(RFE/RL) — Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea on March 18 to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine as allies of Kyiv in the fight against the Russian invasion issued statements condemning the annexation.
Russian state TV showed a video of a casually dressed Putin walking with a group of officials in Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014, eight years before launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine says it will fight to expel Russia from Crimea and all other territory that Russia has occupied in the year-long war.
Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea triggered a wave of international condemnation and sanctions against Moscow in 2014, and several European countries continue to condemn it.
“Nine years after the illegal annexation of Crimea, Britain continues to stand with Ukraine against Russian aggression,” the British Embassy said on Twitter. “In Crimea, Ukrainians suffer: citizens have no freedom, civilians are detained, and children are in ‘re-education’ camps.”
The Finnish Embassy said Russia has grossly violated international law and continues to do so.
“Finland does not recognize Russia’s illegal annexation. We support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and efforts to restore it. Crimea is Ukraine,” the country’s Foreign Ministry said.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry marked the anniversary by publishing a poster saying “Crimea is Ukraine. Donetsk is Ukraine. Kherson is Ukraine. Luhansk is Ukraine. Zaporizhzhya is Ukraine.”
Sweden does not recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territories, the ministry said, pledging to continue to “steadfastly support Ukraine.”
Armed men in uniforms without identification began seizing government buildings, the Simferopol airport, the Kerch ferry crossing, and other strategic objects in Crimea in February 2014. The Russian authorities initially refused to recognize that the men were soldiers from the Russian Army. Later, Putin admitted it was the Russian military.
A referendum on the status of the peninsula was held on March 16, 2014, on the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol. Two days later Putin announced the “accession” of Crimea to Russia.
In Moscow, pro-Kremlin activists rallied on March 18 outside embassies of countries considered “unfriendly” to Russia.
The pro-Kremlin youth movement Molodaya Gvardia (The Young Guard) said that more than 5,000 people demonstrated outside the embassies of 20 “unfriendly” nations, including the United States, France, Germany, and Poland.
Around 400 activists gathered outside the U.S. Embassy holding posters with messages such as “Crimea with Russia forever” and “The United States, you sow death,” according to AFP.
A similar demonstration of some 200 people took place outside the British Embassy, AFP reported.