EU warns of Russian military buildup in Crimea
BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
REUTERS PhotoThe EU warned March 16 of a continued Russian military build-up in Crimea as it condemned Moscow's "illegal annexation" of the peninsula from Ukraine one year ago.
Diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said the 28-nation bloc was also deeply concerned at the deterioration of human rights, demanding free access for outside monitors to investigate the situation.
"The EU reaffirms its deep concern at the continuous military build-up and deterioration of the human rights situation in the Crimean peninsula, including the denial of free speech and the persecution of persons belonging to minorities," said a statement by Mogherini approved by the EU's foreign ministers.
The European Union, which has hit Russia with tough economic sanctions over its intervention in Ukraine, "does not recognise and continues to condemn this act of violation of international law," the statement said.
"The illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol ... is also a direct challenge to international security, with grave implications for the international legal order that protects the unity and sovereignty of all states," it added.
Russia plans celebrations Monday to mark the first anniversary of the annexation which followed a referendum organised by Moscow in a territory long regarded by Russians as a historic slice of their territory.
Widely condemned abroad, the annexation boosted Russian President Vladimir Putin's popularity at home to stellar levels.
Putin described the annexation of Crimea as a mission to rescue the majority Russian-speaking peninsula from Ukrainian "nationalists" who had ousted a Moscow-backed government in Kiev.
In a documentary aired on state TV in Russia on Sunday, Putin also said he was ready to put the country's nuclear forces on alert as he sought to annex Crimea last year.