US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he hoped to announce with NATO allies visiting Washington next week additional steps to push back on Russia.
“Next week I am hopeful […] I will be able to announce another series of actions that we will jointly take together”, Pompeo was quoted as saying by Reuters at a House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, adding that Washington could have done more to address Moscow’s activity in Ukraine.
“When the Russians captured sailors in the Sea of Azov, we’ve done a great deal of work to try to push against that. We need to do more”, Pompeo said.
The relations between Moscow and Kiev deteriorated in 2014 due to the armed conflict in the east of Ukraine which sparked after the new Ukrainian government seized power after the overthrow of constitutionally elected then-President Viktor Yanukovych.
Moreover, the relations deteriorated further when Crimea was officially reintegrated into Russia on 18 March 2014 as a result of a referendum, in which the absolute majority of those who voted voiced their support for the move. While the United States and other countries have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the vote and have slammed the reunification as annexation, Moscow has maintained that the referendum was held in accordance with international law and Crimea is now an integral part of Russia.
The incident in the Kerch Strait between Russia and Ukraine, when three Ukrainian ships were detained after illegally crossing Russian border in November 2018, has further deteriorated the relationship between Moscow and the Western countries. On 25 November, Ukraine’s Berdyansk and Nikopol gunboats and the Yany Kapu tugboat illegally crossed the Russian maritime border as they sailed toward the Kerch Strait, the entrance to the Sea of Azov. Russia seized the Ukrainian vessels and detained 24 people on board after they failed to respond to a demand to stop. After the incident, a criminal case on illegal border crossing was opened in Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the incident a provocation, noting that there were members of the Ukrainian security service, who were in charge of the operation, on board the Ukrainian vessels.
Meanwhile, during his speech at a House of Representatives Pompeo also touched upon the issue of the Golan Heights, saying that the recognition of the sovereignty over the Golan “is the right thing to do” and would help with a resolution in Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We believe this increases the likelihood that we get resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians”, Pompeo told a congressional hearing. “We think it speaks with the clarity that takes this away from any uncertainty about how we’ll proceed”.
On Monday, US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The document, which has been widely regarded as a way of propelling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election bid ahead of the 9 April parliamentary vote, has already been condemned by Iran, Russia, Syria, Turkey and other countries.
The Golan Heights, a strategically important area due to its water resources among other reasons, has been mostly under Israel’s control since the country seized the area during the 1967 Six-Day War.
When Israel adopted a law that effectively annexed the territory back in 1981, the United Nations unanimously declared that it was “null and void and without international legal effect”. In 2018, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution urging Israel to immediately withdraw its forces from the area after the country organized local elections in the area on 30 October.