WASHINGTON, May 9 (Xinhua) -- The United States on Friday denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Crimea, calling it "provocative and unnecessary."
"Our view is that this trip is provocative and unnecessary," State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told reporters at a daily news briefing.
"Crimea belongs to Ukraine," she said. "And we don't recognize, of course, the illegal and illegitimate steps by Russia in that regard."
Moscow took over Crimea in March as an overwhelming majority of the residents on the peninsula voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
Putin arrived on Friday in Sevastopol for commemorations marking the 69th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, as well as the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Sevastopol from Nazis.
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry swiftly responded by issuing a statement alleging that Putin's arrival in Crimea "escalates further tension in the Ukrainian-Russian relations."
Psaki said Washington wanted Moscow to take "de-escalatory steps" in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia militants are occupying a number of cities and towns, and the states of Donetsk and Luhansk will press ahead with a referendum on Sunday on their future despite a call from Putin to delay the votes.
"We believe they can influence the actions of separatists on the ground," Psaki said. "There's more they can do, and obviously, President Putin's trip to Crimea is not in the direction we're looking for."
She said the United States had not seen the withdrawal of Russian troops from the border with Ukraine, as announced by Putin on Wednesday. "Nothing has changed since yesterday," she added.
She noted that Secretary of State John Kerry spoke again to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov about Ukraine on Friday morning, the second time in two days.