The United States and Germany have vowed to continue punishing Russia with economic sanctions for its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, and warned of new measures if Moscow fails to fully back a cease-fire it endorsed last month.
In Washington Monday, the U.S. State Department accused Moscow of carrying out a "sham referendum" in Crimea last year, ahead of a vote in the Russian parliament to annex the peninsula. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the vote was "not voluntary, transparent or democratic." She also said U.S. sanctions will continue as long "as long as the occupation continues."
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks with Ukraine's visiting President Petro Poroshenko. She later said the European Union was prepared to consider more sanctions against Moscow for its support of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, if all else fails. She also said her government remains committed to returning Crimea to Ukraine.
EU leaders meeting later this week in Brussels are expected to revisit existing sanctions imposed on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine crisis. The Europeans are reported to be pushing for a declaration that would prohibit the easing of those sanctions as long as Moscow continues to back the rebellion.
In a statement Monday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the annexation a "violation of international law." She also voiced fresh concerns about the military build-up in the region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council at the Kremlin in Moscow, Mar. 6, 2015..
Meanwhile, in Crimea, Russia launched three days of celebrations to mark the first anniversary of the annexation. Fireworks displays and concerts took place in cities across the Black Sea peninsula, with festivities reportedly monitored by elite Russian troops already deployed in the region.
Several thousand revelers were reported in the port city of Sevastopol, while Russian state television in Moscow carried live reports from the peninsula and showed archived footage of events that transpired one year ago.