Group of Seven slams Russia annexation of Crimea, 7 years on

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Enthusiasts fix a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin to a balloon during celebration of the anniversary of Crimea annexation from Ukraine in 2014, in Sevastopol, Crimea, Thursday, March 18, 2021. Residents of cities in Crimea and Russia are holding gatherings to commemorate the seventh anniversary of Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine. The sign reading "Another gave us back the cradle of baptism. March 18, 2014". (AP Photo)

BERLIN – The Group of Seven major industrialized countries on Thursday issued a strong condemnation of what it called Russia's ongoing “occupation” of the Crimean Peninsula, seven years after Moscow annexed it from Ukraine.

The foreign ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S. said in a joint statement that Russia’s actions continue to “undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.”

“We unequivocally denounce Russia’s temporary occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol,” the seven countries said. “Russia’s attempts to legitimize it are not, and will not, be recognized.”

They accused Russia of human rights abuses on the peninsula and called for international monitors to be given access there.

Moscow has argued that Crimea was incorporated in 2014 after the vast majority of local residents voted for joining Russia weeks after the ouster of Ukraine's former Russia-friendly president, even though most of the world rejected the referendum as illegitimate.

Russian President Vladimir Putin marked the anniversary by speaking to residents of Crimea via video link and also attended a concert in Moscow marking the event.

“It's a holiday for our entire vast country,” he said at the Luzhniki sports arena. “It's the restoration of historic justice. Every inch of that land is drenched in the blood of Russian and Soviet soldiers, this land is sacred for Russia."

The Black Sea peninsula became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia, a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union meant that Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

The G-7 statement also cited Russia’s role in the ongoing conflict between pro-Moscow separatists and the government in eastern Ukraine.

“We call on the Russian Federation to stop fueling the conflict by providing financial and military support to the armed formations it backs in eastern Ukraine, as well as by granting Russian citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens,” they said.

The G-7 called for a diplomatic solution to the conflict that implements a series of agreements forged in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

Russia was suspended from the Group of Eight, as it then was, in 2014, over its actions in Ukraine.