On the fifth anniversary of Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, NATO has again called on Moscow to bring to an end all violations and abuses in the region. The North Atlantic Council stated on 18 March that the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is “a serious breach of international law and a major challenge to Euro-Atlantic security. We strongly condemn this act, which we do not and will not recognise. We call on Russia to return control of Crimea to Ukraine.”

NATO’s position, reiterated on many occasions since Russia’s unilateral annexation, is that the Crimea was and is Ukrainian territory and it fully supports Ukraine’s political sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally-recognised borders and territorial waters. The Allies are concerned by the human rights abuses and violations carried out by de facto Russian authorities against Ukrainians, Crimean Tartars and other ethnic communities. These violations include extrajudicial killings, abductions, enforced disappearances, violence, arbitrary detentions, arrest, and torture. Despite the 2017 Order of the International Court of Justice, the Mejlis, the Crimean Tartars' self-governing body, remains under persecution and is banned in its homeland.

NATO has called on Russia to release Ukrainian prisoners and hostages and to grant international monitoring organisation access to Crimea. Any attempts to legitimise or normalise the annexation must end, including the automatic imposition of Russian citizenship, forced population movement, conscription in the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the illegal conduct of Russian election campaigns.

NATO condemns Russia's ongoing and wide-ranging military build-up in Crimea and is concerned by Russia's efforts and stated plans for further military build-up in the Black Sea region. The Alliance also criticises Russia's construction of the Kerch Strait bridge – a further violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is creating additional economic hardship. Russia's unjustified use of military force against Ukrainian ships and naval personnel near the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait in November 2018 is part of a larger pattern of Russian aggressive actions in the region. In line with the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 73/194 in December 2018, NATO calls on Russia to unconditionally release the Ukrainian crew members it detained, to return the captured vessels and to comply with its international commitments by ensuring access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov and allowing freedom of navigation.

NATO's response to Russia's illegal actions in Ukraine has been in conjunction with and support of an international effort, which includes sanctions. There can be no return to ‘business as usual’ until there is a clear, constructive change in Russia's actions that demonstrates compliance with international law.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has on many occasions called on Russia to end its illegal annexation of Crimea. (Photo: NATO)

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