Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pledged to do all he can to recover the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula and urged international allies to support the effort.
Speaking on Monday at the Crimean Platform, a summit in Kyiv designed to keep international attention focused on Russia’s 2014 annexation, Zelenskyy said Ukraine would use “all possible political, legal and first and foremost diplomatic means” to pursue its goal.
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Russia’s seizure of Crimea was denounced as illegal by most of the world and has sent Moscow’s relations with the West plummeting to post-Cold War lows in the years since.
“I will personally do everything possible to return Crimea so that it becomes part of Europe together with Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said.
He told the forum that Kyiv needed “effective support at the international level” over the issue.
Top officials from 46 countries and blocs took part in the summit, including from the United States, the European Union and Turkey.
All 30 member states of the NATO transatlantic security alliance were represented.
Top Western officials relayed messages of support for Ukraine.
“Ukraine will never be alone in that Crimea is Ukraine,” EU Council President Charles Michel said.
“Unfortunately, Russia continues to act in ways that multiply the negative impact of the annexation,” he added.
“The continued militarisation of the peninsula heavily affects the security situation in the Black Sea region.”
But Moscow was quick to denounce the gathering, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissing it as an “anti-Russian event”.
‘Victim of occupation’
Zelenskyy charged that Russia has turned Crimea into a “military base” and “a foothold for Russia to boost its influence on the Black Sea region”.
He said Moscow has tripled its military presence in Crimea.
In April, Russia increased troops near its borders with Ukraine, including in Crimea, eliciting international outrage.
Two months later, on June 23, Russia said one of its warships in the Black Sea fired warning shots and a warplane dropped bombs in the path of the HMS Defender, a British Royal Navy destroyer, to chase it away from an area near Crimea that Moscow claims as its territorial waters.
The United Kingdom, which like most other nations did not recognise the annexation of Crimea, insisted the Defender was not fired upon and said it was sailing in Ukrainian waters.
Participants of the summit signed a joint declaration, which, Zelenskyy said in his closing remarks, “clearly stipulates the non-recognition of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and contains commitments to consider imposing additional political and diplomatic sanctions on Russia in the case of further aggression”.
“Occupation of Crimea casts doubts on the effectiveness of the entire international security system,” he said.
“Without restoring the trust in it, not a single state can be sure that it wouldn’t become the next victim of occupation.”
Separately on Monday, Peskov criticised German Chancellor Angela Merkel over her recent remarks on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
Government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists in the areas since April 2014 after the rebels seized a swath of territory there.
Peskov firmly rejected claims by Merkel on Sunday that Russia was “intensively involved” in the conflict.
“Russia has no connections whatsoever with the parties to the conflict,” he said.
Peskov pointed out that Russia was not listed as a party to the conflict in the peace plan negotiated by Germany and France.