© Sputnik/ Sergey Guneev
On Thursday, Crimea marked the anniversary of the 2014 referendum which saw the peninsula break off from Ukraine and rejoin Russia. In an exclusive interview for Sputnik, Natalya Poklonskaya, the lawmaker who bravely served as Crimea's prosecutor during the Crimean Spring, offered Kiev and Western officials some advice about Crimea's status.

Poklonskaya, who actively fought for Crimea's reunification with Russia in the aftermath of the Maidan coup in Kiev, has become a symbol of modern Crimea, both in Russia and around the world.

During the events which followed the Maidan coup, the former Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs investigator resigned from her post, returned to Crimea and was appointed acting prosecutor of the Crimean Autonomous Republic, gaining international recognition as the peninsula's angel-faced but tough chief prosecutor. Ukrainian officials and nationalist activists repeatedly threatened Poklonskaya with prison or even death. In 2016, she took part in legislative elections, and became a member of Russia's parliament, the Duma.

In an exclusive interview for Sputnik, the prosecutor-turned-lawmaker offered her views on how long the peninsula would be ready to deal with Western sanctions, explained what prevents Kiev from accepting Crimea's Russian status, commented on what would prompt her to make a trip to Ukraine, and offered her assessment of Western politicians who continue to call Crimea's reunification with Russia an "annexation."

Natalya Vladimirovna, what was it that pushed Crimeans to hold a referendum on the peninsula's status?

Poklonskaya: "It was all caused by the recklessness and arbitrariness of what was going on in Kiev. Becoming witnesses to the coup d'etat and the armed seizure of power, Crimeans did not fold, but rose up together to defend their land. Everyone understood that Ukrainian nationalists would seek to blot our native land with their fascist slogans and ideology. We had no right to allow this to happen."

In the referendum of March 16, 2014, over 80% of Crimeans came out to a referendum hastily organized by weary Crimean authorities. More than 95% of the peninsula's residents voted in favor of rejoining Russia, almost exactly 60 years after it was handed to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. Sputnik asked Poklonskaya what the referendum results would be today.

What would the results of the referendum be today, in your estimation?

Poklonskaya: "I am confident that today, 100% of Crimeans would vote to return to Russia. Everyone has felt an unprecedented level of support from the state. Everyone has finally felt that they are truly home."

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Crimean peninsula was regularly starved of federal assistance, resulting in the decline of its infrastructure and industries, and the atrophying of its tourist sector. Since reunification, officials have pointed to significant improvements in everything from tax revenues to federal investment to a bump in tourism. Sputnik asked the former prosecutor about some of the main achievements.

What do you see as the main achievements in Crimea over these three years?

Poklonskaya: "Here there are several aspects. The main is spiritual and moral: We defended our motherland, remained devoted to the memory of our heroes. This is what economic, political, legal and social aspects build on.

Crimea is developing, and this can be seen even visually: by the new vineyards which are planted, by orchards, which were virtually destroyed under Ukraine, recreated; roads are being repaired. There are grandiose construction projects in the works - the Kerch Bridge, the [Simferopol] airport. There is already progress."

Asked how long Crimea would be willing to endure Western sanctions pressure, the lawmaker insisted that 'endure' isn't the right word.

Poklonskaya: "We are not enduring - we are working to develop the peninsula. Sanctions serve to keep officials on their toes, spurring them to work more actively, tirelessly, to achieve the main goal, a prosperous and competitive Crimea."

Some officials propose 'renting' Crimea out; others suggest holding a do-over of the referendum. What do you think about such proposals?

Poklonskaya: "I would like to advise these politicians to urgently change their profession. Let these businessmen lease their own lands, not those of others. Crimea is Russia, and other countries, Ukraine included, no longer have anything to do with us."

Why do Western politicians talk about Crimea's 'annexation'?

Poklonskaya: "By doing so, they show their ignorance, because Crimea returned to Russia legally. The Crimean people exercised their right to self-determination without revolutions, wars or bloodshed. That very same right is enshrined in the UN Charter, and therefore it's not even worth talking about annexation; it's simply wrong."

How long do you think it will take for Kiev to get used to the idea that Crimea is part of Russia? What needs to be done for this to happen?

Poklonskaya: "Kiev's position, unfortunately, is not an issue of time, but of the intellect and conscience of leaders who ended up in power after bypassing the law. We do not know how much time will be necessary for reasonable people to come to power in Kiev who will accept Crimeans' choice. Moreover, the current regime in Kiev actively suppresses any dissent.

The situation can be advanced from a stalemate, but for this to occur it's necessary to bring to justice all those involved in the coup d'état in Ukraine."

Can Ukrainian politicians come to Crimea, and is it safe for Crimeans to go to Ukraine?

Poklonskaya: "Of course Ukrainian politicians who abide by the law, are well-meaning, and who respect Crimeans' choice can come for a fact-finding mission. They can see things for themselves, speak to local authorities, and establish diplomatic relations. But if they are just criminals hiding behind a sheepskin of a politician, they'll be admiring the cell of a detention center, not the sights and landmarks of the peninsula. That's the only way.

As for Crimeans, they probably should avoid going to Ukraine for now, since the country faces total chaos, lawlessness and mayhem."

Is it possible, in your view, for former economic ties between Crimea and Ukraine to be restored?

Poklonskaya: "Here it would make more sense to speak of creating new ties, which are yet to be built, in a lawful manner, and with a normal leadership of Ukraine."

Can you imagine going to Ukraine yourself?

Poklonskaya: "Of course. I am confident that a time will come when things stabilize in Kiev, and people, who put the prosperity of their own country and the Ukrainian people first, come to power by legal means. I would like to see Ukraine once again become a blossoming and beneficent country, where people are not afraid for their safety or for the lives of their loved ones."

How do you see Crimea in ten years'-time?

Poklonskaya: "As a sanatorium famous across Russia and around the world. This is our Crimea in the future."