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23 Feb, 2024 23:16

No such thing as ‘occupied Ukrainian territories’, Moscow tells UN

Crimea and four other regions became parts of Russia on the wishes of the local populations, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has said
No such thing as ‘occupied Ukrainian territories’, Moscow tells UN

Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, has rejected accusations that Russia is occupying parts of Ukraine. The comments were made during a UN General Assembly session on the fighting between the two countries, which enters its third year on Saturday.  

Ukraine and its Western backers used the meeting to condemn Russia’s “occupation” of its neighbor’s lands. Speaking from the podium, Nebenzia rejected this notion. “In reality, there is no such thing as temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. They are Russian regions,” he said. 

He added that Crimea, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, and the regions of Kherson and Zaporozhye became part of Russia following “the legitimate expression of the will of their people.”

Crimea voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia shortly after the 2014 US-backed coup in Kiev. Four other former Ukrainian regions followed suit after holding referendums in September 2022.

Nebenzia went on to reiterate Moscow’s position that the coup in Kiev was one of the root causes of the ongoing conflict, and stressed that Russia launched the military operation in 2022 to protect the largely Russian-speaking population of Donbass from Kiev’s troops. He argued that the conflict could have been avoided if not for Ukraine’s “nationalist” policies. 

“Russia did not start this war. Russia came to finally stop it. All Kiev had to do was to respect the rights of the people and allow them to live peacefully, receive education in their native language and have the freedom of religion and the freedom of thought,” Nebenzia said.

Ukrainian envoy Dmitry Kuleba accused Russia of attempting to “destroy” his country. “Ukraine survived the invasion, and Ukraine will win the war,” he claimed. “If we act collectively and jointly, this will happen sooner rather than later.” 

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield urged Russia to “put an end to its campaign of cruelty” and pull back “its forces from Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.”

Moscow has said it is open to a peaceful settlement, but stressed that the newly incorporated regions, including Crimea, must remain under Russian control.