UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2 (Reuters) - U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, blamed Russia on Thursday for the recent surge of violence in eastern Ukraine and warned Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia will not be lifted until Moscow returns Crimea to Kiev.
“I consider it unfortunate on the occasion of my first appearance here I must condemn the aggressive actions of Russia,” Haley said, making her first public remarks inside the Security Council since being sworn in as the United States’ representative to the United Nations last month.
“It shouldn’t happen, or be that way. We do want to better our relations with Russia. However, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.”
Her remarks came amid speculation over new U.S. President Donald Trump’s intentions towards Moscow. Trump has praised Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and expressed a wish for improved relations between the two countries.
Haley made clear that tensions over the Ukraine would not end soon, including the matter of sanctions slapped on Russia related to the annexation of Crimea three years ago.
“Eastern Ukraine of course is not the only part of the country suffering because of Russia’s aggressive actions. The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea,” Haley said.
“Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine.”
The United States and other Western powers imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014 over its annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine and Russia had blamed each other for a surge in fighting in recent days that has led to the highest casualty toll in weeks and cut off power and water to thousands of civilians on the front line.
The Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists accuse each other of launching offensives in the government-held industrial town of Avdiyivka and firing heavy artillery in defiance of the two-year-old Minsk ceasefire deal. (Reporting By Ned Parker; Editing by Bernard Orr)