said.
“We reaffirm our commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.Crimea is part of Ukraine and our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine.”