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US not to lift "Crimean" sanctions if Minsk deals are implemented — State Department

May 28, 2015, 0:47 UTC+3
US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke the United States keeps considering Crimea part of Ukraine and supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity
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© AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON, May 27. /TASS/. The United States will not lift its "Crimean" sanctions against Russia even if the Minsk agreements are implemented, US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Wednesday.

Asked by journalists whether anti-Russian sanctions regarding Crimea will be effective even after implementation of the Minsk deals, Rathke answered in the affirmative.

He said the United States keeps considering Crimea part of Ukraine and supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

The question on Crimea was posed to the State Department spokesman in connection with today’s speech in Washington’s Brookings Institution by US Vice President Joseph Biden on the topic of Ukraine and relations with Russia, who made it clear that sanctions will remain in force at least until the end of the year, because before that, it would be too early to judge whether the Minsk deals have been implemented.

Moscow has repeatedly said it considers Western sanctions counterproductive. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in particular said that "unfolding confrontation, attempts of sanctions pressure [upon Russia] are a dead-end track."

On May 13, Alexey Pushkov, the chairman of the international affairs committee of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, commented on a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the southern Russian resort city of Sochi.

"I don’t think the United States has revised its position on Crimea. I just assume that the US realizes that Crimea is part of the Russian Federation and that attempts to pressure Russia on that issue have absolutely no prospects," Pushkov said.

"But that does not mean that they [Americans] gave up their approach or that they are ready to consider the possibility of lifting sanctions connected with the Crimean story," he warned.

Crimea's reunification with Russia

The Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, a city with a special status on the Crimean Peninsula, where most residents are Russians, refused to recognize the legitimacy of authorities brought to power amid riots during a coup in Ukraine in February 2014.

Crimea and Sevastopol adopted declarations of independence on March 11, 2014. They held a referendum on March 16, 2014, in which 96.77% of Crimeans and 95.6% of Sevastopol voters chose to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the reunification deals March 18, 2014.

Despite Moscow’s repeated statements that the Crimean referendum on secession from Ukraine was in line with the international law and the UN Charter and in conformity with the precedent set by Kosovo’s secession from Serbia in 2008, the West and Kiev have refused to recognize the legality of Crimea’s reunification with Russia.

Crimea had joined the Russian Empire in 1783, when it was conquered by Russian Empress Catherine the Great.

In the Soviet Union, Crimea used to be part of Russia until 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev, the first secretary of the USSR’s Communist Party, transferred it to Ukraine's jurisdiction as a gift.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Crimea became part of newly independent Ukraine and remained in that capacity until March 2014, when it reunified with Russia after some 60 years as part of Ukraine.

According to the Crimean and Ukrainian statistics bodies, as of early 2014, Crimea had a population of 1,959,000 people; Sevastopol has a population of 384,000 people.

Work to integrate the Crimean Peninsula into Russia’s economic, financial, credit, legal, state power, military conscription and infrastructure systems has been actively underway since Crimea acceded to the Russian Federation.

Sanctions

Russian officials and companies came under the first batch of Western sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, after Russia incorporated Crimea in mid-March 2014 after the February 2014 coup in Ukraine.

The West announced new, sectoral, restrictions against Russia in late July 2014, in particular, for what the West claimed was Moscow’s alleged involvement in protests in Ukraine’s southeast.

In response, Russia imposed on August 6, 2014 a one-year ban on imports of beef, pork, poultry, fish, cheeses, fruit, vegetables and dairy products from Australia, Canada, the European Union, the United States and Norway.

New large-scale punitive measures against Russia followed in September and December 2014.

Russia has constantly dismissed accusations of "annexing" Crimea, because Crimea reunified with Russia voluntarily after a referendum, as well as allegations that Moscow could in any way be involved in hostilities in the southeast of Ukraine.

Minsk deals

On February 12, 2015, participants of the Contact Group on settlement of the situation in east Ukraine signed in Belarusian capital Minsk a document earlier agreed with leaders of the Normandy Four (Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine).

The 13-point Package of Measures on implementation of the September 2014 Minsk agreements included cessation of fire from February 15, withdrawal of heavy armaments, as well as measures on long-term political settlement in Ukraine, in particular establishment of working subgroups.

The subgroups focus on four areas: economic issues and restoration of facilities; refugees, internally displaced persons and humanitarian assistance; political issues; security issues.

The ceasefire has been repeatedly violated.

Clashes between Ukrainian troops and local militias during Kiev’s military operation, conducted since mid-April 2014, to regain control over the breakaway territories, which call themselves the Donetsk and Lugansk People's republics and constitute parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, have left thousands of people dead.

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