Zelenskyy vows to restore Ukrainian rule over Crimea

Ukraine hosts virtual summit dedicated to peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a flag-raising ceremony in Kyiv on Tuesday. Reuters
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday vowed to restore Ukrainian rule over Crimea, rebuild the peninsula and lead it on a path into the European Union.

Mr Zelenskyy told a virtual summit dedicated to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014: "It started in Crimea and it will end in Crimea."

"We need to win — to win the fight against Russian aggression, and therefore we need to free Crimea from occupation."

His call to arms was echoed by Polish President Andrzej Duda, the only foreign leader to attend in person in Kyiv, who said Ukraine had the right to liberate its internationally recognised territory.

Mr Duda said he was determined to "see Crimea, the Ukrainian Crimea ... I believe, Volodymyr, that you will show Crimea to me".

"Crimea is and will be the same part of Ukraine as Gdansk or Lublin are part of Poland, as Nice is part of France, as Cologne is part of Germany, just like Rotterdam is part of the Netherlands," he said.

The annual summit on Crimea has taken on greater significance after Russia's all-out invasion in February. It comes a day before Ukraine's independence day and Mr Zelenskyy and some senior officials wore national dress for the occasion.

Western leaders addressing the summit said they would never recognise the Russian occupation of Crimea, though they stopped short of calling for it to recaptured.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson said leaders should have the humility to acknowledge that "not everyone realised the sheer enormity of what was happening at the time", heeding a frequent complaint from countries in Eastern Europe.

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "planning to do to parts of Ukraine, in fact all of Ukraine, what he has done to Crimea and he is preparing more annexations and more sham referendums".

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz echoed that warning, amid suggestions that Russia would try to annex territory captured during this year's invasion.

"Any sham referendums or other attempts to alter the status of parts of Ukrainian territory will never be recognised," said Mr Scholz.

A referendum in Crimea in 2014 was dismissed as fraudulent by western powers because it took place while Russian troops were on the peninsula, violated Ukraine's constitution and was marred by irregularities.

Russia shows no sign of abandoning the peninsula, home to its Black Sea fleet, and has used Crimea as a platform to launch missile strikes on Ukrainian targets.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg accused Russia of turning Crimea into "one of the most militarised areas in Europe", while other leaders highlighted reports of human rights abuse under Moscow's rule.

But recent explosions in Crimea have raised the prospect that the fighting could spread there, even as Ukraine remains coy on whether it is behind them.

Britain's departing Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the Crimea summit by video link. AP

Mr Scholz and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen repeated a promise made by the G7 countries at their summit in June to support Ukraine for "as long as it takes".

Mr Zelenskyy said restoring control over Crimea would be "a historic anti-war step in Europe" and promised to restore public services and tourism if Ukraine retook the peninsula.

He said people from Crimea would become citizens of the European Union if Ukraine fulfilled its dream of joining the bloc, a process that took a step forward in June when it was formally granted candidate status.

"I want to emphasise for Ukraine — Crimea is not just some territory, not a figure in the geopolitical game. For Ukraine, Crimea is a part of our people, our society, a community of people," Mr Zelenskyy said.

"The path of Crimea will be the path of the entire Ukrainian continent. Ukraine will remove the barbed wire that blocks the way for ordinary people to the best spots and places of Crimea, these illegal fences that have torn out this beautiful coastline of our beautiful Crimea."

Updated: August 24, 2022, 5:43 AM