(CNSNews.com) – The Trump administration threw its support unequivocally behind Ukraine Tuesday in that country’s ongoing conflict with Russia, informing the Kremlin that U.S. sanctions will remain in place until Russia ends its occupation of Crimea.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told the U.N. Security Council that the U.S. does believe a better relationship with Moscow is possible, but not at the expense of the security of friends and allies in Europe.
“That is why the United States calls on Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she said. “That is why we continue to urge Russia to show a commitment to peace – by fully implementing the commitments under the Minsk agreements and ending its occupation of Crimea.”
Haley said the U.S. and European Union were in lockstep over keeping sanctions in place until the Minsk agreements – ceasefire deals negotiated between Ukraine’s government and Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east – were fully honored by Russia.
In addition, she said, “our separate Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine.”
Tuesday’s meeting on “conflicts in Europe,” which was chaired by Ukraine – a temporary member that holds the council’s rotating presidency this month – opened with somber tributes to Russian ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin, who died suddenly on Monday, aged 64.
Churkin was widely viewed, even by those opposed to Russian policies, as an effective and personable defender of President Vladimir Putin’s administration.
“I did not have the honor of working with Vitaly for very long, but Vitaly’s diplomacy will be long remembered,” said Haley. “He was a fierce advocate for his country. He was a consummate diplomat. He was brilliant, wise, gracious, and funny. He could spot even the narrowest opportunities to find a compromise. Having spent the early part of his career in the United States, Vitaly also recognized the value of closer ties between our two countries.”
Churkin’s diplomatic energies in recent years were directed in large part to fending off criticism of his government’s policies in Syria and in Ukraine.
After Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovich fled Kiev amid huge anti-government protests in February 2014 and fled to Moscow, Russia backed an armed separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, and after a referendum not recognized by the West, annexed Crimea.
In her remarks Tuesday, Haley called Russia’s attempts to “destabilize” Ukraine the most acute challenge facing Europe, and said the U.S. would not waver in its support for NATO, “the strongest alliance in history.”
She accused Russia of trying to prevent the change demanded by Ukrainians three years ago, after which it “armed, financed, and organized separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, leading to a devastating and senseless conflict that has cost more than 10,000 lives.”
Haley noted that in just recent days Russia has started to recognize purported passports issued by separatist authorities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, calling that move “another direct challenge to efforts to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.
Before ending, she challenged Russia in two other areas of longstanding tension – Georgia and Kosovo.
“Georgia’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders must be affirmed and respected,” she said, in reference to the Moscow-backed breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Russia virtually alone in the international community recognizes as “independent.”
“Kosovo deserves to take its rightful place in the international community of nations, including as a full member of the U.N.,” Haley told the council.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, nine years after NATO went to war to end Serb aggression against the Serbian province’s ethnic Albanian Muslim majority.
Russia, which had strongly opposed the NATO action, also rejected the 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from its close ally Serbia, and heads a group of some 80 countries that refuse to recognize Kosovo’s independence or to support U.N. membership.
Russian deputy permanent representative Petr Iliichev on Tuesday reaffirmed that his government continues to oppose international organization membership for Kosovo.