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Britain Demands Russia End Crimea 'Land Grab'

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The Foreign Secretary has called on the Kremlin to end its occupation of Crimea, branding it an illegal "land grab" carried out "at the point of a Russian bayonet".

The strongly worded criticism directed at Moscow comes two years after the takeover, which Philip Hammond described as "an act of aggression" that would never be recognised by the UK.

Moscow forces seized the mainly Russian-speaking peninsula after an uprising in western Ukraine led to the overthrow of the country's pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych.

While the Russian President Vladimir Putin had sought to legitimise the annexation through a treaty, Hr Hammond argued "in reality it was a land grab, plain and simple".

He said: "Less than a week earlier, the Kremlin had staged an illegitimate 'referendum' in Crimea.

"The so-called 'referendum' was a mockery of democracy, cobbled together in just two weeks, at the point of a Russian bayonet and without independent international monitors.

"It was used as a pre-planned pretext for annexing Crimea, the first change by force to Europe’s borders in decades."

Mr Hammond added: "By annexing Ukraine’s land, violating its territorial integrity, and destabilising east Ukraine, Russia has contravened international law and challenged the rules based international order.

"Such actions are simply not acceptable.

"That is why we are standing firm against this dangerous behaviour and responding in the serious and strategic way that this challenge demands, including sustaining our sanctions on Russia.

"Our position is clear – we do not and will not recognise Russia’s illegal takeover of Crimea."

Mr Hammond also condemned what he claimed were the continuing human rights abuses suffered by Crimea's ethnic minorities at the hands of the Russians - most notably the Crimean Tatar community.

The Secretary of State said: "The illegal annexation of Crimea was an act of aggression.

"And in the face of this aggression, we must stand united in defence of our values.

"I call on Russia to end its occupation and return Crimea to Ukraine."

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