U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday the United States would never recognize Russia’s annexation in 2014 of Ukraine’s Crimea. “As we did in the Welles Declaration in 1940, the United States reaffirms as policy its refusal to recognize the Kremlin’s claim of sovereignty over territory seized by force in contravention of international law … [T]he United States rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored,” Pompeo said in a statement.
The remarks will almost certainly dispel any ambiguity over whether the Trump administration was planning to recognize Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, a Ukrainian territory with close cultural and historic relations with Russia. Pompeo rooted his remarks in the Welles Declaration, which refused to recognize the then-Soviet Union’s invasion of the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The declaration, named for Sumner Welles, the U.S. diplomat who crafted it, remained a cornerstone of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union for the next five decades, and empowered Baltic citizens who wished for independence from the Kremlin.
The Soviet invasion of the Baltic states came after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the 1939 nonaggression accord between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Following that agreement, the Soviets gained influence in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, three countries that the Soviets feared Germany would use as a staging ground for an invasion of the USSR. At first, the Soviet Union only signed mutual-assistance pacts with the three countries, but a year after those accords were signed, Stalin annexed the Baltic states. (Hitler ultimately betrayed Stalin, who joined the Allied nations to defeat the Nazis.)