Two years ago this week, Russia staged an illegal and illegitimate "referendum” in Crimea. The sham vote was a mockery of democracy, cobbled together in just two weeks, with Russian boots on the ground and no independent international monitors. It was used as a pre-planned pretext for annexing Crimea, the first change by force to Europe’s borders in decades.
It was a land grab, plain and simple. By illegally annexing Ukraine’s land, violating its territorial integrity, and continuing to destabilise eastern Ukraine, Russia ripped up the international rulebook. The international community has overwhelmingly condemned these actions. We do not and will not recognise Russia’s forceful takeover of Crimea.
Nor will we forget the plight of those affected by Russia’s aggression, such as Crimea’s ethnic minorities - notably the sizable Crimean Tatar community who have borne the brunt of violations for which Russia is responsible. In the face of increasing harassment and repression by Russian authorities, 10,000 Crimean Tatars have fled their native homeland since March 2014.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea broke multiple international commitments, including the provisions of the UN Charter, the OSCE Helsinki Final Act and the 1997 Partition Treaty with Ukraine on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet.
Such actions undermine the common security of Europe itself: security which has been carefully built on mutual understanding, trust and agreed norms. That is why we must stand firm against Russia’s dangerous behaviour and respond in the serious and strategic way that this challenge demands.
That means reinvigorating our deterrence through commitments to an enhanced NATO forward presence in Eastern Europe at the forthcoming Warsaw summit.
It means sustaining our sanctions against Russia in order to apply the required pressure on Russia to change its approach.
And it means providing practical and political support to those countries that are experiencing destabilisation and interference from Russia.
We must send a simple, clear and unified message - no country, however large, can flout international norms and avoid the consequences.
The illegal annexation of Crimea was an act of aggression. And in the face of this aggression, we must stand united in defence of our values.