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The United States expresses its deep concern over Russia’s plans to block foreign naval ships and state vessels in parts of the Black Sea, including near occupied Crimea and the Kerch Strait. Russia has a history of taking aggressive actions against Ukrainian vessels and impeding access to Ukraine’s ports in the Sea of Azov, impacting Ukraine’s international commerce. This represents yet another unprovoked escalation in Moscow’s ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilize Ukraine. This development is particularly troubling amid credible reports of Russian troop buildup in occupied Crimea and around Ukraine’s borders, now at levels not seen since Russia’s invasion in 2014, and other provocative actions by Russia-led forces at the line of contact.

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I am pleased the FY 2021 NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] conference report sends the clear message that America stands with the Ukrainian people in their struggle to secure a democratic, prosperous, and independent future in the face of Russian aggression. The Ukrainian military has fought bravely against Russian aggression in the Donbas and has made tremendous strides. I have long advocated for the development of a comprehensive, multiyear security assistance plan and I am glad to see that the FY 2021 NDAA conference report directs DoD [Department of Defense] and DoS [Department of State] to look for ways to help the Ukrainian military continue their upward trajectory in proficiency. I have encouraged the Ukrainian government to sustain their efforts on eliminating corruption, and have authored past legislation tying assistance to continued anti-corruption reform.

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The United States condemns the continued detention of political prisoners in Belarus. More than 100 political prisoners are currently being detained for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms by peacefully participating in protests, calling for free and fair elections, and advocating for a national dialogue to end the ongoing crisis. These political prisoners have been subject to harsh and life-threatening detention conditions, including credible reports of torture. They are among the thousands of individuals who have been subjected to unjust detentions since the start of the violent crackdown.

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“As part of a broader program to destabilize its sovereign neighbor, Russia has fomented and financed a deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine for more than six years now. Rather than playing a constructive role in negotiating an end to this conflict, and the opportunities and structures are there to do this, and fulfilling its commitments under the Minsk agreements, Russia cynically claims to be an uninvolved third party, pointing to unnamed outside ‘masters’ having orchestrated a coup d’état in Kyiv.

“In the Trilateral Contact Group, Moscow tries to frame Kyiv as the spoiler in negotiations, while attempting to hide its role of controlling Russia’s forces on the ground in eastern Ukraine. Frankly, none of this is believable.

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“On September 10, the United States imposed sanctions on Andrii Derkach and other Russian agents for attempting to influence the U.S. electoral process. Derkach maintains close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services and has served as an active Russian agent for over a decade, employing manipulation and deceit to attempt to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere around the world. Today, we would like to remind individuals and businesses what these sanctions mean.

“We sometimes receive the question, ‘If I often do business with someone who is subject to sanction, should I be concerned?’ The answer is yes. Persons who provide material support to designated individuals and/or entities could themselves become subject to designation.

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“The ECHR [European Court of Human Rights] case [regarding MH17] is filed to recover just satisfaction from the Russian Federation for using a military weapon to advance their state political causes against Ukraine, against a civilian airliner killing 298 souls. It is for the loss of the right to live. Damages are almost not quantifiable, but are very large.

We filed, Russia has opposed, and our reply is due in December 2020. We do not know yet whether the court will rule on the paper or hold evidentiary hearings in a year or so. The problem is that the ECHR has a huge number of cases pending. You are waiting in line, and this waiting is sometimes replaced by a period of serious activity: collecting information, preparing documents. At the moment, we still have a pause related to the coronavirus; the court will open only in the fall. …

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“A more democratic, Eastern Slavic state on Russia’s border might be difficult for the Kremlin to accept, but the European Union and the United States could make clear that any improvement in relations with Moscow would depend on it not intervening coercively in Belarus. This risk became evident on August 15 when [Alyaksandr] Lukashenka and Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced confidence that the crisis would ‘be resolved soon.’

“How could the West support peaceful change in Belarus?

“The West might consider calling for a new presidential election in Belarus with credible monitoring. The West and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe could provide technical assistance to help ensure fair campaigning and honest balloting.

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“… the burden of maintaining Crimea, e.g., its freshwater sources, and power, as well as sustaining Russia’s stagnant economy amidst rising domestic disaffection grows every day. Moreover, NATO is more and more probing the Black Sea and has upgraded its relationship with Ukraine, offering it enhanced strategic partnership and U.S. aid is again coming.

“Therefore, it is no surprise that Ukrainian sources report that the Crimea situation is developing towards the capture of Ukraine territories that give access to water from the Dnieper [sic] River. Russia has increased the military contingent in and around Crimea to about a reported 80,000 troops and concentrated its engineering units in the north of the Crimea. They built a water supply canal to Dzhankoi and a water-pumping station there. It is therefore entirely possible that an operation will soon be launched to capture freshwater from Ukraine in order to service Crimea and make Ukraine rather than Russia pay for it. Russia actually conducted Command Post Exercises (CPX) to capture Tavriisk (a small town where the canal starts from the Dnieper).

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“Canada joins its partners in the international community in condemnation of the crackdown on peaceful protesters following the presidential election in Belarus. We do not accept the results of this fraudulent presidential election in Belarus and call for free and fair elections. 

“We further call for a thorough investigation to be conducted through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Thousands of people across Belarus are in the streets calling for an end to police brutality, the release of political prisoners and credible elections. 

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“The Russian occupation armies have once again violated all moral and humanitarian norms and opened fire on three servicemen that were evacuating the body of a fallen Ukrainian hero who was killed by an IED on July 13 near Zaitseve.

“Receiving a confirmation of a ceasefire, the evacuation group, wearing white helmets and identifying insignia, was a few meters away from the body of the fallen soldier. At this time, the enemy opened fire on the group. The group retreated, but a battlefield medic hurried to help a wounded soldier. At this time, the enemy opened fire with grenade launchers and high-caliber machine guns. As a result, a military medic was killed, and two soldiers were wounded.