PARIS, July 22. /TASS/. France’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it deeply regretted a decision by the republic’s lawmakers to visit Russia’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
"Ten parliamentarians have stated their intention to travel to Russia and then to visit Crimea," a spokesman for the ministry said. "We express our deep regret."
The parliamentarians’ visit to the Crimean peninsula is scheduled to take place on July 23-24. The delegation includes members of the French National Assembly and the Senate.
National Assembly deputy Thierry Mariani, who leads the French delegation, told French TV channel iTele earlier: "I am convinced that if Crimea had not joined Russia the way citizens of the peninsula wanted, there would be a civil war going on not only in the Donbas region but also in Crimea."
Answering questions posed by the program's presenter, Mariani refused to use the term "annexation", noting that "the criteria should be the same for everyone". He recalled the situation in Kosovo and the excitement which followed Kosovo’s secession from Serbia and declaration of independence in 2008.
"Maybe if we listen to Kosovo citizens, we could also give ear to people in Crimea," Mariani said, adding that he wanted to speak directly to people living on the peninsula and to see the situation for himself.
During their visit, French lawmakers are expected to meet Crimea’s leader Sergey Aksyonov, and chairman of Crimea's State Council Vladimir Konstantinov.
Besides holding talks with the Crimean leadership, parliamentarians plan to travel to Crimea’s famous resort city of Yalta on the Black Sea coast, where they will be able to talk with locals and tourists. The programme of the visit also features a trip to Sevastopol, a Russian federal city and home to Russia's Black Sea fleet. Members of the French delegation will see several museums there.
Crimea, where most residents are ethnic Russians, refused to recognize the legitimacy of authorities brought to power amid riots during a coup in Ukraine in February 2014.
In mid-March last year, Crimea rejoined Russia following a referendum. More than 82% of the electorate took part in the vote. Over 96% backed splitting from Ukraine and spoke in favour of reuniting with Russia.
Results of the referendum were celebrated by many Crimeans but the vote was widely criticised by Western leaders and at the United Nations.
In the Soviet Union, Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, when Communist Party head Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimean region, along with Sevastopol, to Ukraine's jurisdiction as a gift.