KIEV, Ukraine, Aug. 24 (UPI) — On the 25th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, the first president of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk told an interviewer that Crimea is already part of Russia, and that Ukraine would have to wait a long time to get it back.
Kravchuk, who served as president from 1991 to 1994, told a Ukrainian media outlet that Crimea is a part of Russia but that the Donbass region — which has seen fighting between Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels — will soon be returned to Ukraine, TASS Russian News Agency reports.
“Let us divide [these issues]. Donbass will return without fail, and we will not have to wait long. As for Crimea, we will have to wait for a long time,” Kravchuk said. “Crimea was drawn into Moscow’s orbit, so it is already part of the Russian federal system. In actual fact, it is already Russia.”
Tensions have run high on the Crimean Peninsula since March 2014 when it was annexed by Russia following a landslide referendum. In the referendum, 97 percent of Crimean residents voted to be a part of Russia.
Ukraine celebrated its independence in Kiev’s Independence Square with a parade of soldiers and heavy weaponry, including tanks and missile carriers. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was present for Ukraine’s largest military procession since declaring independence in 1991.
“Independence has given us democracy and freedom, the feeling of civic dignity and national unity,” Poroshenko told the crowd. The military parade comes as tensions between the Ukrainian government and the Russian government are at a fever high.
Recent accusations by Russians of Ukrainian attacks have further deteriorated relations.
The Crimean Peninsula was first annexed by Russia in 1783 during the reign of Catherine the Great, and remained a part of the Russian/Soviet empire until 1991, when Ukraine declared its independence.