U.S. diplomat says Ukrainian strikes on military targets in Crimea are legitimate
Feb 17 (Reuters) - The United States considers that Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, should be demilitarised at a minimum and Washington supports Ukrainian attacks on military targets on the peninsula, Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said.
Crimea, which includes the port of Sevastopol where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based, is seen by Western and Russian diplomats as the biggest flashpoint of the Ukraine war.
"No matter what the Ukrainians decide about Crimea in terms of where they choose to fight etcetera, Ukraine is not going to be safe unless Crimea is at a minimum, at a minimum, demilitarised," Nuland told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
Asked about the dangers of escalation in the Ukraine war, Nuland said Russia had a host of military installations crucial for the conflict. "Those are legitimate targets, Ukraine is hitting them and we are supporting that," Nuland said.
Crimea, which juts out into the Black Sea, was absorbed into the Russian empire after Catherine the Great annexed it in the 18th century.
In 1921, the peninsula became part of the Soviet Union and of Russia within it until 1954, when it was handed to Ukraine, also a Soviet republic, by Josef Stalin’s successor Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian.
In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Russia recognised Ukrainian sovereignty in its existing borders - which included Crimea - and agreed to refrain from using force against the new republic.
Ukraine says it wants to reclaim all territory annexed by Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbour in February last year. Russia says any strikes on Crimea would be extremely dangerous and risk a major escalation of the war.
Attacks on Russian air and naval bases, as well as on a Russian-built road and rail bridge linking it to Russia across the mouth to the Sea of Azov - have been celebrated by Ukrainian officials. (Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge Editing by Mark Heinrich)