(CNSNews.com) – Asked for a reaction to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan to visit Crimea this week, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday, “I hope he enjoys his visit to Ukraine.”
The remark underscored the fact the U.S., like most of the international community, does not recognize Russia’s takeover of the strategic Ukrainian region, which Putin annexed on March 18 after a Moscow-backed referendum rejected by the West.
Putin’s planned visit on Friday coincides with Victory Day, when Russia and other former Soviet states mark Nazi Germany’s surrender in World War II.
“You don’t have any objections to him visiting Crimea?” a reporter asked Psaki during a daily press briefing.
“Well, obviously, it depends on what he does there,” she replied. “But again, you know where we stand on Crimea, and Crimea is part of Ukraine.”
This will be Putin’s first visit to Crimea since the annexation, and comes at a time of escalating crisis in eastern and southern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists battling against Ukraine’s interim government say they will now hold autonomy referendums in two areas, Donetsk and Luhansk, on Sunday.
“We flatly reject this illegal effort to further divide Ukraine,” Psaki said of the planned voting exercises.
“This is the Crimea playbook all over again,” she said. “No civilized nation will recognize the results; and if Russia takes the next step to reenact its illegal Crimea annexation in eastern or southern Ukraine and sends more forces over the border, harsh U.S. and E.U. sanctions will follow.”
Psaki was asked later about her use of the word “civilized.”
“Would you say the same thing about Crimea, the Crimean referendum? So Russia is an uncivilized country?” a reporter asked. “Is that what you’re saying?”
Psaki replied that “the broad spectrum of the international community opposed the referendum in Crimea. And we don’t think the international community will support this either – despite Russia’s views.”
“But any country that recognized the Crimean referendum and annexation by Russia – or would, if these other places [Donetsk and Luhansk] go – is uncivilized in the U.S. view?” the reporter pressed.
“I think you’re using the word in a way I didn’t mean to convey it,” she said.
Although the vast majority of countries have rejected Russia’s annexation of Crimea, ten voted “no” when the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution in March calling the annexation illegal – Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
Several other countries have indicated support for Russia’s takeover of the region, including Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.