Speaking to journalists in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Sergey Shoigu strongly disagreed with Zelensky’s assessment that Crimea belongs to Ukraine. As well as being the minister of defense, Shoigu has also been selected by the ruling United Russia party to lead the faction into the upcoming parliamentary elections.
“The leaders of Ukraine come and go, but Crimea has always been, is, and will be Russian,” Shoigu summarized.
On Tuesday, in an interview with TV channel Dom, Zelensky argued that citizens of Ukraine have fond recollections associated with Crimea and the Black Sea, claiming that his fellow countrymen love the peninsula more than Russians do.
“I lived there. It is my land. It is not their land and will not be,” he said. “They will not raise their future generations here. Their children won’t live here. They won’t die for our land. It will never be Russian territory.”
Crimea was reabsorbed into Russia in March 2014, following a referendum. The vote is unrecognized by Ukraine and most of the world, with the majority of nations viewing the peninsula as illegally occupied by Moscow.
Following Zelensky’s statement, the head of the Crimean Public Chamber accused the Ukrainian president of seeking to ignite an interethnic conflict.
“He demonstrates profound ignorance in understanding the history of the Crimea,” Alexander Formanchuk said. “It depicts the Crimeans as mythical invaders, while many people in Crimea have lived here for more than one generation.”
Zelensky’s statement was also slammed by Ukraine’s popular ‘Opposition Platform – For Life’ party, which called it “cynical PR.”
“The only way to ‘sew’ Ukraine together again and restore the unity of the Ukrainian people is to protect human rights and ensure equality for all national communities,” a party statement said.