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US, Canada, EU announce new sanctions against Russia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
People carry flags during celebrations of the fifth anniversary of Crimea's decision to rejoin Russia in Simferopol on March 15, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

The US, the EU and Canada have imposed fresh sanctions against Moscow in a coordinated move as people in Crimea celebrated the fifth anniversary of reintegration to Russia following a referendum.

"The United States and our transatlantic partners will not allow Russia's continued aggression against Ukraine to go unchecked," US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Friday.

Mnuchin announced new measures that targeted more than a dozen Russian officials and businesses.

The measures freeze all properties and interests belonging to the designated individuals and entities. They also prohibit US persons from transacting with the sanctioned individuals and firms.

Tensions escalated between Moscow and Kiev in November after Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships in the Kerch Strait, according to Kremlin. The Russian navy also detained 24 Ukrainian crew members in the incident.

"We call upon Russia to immediately return to Ukraine the seized vessels and detained crewmembers, and keep the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov open to ships transiting to and from Ukrainian ports," said US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino.

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Canada hailed the anti-Russian move, saying that Ottawa was taking similar measures against Moscow “in response to Russia’s aggressive actions in the Black Sea and Kerch Strait and Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.”

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada had placed 114 Russia individuals and 15 entities on the sanctions list.

The EU also slapped sanctions on eight more Russians over the same allegations. This increases the bloc's blacklist of Russians sanctioned over the conflict in Ukraine to 170 persons and 44 entities.

Relations between Moscow and the rest of Europe have deteriorated since 2014, when Crimea rejoined Russia following a referendum where more than 90 percent of participants voted in favor of the move. The West brands the reunification as annexation of Ukrainian land by Russia.

In siding with Ukraine, the European Union has followed Washington's lead in leveling several rounds of sanctions against the Moscow.

Russia vows retaliation 

Russia said on Saturday it will not leave "this unfriendly action" by the European Union unanswered. 

"The EU's claim that Russia 'broke international law' and used unjustified force does not correspond with reality at all," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. 

"The excuse for placing our fellow countrymen on the European Union's illegitimate sanctions lists amazes with its hypocrisy and cynicism," it added.

Crimea marks 5th anniversary of reunification

On Friday, thousands of people were celebrating the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia in the capital city of Simferopol.

Organizers of the rally said people will be celebrating “Crimea’s reunification with Russia” and “the Crimean spring” during a four-day-long series of events until Monday.

People gather outside Crimea’s parliamentary building in the Crimean capital of Simferopol on March 15, 2019.

According to local officials, some 7000 people were out in the streets, holding Russian and Crimean flags. “Crimea will forever be Russian,” people were chanting.

"Five years have passed and the situation has stabilized, people are now adapting to their new environment and its new laws and political culture,” a university student told the Moscow Times.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was also scheduled to participate in the celebrations, the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.

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