- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2019

On the fifth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, the operation remains a frustrating symbol of the West’s inability to roll back President Vladimir Putin’s risk-taking foreign policy, a top Ukrainian security official said Tuesday.

“Crimea came to be the very litmus [test] of the world’s helplessness to stop Russian aggression five years ago,” Emine Dzhaparova, Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Information Policy, said Tuesday on a visit to Washington.

Despite U.S. and Western sanctions and stepped-up support for Ukraine’s military, roughly 7 percent of the country — nearly 17,000 square miles of Ukrainian territory — remains under the control of Moscow. Mr. Putin’s critics say Russia has employed similar tactics in other regions of eastern Europe, while expanding its military efforts in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

“We are now dancing with an aggressor,” Ms. Dzhaparova said at an event marking the Crimea annexation at the Washington-based U.S. Institute for Peace.

An undeterred Mr. Putin made a triumphant visit to the peninsula Monday, using the visit to tout energy and public works programs initiated by Moscow since the annexation.

“Russia has taken you into its fold with delight and joy. We will fulfill all of our goals … because we are together now,” Mr. Putin said in a speech to a pro-Russian crowd in Crimea’s regional capital of Simferopol. Kiev vehemently protested the Russian leader’s visit, calling the trip a “crude violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

At the USIP event in Washington, a top State Department diplomat insisted the Trump administration remains resolute in its demand that Crimea be brought back under the Ukrainian flag.

“Crimea is Ukraine and must be returned to Ukraine control,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, head of the European and Eurasian Affairs directorate, said Tuesday.

“Clearly, Putin consciously styles himself as the gatherer of what he sees as Russian lands, regardless of international laws, norms or the views of neighboring countries,” Mr. Kent said. “Russia’s ongoing efforts to destabilize Ukraine will not go unanswered.”

But it is hard to see how Mr. Putin can be deterred in the short term. In addition to Crimea, Russia has been supporting pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine’s east in what is Europe’s only shooting war, one that has deteriorated into a military stalemate that has left at least 13,000 dead.

The Trump administration recently issued yet another round of sanctions against Russia, targeting several Russian citizens and companies tied to Crimea and the November seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch Strait, off the Crimean coastline.

NATO allies issued their own statement this week making it clear they still do not recognized Russia’s claims to control Crimea, and that relations with the Kremlin will never be fully normalized until Crimea is restored to Kiev.

“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 and its international obligations and responsibilities,” the statement said.

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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