European Union External Action

Speech on behalf of the High Representative/Vice-President at the European Parliament plenary debate on “Five years of the illegal occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation”

Strasbourg, 26/03/2019 - 21:21, UNIQUE ID: 190327_4
HR/VP speeches

Delivered by Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini

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Mr President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Five years ago, the Russian Federation illegally annexed the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol.

Five years on, the European Union remains steadfast in its support to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. We do not and will not recognise this violation of international law. We are unwavering in our non-recognition policy.

The deterioration of the security situation in the Black Sea region is a constant source of concern with an increasing militarisation of the Crimean peninsula. The unjustified use of force by Russia at the Kerch Strait last November, in itself another consequence of the illegal annexation, is a reminder of its negative impact on regional stability.

The EU expects Russia to release unconditionally and without further delay the Ukrainian crewmembers and vessels that were captured on that day. Russia should ensure the respect of their rights to legal representation and access by consular authorities. We also expect Russia to provide them with appropriate medical treatment.

This unacceptable situation also stems from the construction of the Kerch Bridge without Ukraine's consent.

Some time ago, Russia started to apply an inspection regime that limits the navigation through the Kerch Strait to and from Ukrainian ports, and leads to significant delays. Hundreds of vessels flying Ukraine's and international flags, including those of EU Member States, have suffered from controls which can last several days.

We expect Russia to ensure unhindered and free passage of all ships through the Kerch Strait, to and from the Azov Sea, in accordance with international law. We welcome Ukraine's approach to seek justice, such as the ongoing case under UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In addition to the negative consequences of the illegal annexation on the security situation in the region, we deplore systematic restrictions of fundamental freedoms and violations of human rights in the peninsula. Notably the rights of the Crimean Tatars have been seriously violated: media outlets shut down; the activities of the Mejlis, their self-governing body, banned; and the leaders and members of their community persecuted.

We will continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Oleh Sentsov, who received the Sakharov Prize last year and whose picture outside the European Parliament reminds the people who walk by every day about his dedication. We also call for the release of many others, such as Edem Bekirov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Mykola Semena, Volodymyr Balukh and Emir-Usein Kuku, who have been detained and sentenced by Russia in breach of international law. We call for all human rights violations to be investigated, and for international human rights actors to have unfettered access to the Crimean peninsula. In addition to cases related to the Crimean peninsula, we unfortunately continue to see examples of illegally-detained Ukrainian citizens in Russia being convicted. Most recently, Pavlo Hryb was sentenced to six years imprisonment and we also expect him to be released. We will also take every opportunity to raise individual cases, publicly and bilaterally, with our Russian interlocutors.

Faced with Russia's violations of international law, Ukraine is not alone. We have stood by our associated partner and continue to do so.

We condemned the construction of the Kerch Bridge, pointed to the deterioration of the security situation in the Black and Azov Seas, including in this forum last October. Our position on the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol has been reiterated on many occasions, most recently in the High Representative’s Declaration on behalf of the EU on 17 March. She publicly addressed this issue also during the last Foreign Affairs Council.

We have also taken measures to show Russia that its actions have a cost. Lastly, on 15 March, we added to our list of restrictive measures 8 Russian individuals who were involved in the use of force at the Kerch Strait in November. The publication of this decision was made in parallel with similar announcements made by our transatlantic partners, in a demonstration of our continued unity.

We have also identified possible areas for further EU support for the Ukrainian regions severely affected by the Russian inspection regime in the Azov Sea. We are particularly looking into developing railway and road connections in the area, training centres in some Ukrainian cities around the Azov Sea, and support for small- and medium-sized enterprises aiming to diversify the business sector and the industrial structure of this region, which is for the time being heavily dependent on steel production.

These violations of international law are happening on our very continent. And we, as the European Union, have no doubt about where we stand. We stand on the side of international law. We stand on the side of the basic principle that borders must not be changed by force. And most importantly, we stand on the side of the people of Ukraine.

In these years, we have invested in Ukraine more than in any other country in the world. And Ukraine knows that our support is here to stay.

Thank you.

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Closing remarks

Thank you, Mr President.

Following the overwhelming majority of interventions, I can conclude that we all need to continue to keep the non-recognition of the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula high on our agenda. This means continuing to monitor closely the developments in the Azov Sea and reflecting on how we may further support Ukraine in this regard.

I also believe that we can agree that we should use all opportunities in our bilateral and multilateral contacts to reiterate our principled position on the illegal annexation, and to state that Crimea is Ukraine. 

 On this, we can rely on the unambiguous position of all EU Member States.

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