EU calls for more sanctions ahead of Putin’s Crimea visit

EU calls more countries to impose sanctions on Russia ahead of Putin’s Crimea visit in second year of annexation

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with workers during a visit to the construction site of the transport passage across the Kerch Strait, Crimea, March 18, 2016

The European Union called on Friday for more countries to impose sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea two years ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also went to Crimea on Friday to check up on the progress of a $3 billion bridge project connecting Crimea to Russia.

He is expected to hold talks with Crimea's leadership over the region’s economic development amid sanctions and embargoes.

EU said it would continue sanctions that ban European companies from investing in Russian Black Sea oil and gas exploration, in a statement by the European Council.

"The European Union remains committed to fully implementing its non-recognition policy, including through restrictive measures," the statement said.

"The EU calls again on UN member states to consider similar non-recognition measures."

An Orthodox priest attends a rally marking the second anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea, March 18, 2016

Kremlin responded later the day and said that the status of Crimea is not open to discussion.

"Our position is known, this is a region of the Russian Federation. Russia has not discussed and will never discuss its regions with anyone," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a teleconference with reporters.

"In this case we should treat with respect the expression of the will of Crimean residents and the decision which was taken two years ago," he said, referring to the referendum on secession from Ukraine.

Russia annexed the peninsula on March 21, 2014, following a referendum on March 17.

The referendum was boycotted by the majority of Crimean Tatars, and condemned by the international community as being illegitimate, especially as it was held after the peninsula came under the occupation of armed militants in unmarked green uniforms.  

The militants, often referred to in Western media as “little green men,” were believed to be Russian soldiers, whom Russia claims to be local militiamen.

A uniformed man, wearing no insignia or identifying marks, but believed to be a Russian serviceman, stands on guard outside a Ukrainian military base in the village of Perevalnoye outside Simferopol, Crimea on March 5, 2014

NATO and the EU are concerned by Russia's military build-up in Crimea, which they say is part of a strategy to set up defensive zones of influence with surface-to-air missile batteries and anti-ship missiles.

In December 2014, EU banned its citizens from buying or financing companies in Crimea.

Besides the EU, the US, Japan and other major economies including Australia and Canada have imposed sanctions on Russia over Crimea, but others including China and Brazil have avoided direct criticism of Moscow.

Rights groups say those who opposed the annexation have faced a crackdown in Crimea.

Human Rights Watch on Friday accused the authorities of creating "a pervasive climate of fear and repression in Crimea" in the two years since annexation."

The group denounced abuses perpetrated against the Crimea Tatar community, as well as a crackdown on pro-Ukraine activists and journalists.

TRTWorld and agencies