French MEPs visit Crimea illegally to observe Russia’s constitutional vote

French Member of the Rassemblement National (RN) far-right party Thierry Mariani delivers a speech during the European elections campaign meeting in Roquevaire, southern France, 22 March 2019. [EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER]

Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU has written to European Parliament President David Sassoli to condemn a move by a group of French MEPs who are visiting the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

Five MEPs are on a three-day visit to Crimea until 2 July to act as “experts” and “assess the voting process on amendments” to Russia’s constitution, according to Russian media reports.

The delegation is headed by pro-Kremlin MEP Thierry Mariani of the far-right Rassemblement National party who previously served as transport minister under Nicolas Sarkozy and has visited Crimea on numerous occasions in recent years.

The Russian constitutional overhaul includes changes that would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to remain in power until 2036. The changes are being put to a weeklong nationwide vote which ends on Wednesday (1 July).

The move by the five French MEPs was strongly condemned by Mykola Tochytskyi, the Ukrainian ambassador to the EU.

“Since 2014, the European Parliament has repeatedly emphasised in its numerous resolutions its unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Tochytskyi wrote in a letter on Tuesday (30 June).

The diplomat recalled that Ukraine considered unlawful both the vote and the visits to the occupied territory.

Visiting the peninsula without prior authorisation from Kyiv is illegal under Ukrainian law.

“Therefore, I strongly believe that the European Parliament should not be part of Russia’s hybrid attempts to legitimise the attempted annexation of Crimea and its barbaric policy towards independent countries.”

French MPs provoke anger across Europe with visit to Crimea

A group of pro-Russian French MPs has provoked outcry across Europe on a visit to Crimea. EURACTIV France reports

The European Parliament immediately distanced itself from the French MEPs. “if confirmed, this is a private visit, which in no way commits Parliament,” a spokesperson for the institution said in response to requests by EURACTIV.

“This is not an official delegation of the European Parliament,” the spokesperson insisted.

Emine Dzheppar, deputy foreign minister of Ukraine, herself an ethnic Crimean Tatar, requested an official reaction to the incident on Tuesday (30 June) in her meeting with French ambassador in Kyiv, Etienne de Poncins.

The EU has imposed sanctions on Russia to condemn Moscow’s role in the annexation of the peninsula and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. EU member states have since renewed the sanctions every six months unanimously.

The visit by French MEPs was condemned by Lithuanian MEP and former Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, who is from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP). “Thierry Marianni, will it be the same tomorrow in Crimea like it was in 2016 – kisses to invaders? Shame!” he wrote on Twitter.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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