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SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me say, first of all, how incredibly moving it was to walk down Institutska Street and to have a chance to be able to pay my respects on behalf of President Obama and the American people at the site of last month’s deadly shootings. It was really quite remarkable, I have to tell you, to see the barricades, see the tires, see the barbed wire, see the bullet holes in street lamps, the extraordinary number of flowers, the people still standing beside a barrel with a fire to keep them warm, the shrouded vision in the clouds and the fog of the buildings from which the shots came, and the pictures, the photographs, of those who lost their lives, of the people who put themselves on the line for the future of Ukraine.
It was deeply moving to walk into a group of Ukrainians spontaneously gathered there and to listen to them, to listen to their pleas of passion for the right not to go back to life as it was under former president Yanukovych. One woman who pleadingly said how poor they were, how the rich lived well, and how those in power took the money, and how they were left behind. And particularly, one man who told me that he had recently traveled to Australia, and he had come back here, but he came determined to be able to live as he had seen other people live in other parts of the world.
So it was very moving, and it gave me a deep, personal sense of how closely linked the people of Ukraine are to not just Americans, but to people all across the world who today are asking for their rights, asking for the privilege to be able to live, defining their own nation, defining their futures. That’s what this is about.
And the United States extends our deepest condolences to those whose grief is still very fresh and those who lost loved ones, who bravely battled against snipers on rooftops and people armed against them with weapons they never dreamt of having. These brave Ukrainians took to the streets in order to stand peacefully against tyranny and to demand democracy. So instead, they were met with snipers who picked them off, one after the other, as people of courage, notwithstanding the bullets, went out to get them, drag them to safety, give them comfort, expose themselves. They raised their voices for dignity and for freedom. But what they stood for so bravely, I say with full conviction, will never be stolen by bullets or by invasions. It cannot be silenced by thugs from rooftops. It is universal, it’s unmistakable, and it’s called freedom.
So today, in another part of this country, we’re in a new phase of the struggle for freedom. And the United States reaffirms our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to international law. We condemn the Russian Federation’s act of aggression. And we have, throughout this moment, evidence of a great transformation taking place, and in that transformation we will stand with the people of Ukraine.
Today, Ukrainians are demanding a government with the consent of the people. And I have to say that we all greatly admire the restraint that the transitional government has shown as it makes this transition. They have shown restraint, despite an invasion of Ukrainian homeland and a Russian Government that has chosen aggression and intimidation as a first resort. The contrast really could not be clearer: determined Ukrainians demonstrating strength through unity and a Russian Government out of excuses, hiding its hand behind falsehoods, intimidation, and provocations.
In the hearts of Ukrainians and the eyes of the world, there is nothing strong about what Russia is doing. So it’s time to set the record straight. The Russian Government would have you believe it was the opposition who failed to implement the February 21st agreement that called for a peaceful transition, ignoring the reality that it was Yanukovych who, when history came calling, when his country was in need, when this city was the place where the action was, where the leaders of the nation were gathered in order to decide the future, he broke his obligation to sign that agreement and he fled into the night with his possessions, destroying papers behind him. He abandoned his people and eventually his country.
The Russian Government would have you believe that the Ukraine Government somehow is illegitimate or led by extremists, ignoring the reality that the Rada, representing the people of Ukraine, the elected representatives of the people of Ukraine – they overwhelming approved the new government, even with members of Yanukovych’s party deserting him and voting overwhelmingly in order to approve this new government. It was thanks in part to the votes from Yanukovych’s own party that the future of Ukraine changed. And today, the Rada is the most representative institution in Ukraine.
The Russian Government would also have you believe that the calm and friendly streets – one of which I walked down but many of which I just drove through – that somehow these streets of Kyiv are actually dangerous, ignoring the reality that there has been no surge in crime, no surge in looting, no political retribution here. The Russian Government would have you believe, against all the evidence, that there have been mass defections of Ukrainians to Russia, or that there have been mass attacks on churches in eastern Ukraine. That hasn’t happened, either.
They would have you believe that ethnic Russians and Russian bases are threatened. They’d have you believe that Kyiv is trying to destabilize Crimea or that Russian actions are legal or legitimate because Crimean leaders invited intervention. And as everybody knows, the soldiers in Crimea, at the instruction of their government, have stood their ground but never fired a shot, never issued one provocation, have been surrounded by an invading group of troops and have seen an individual who got 3 percent of the vote installed as the so-called leader by the Russians.
They would have you believe that Kyiv is trying to destabilize Crimea, or that somehow Russian leaders invited intervention. Not a single piece of credible evidence supports any one of these claims – none.
And the larger point is really this: It is diplomacy and respect for sovereignty, not unilateral force, that can best solve disputes like this in the 21st century. President Obama and I want to make it clear to Russia and to everybody in the world that we are not seeking confrontation. There’s a better way for Russia to pursue its legitimate interests in Ukraine. If you were legitimately worried about some of your citizens, then go to the government. Talk to them about it. Go to the UN. Raise the issue in the Security Council. Go to the OSCE. Raise it in one of the human rights organizations. There are countless outlets that an organized, structured, decent world has struggled to put together to resolve these differences so we don’t see a nation unilaterally invade another nation. There’s a better way for Russia to pursue its legitimate interests in Ukraine.
Russia can choose to comply with international law and honor its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act under the United Nations Charter. If it wants to help protect ethnic Russians, as it purports to, and if they were threatened, we would support efforts to protect them, as would, I am told, the Government of Ukraine. But if they want to do that, Russia could work with the legitimate Government of Ukraine, which it has pledged to do. It cannot only permit, but must encourage, international monitors to deploy throughout Ukraine. These are the people who could actually identify legitimate threats. And we are asking, together with the Government of Ukraine, together with the European community, for large numbers of observers to be able to come in here and monitor the situation and be the arbiters of truth versus fiction. Russia, if it wanted to help deescalate the situation, could return its troops to the barracks, live by the 1997 base agreement, and deescalate rather than expand their invasion.
Now, we would prefer that. I come here today at the instruction of President Obama to make it absolutely clear the United States of America would prefer to see this deescalated. We would prefer to see this managed through the structures of legal institutions, international institutions that we’ve worked many years in order to be able to deal with this kind of crisis. But if Russia does not choose to deescalate, if it is not willing to work directly with the Government of Ukraine, as we hope they will be, then our partners will have absolutely no choice but to join us to continue to expand upon steps we have taken in recent days in order to isolate Russia politically, diplomatically, and economically.
I would emphasize to the leaders of Russia this is not something we are seeking to do; this is something Russia’s choices may force us to do. So far, we have suspended participation in the preparations for the Sochi G8 summit. We have suspended military-to-military contacts, and we have suspended bilateral economic dialogue, and we are prepared to take further steps if Russia does not return its forces to the barracks and engage in a legitimate policy of de-escalation.
At the same time, the United States and its partners – our partners – will support Ukraine. We will support it as it takes difficult steps to deal with its economy. And I appreciate the meeting that I just had with the acting president and the prime minister and other leaders as we discussed how to strengthen the economy and move rapidly towards free, fair, open elections that can take place very shortly.
We are working closely and we’ll continue to work closely with the IMF team and with international partners in order to develop an assistance package to help Ukraine restore financial stability in the short run and to be able to grow its economy in the long run. I’m pleased to say that this package includes an immediate $1 billion in a loan guarantee to support Ukraine’s recovery, and we are currently working with the Treasury Department of the United States and with others to lay out a broader, more comprehensive plan. We will provide the best expertise available to help Ukraine’s economy and financial institutions repair themselves, and to work towards these free, fair, fast, inclusive elections.
We’re also working with the interim government to help combat corruption and to recover stolen assets, and we are helping Ukraine to cope with Russia’s politically motivated trade practices, whether it’s manipulating the energy supply or banning the best chocolates made in Ukraine. The fact is this is the 21st century, and we should not see nations step backwards to behave in 19th or 20th century fashion. There are ways to resolve these differences. Great nations choose to do that appropriately.
The fact is that we believe that there are a set of options available to Russia and to all of us that could move us down a road of appropriate diplomacy, appropriate diplomatic engagement. We invite Russia to come to that table; we particularly invite Russia to engage directly with the Government of Ukraine, because I am confident they are prepared to help work through these issues in a thoughtful way.
I’m very proud to be here in Ukraine. Like so many Americans and other people around the world, we’ve watched with extraordinary awe the power of individuals unarmed except with ideas, people with beliefs and principles and values who have reached for freedom, for equality, for opportunity. There’s nothing more important in this world. That is what drives change in so many parts of the world today.
It’s really partly why the world is in such a state of transformation in so many different places at the same time, because we’re all connected. We all understand what other people are doing and the choices they have and the lives they get to lead. And all over the world young people are saying: We do not want to be deprived of those opportunities. That’s what this is about. And it is about all those who value democracy and who support the opportunity for this country to join the legions of others who want to practice it.
The United States will stand by the Ukrainian people as they build the strong, sovereign, and democratic country that they deserve, and that their countrymen and women just so recently gave their lives in extraordinary courageous acts in order to ensure for the future. We must all step up and answer their call.
I’m happy to take some questions.
MS. HARF: Great. Thank you. The first question is from Andrea Mitchell of NBC. There’s a microphone coming.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, U.S. officials have been saying that Vladimir Putin will be isolated by his actions. Yet today, he seemed defiant, speaking for an hour, taking questions. He said, among other things, that Russia reserves the right to take any action, to use any means – obviously, military means. He described events here as an unconstitutional coup. He denied that there were any Russian troops in Crimea, occupying Crimea. He blamed the crisis on United States interference, saying that the U.S. --
SECRETARY KERRY: He really denied there were troops in Crimea?
QUESTION: Yes, he did. He also blamed the crisis on the United States, saying that the United States was acting as though it were conducting an experiment across the ocean on lab animals, on rats here. And he showed no sign of being ready to step down – step down or de-escalate the military presence in Crimea. There have been fire – shots fired today. There’s the presence reported of naval Russian ships along the isthmus between Ukraine and Crimea.
So with all of that, how has the U.S. pressure worked against Putin? What is your reaction to his assertions? And also, while you were here you met with many leaders. You did not meet with Yulia Tymoshenko. Is she viewed by the United States as not part of the solution or as possibly part of the problem?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me answer the last part of the question first: not at all. I thought I actually might bump into her, but I didn’t. I had the meetings with the current group that represent the parties that have come together and most likely presidential candidates at this moment who – with whom I’ve been in touch and working with. I met with a number of them in Munich previously, and so we continued that conversation.
But with respect to President Putin’s comments, I’ve spoken as directly to President Putin today as I can to invite him to engage in a legitimate and appropriate dialogue, particularly with the current Government of Ukraine, knowing that there’s an election in 90 days and the people of Ukraine will have an opportunity to ratify their future leadership. The fact is that in the eastern part of the country, Russia recently tried to get a couple of city councils to actually pass something asking for Russians to come in. And lo and behold, those councils did the opposite. They said, “We don’t want Russia to come in. We want our independence.”
And I think that it is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further. Russia has talked about Russian-speaking minority citizens who are under siege. They’re not. And in fact, this government has acted remarkably responsibly by urging total calm, by not wanting to have any provocation, by avoiding even their troops who have a legal right to resist the invasion of other troops, but has ordered them not to engage to give a pretext of anybody being in danger. Here in the streets today, I didn’t see anybody who feels threatened, except for the potential of an invasion by Russia.
So I would hope that President Putin, who is insisting against all evidence everywhere in the world about troops being in Crimea that they’re not there, that he will step back and listen carefully that we could like to see this de-escalated. We are not looking for some major confrontation. But – and I do not believe that his interests, which we understand – a base, strong ties, everybody knows that Khrushchev gave the Crimea to the Ukraine back in 1954 or ‘6, I think it was. We all know these things. There’s a long history of connection. We get it. But those things can continue and be worked out through the legal process, through the direct relationship with the Government of Ukraine. It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve. That is not 21st century, G8, major nation behavior.
And what we are looking for here is a responsible way to meet the needs of the parties but respect the integrity, the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of Ukraine. And in fact, the UN Charter, the Final Act of Helsinki, the 1994 Budapest Agreement, and the 1997 Base Agreement between Russia and Ukraine all require a certain set of standards which have not been followed here.
So again, we would like to see President Putin address the problems not by deploying forces, not through confrontation, but by engaging in the time-honored tradition of diplomacy, of discussion, of negotiation, and let’s find a path forward which puts everybody on a track that benefits this region and the world more effectively.
QUESTION: And will Germany stand with you against (inaudible)?
SECRETARY KERRY: Excuse me. We will be having further discussions. I think the President will be talking before long with Chancellor Merkel. I’m having more conversations with Foreign Minister Steinmeier. And I believe we will stand united. I believe that.
MS. HARF: Okay. Our final question comes from Maria Korenyuk of EuroNews.
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me answer the second part first. We’re working on support as rapidly as we could make it available. We already have people working on the economic – with the IMF team, consulting with the government, working to get the facts together. We’re trying to actually define the needs as accurately as is possible, and as I said to you, we’ve announced the $1 billion loan guarantee. We actually have the money appropriated. We know where we’re heading with that. We have additional initiatives that can be quickly put together as our team works in Washington.
The President has instructed all of us to look at every option available with respect to direct economic aid. And the President, particularly, yesterday when he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the White House, made a statement about Ukraine in which he asked Congress, which has been making very strong statements about support for Ukraine, to come to the table quickly with an economic package appropriated by the Congress. We want that to happen immediately.
So this is urgent. We understand that. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the United States or any other country to come here, talk about the strength and courage of the people in the streets, to underscore the value of democracy and of freedom that people are fighting for here, and then just walk away and not doing anything about it. So we are committed, and we are going to work to do what we can within our system as rapidly as possible.
And with respect to the first part of your question, I – our purpose is to try – I’ve said this several times today – I want to repeat it. We have lots of options, obviously. There are lots of tools at the disposal of the President of the United States and the United States of America and other countries. But none of us want to escalate this so that it becomes the kind of confrontation where people can’t find a reasonable path forward and where, as a result, you’re stuck in a place that’s very hard to climb down from. That is not where we would like to see this go, which is why President Obama is stressing and wants me to stress our effort to try to find a way forward which allows Russia to have its interests – and they do have some interests – to be properly listened to and properly taken into account in the system.
I have heard each Ukrainian leader who’s talked to me acknowledge that they understand that, that there will be a relationship with Russia. There is a capacity for a strong relationship between Ukraine and Russia, but it is a relationship that shouldn’t be at the expense of not being able to have a relationship with the rest of the world, and not be forced on them, and not a relationship that precludes the full sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation of Ukraine being respected. That’s what should guide this, and that’s exactly what is motivating our efforts here right now.
Thank you all very, very much. I appreciate it. Good to be with you. I’m sorry. We have, unfortunately, a schedule to stay on and I apologize for that. I would like to take more questions but we’ve got to run. Thank you.
Q Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, Mike.
Q Do you have response to President Putin’s press conference this morning? Is Chancellor Merkel right that he’s lost touch with reality? And have you spoken with him again personally?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven’t spoken to him since I spoke to him this past weekend. But obviously, me and my national security team have been watching events unfolding in Ukraine very closely. I met with them again today. As many of you know, John Kerry is in Kyiv as we speak, at my direction. He’s expressing our full support for the Ukrainian people.
Over the past several weeks, we’ve been working with our partners and with the IMF to build international support for a package that helps to stabilize Ukraine’s economy. And today we announced a significant package of our own to support Ukraine’s economy, and also to provide them with the technical assistance that they need. So it includes a planned loan guarantee package of $1 billion. It provides immediate technical expertise to Ukraine to repair its economy. And, importantly, it provides for assistance to help Ukraine plan for elections that are going to be coming up very soon.
As I said yesterday, it is important that Congress stand with us. I don’t doubt the bipartisan concern that’s been expressed by the situation in Ukraine. There is something immediately Congress can do to help us, and that is to help finance the economic package that can stabilize the economy in Ukraine, help to make sure that fair and free elections take place very soon, and as a consequence, helps to deescalate the crisis.
In the meantime, we’re consulting with our international allies across the board. Together, the international community has condemned Russia’s violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. We’ve condemned their intervention in Crimea. And we are calling for a de-escalation of the situation, and international monitors that can go into the country right away.
And, above all, we believe that the Ukrainian people should be able to decide their own future, which is why the world should be focused on helping them stabilize the situation economically and move towards the fair and free elections that are currently scheduled to take place in May.
There have been some reports that President Putin is pausing for a moment and reflecting on what’s happened. I think that we’ve all seen that -- from the perspective of the European Union, the United States, allies like Canada and Japan, and allies and friends and partners around the world -- there is a strong belief that Russia’s action is violating international law. I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations, but I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.
I think everybody recognizes that although Russia has legitimate interests in what happens in a neighboring state, that does not give it the right to use force as a means of exerting influence inside of that state. We have said that if, in fact, there is any evidence out there that Russian speakers or Russian natives or Russian nationals are in any way being threatened, there are ways of dealing with that through international mechanisms. And we’re prepared to make sure that the rights of all Ukrainians are upheld. And, in fact, in conversations that we’ve had with the government in Kyiv, they have been more than willing to work with the international community and with Russia to provide such assurances.
So the fact that we are still seeing soldiers out of their barracks in Crimea is an indication to which what’s happening there is not based on actual concern for Russian nationals or Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, but is based on Russia seeking, through force, to exert influence on a neighboring country. That is not how international law is supposed to operate.
I would also note just the way that some of this has been reported, that there’s a suggestion somehow that the Russian actions have been clever strategically. I actually think that this has not been a sign of strength but rather is a reflection that countries near Russia have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling, and if anything, it will push many countries further away from Russia.
There is the ability for Ukraine to be a friend of the West’s and a friend of Russia’s as long as none of us are inside of Ukraine trying to meddle and intervene, certainly not militarily, with decisions that properly belong to the Ukrainian people. And that’s the principle that John Kerry is going to be speaking to during his visit. I’ll be making additional calls today to some of our key foreign partners, and I suspect I’ll be doing that all week and in through the weekend.
But as I indicated yesterday, the course of history is for people to want to be free to make their own decisions about their own futures. And the international community I think is unified in believing that it is not the role of an outside force -- where there’s been no evidence of serious violence, where there’s been no rationale under international law -- to intervene in people trying to determine their own destiny.
So we stand on the side of history that I think more and more people around the world deeply believe in -- the principle that a sovereign people, an independent people are able to make their own decisions about their own lives. And Mr. Putin can throw a lot of words out there, but the facts on the ground indicate that right now he’s not abiding by that principle. There is still the opportunity for Russia to do so, working with the international community to help stabilize the situation.
And we’ve sent a clear message that we are prepared to work with anybody if their genuine interest is making sure that Ukraine is able to govern itself. And as I indicated before, and something that I think has not been emphasized enough, they are currently scheduled to have elections in May. And everybody in the international community should be invested in making sure that the economic deterioration that’s happened in Ukraine stops, but also that these elections proceed in a fair and free way in which all Ukrainians, including Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, are able to express their choice of who should lead them.
And if we have a strong, robust, legitimate election, then there shouldn’t be any question as to whether the Ukrainian people govern themselves without the kinds of outside interference that we see Russia exerting.
All right, thank you very much, everybody.
Riots in European streets have become a common sight for cable news viewers in recent years. And while the threat of war makes Ukraine’s current standoff with Russia something different and scarier, the tense situation in eastern Europe is a product of some of the same basic economic factors underlying those other, more limited scenes of unrest. Ukraine’s debts and the economic policymaking paralysis that has kept Kiev from resolving them in recent years are some of the key drivers of the tug-of-war over the country between Russia and the European Union. With billions of payments coming due soon, Ukraine must choose which of its neighbors will rescue it from a catastrophic default.
The protests and violent clashes in Ukraine began when then-president Viktor Yanukovych suddenly backed away from an economic and political allegiance with the European Union late last fall. But the debt cycle that drove Ukraine to seek such an arrangement with its neighboring economic powers long predates the public unrest that led to Yanukovych’s ouster. Ukraine has faced crisis-level national debt payments for several years now, and on two separate occasions the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has extended a bailout package to the country, only to cancel it when Kiev authorities failed to meet requirements in the deals. The nature of those failures echoes the situations in numerous other high-debt European nations in recent years.
At the height of the global financial crisis in 2008, the IMF extended a nearly $17 billion bailout to Ukraine on the condition that it would work toward balancing its budgets. The Fund froze the payments a year later after Yanukovych increased wages and pension benefits for workers during an election campaign, violating the balanced budget pledge attached to the money.
The first bailout was replaced by a new, slightly smaller package in 2010, and this time Ukraine agreed to balance budgets and allow its currency to fluctuate freely in value rather than artificially inflating its exchange rates. But a year later, Ukraine’s leaders had violated IMF terms again and the second bailout package stalled.
· “We need to make sure, that we use all possible means to prevent Ukraine from falling back into violence.”
· “We have not yet been able to come to a consensus about the formation of an international contact group. In this contact group, Russia and Ukraine must be able to directly talk to each other.”
· “We will continue to work intensively to come to a consensus about the principles of such an international format before the European heads of state and government convene in Brussels on Thursday.”
· “Russia needs to give credible practical evidence of its assurances, that it is not striving to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
· Questioned on possible sanctions, Minister Steinmeier replied: “If the efforts towards the formation of a contact group fail, we are likely to have a discussion on restrictive measures against Russia at the upcoming EU-summit [6 March].”
Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping.
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping discussed the exceedingly complex situation unfolding in Ukraine, noting their close positions. They expressed hope that the steps being taken by Russia’s leadership will help decrease sociopolitical tension and ensure the security of the Russian-speaking population in Crimea and Ukraine’s eastern regions.
The leaders addressed some current bilateral cooperation issues between Russia and China, including future contacts at the highest level.
Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov said that regional officials were in control of the security situation, even as armed standoffs continued between Russian forces and Ukrainian troops at several military installations, including a base near the airport of Belbek near Sevastopol.
“There is no safety threat to human life in Crimea,” Mr. Aksyonov said.
It was not possible to independently verify Mr. Aksyonov’s claims, and even he did not assert that all military units were now aligned with his administration. He did indicate, however, that he believed enough forces were loyal to him to eliminate the threat of an armed insurrection in Crimea.
Mr. Aksyunov, who heads a political party called Russian Unity, was installed at the head of the Crimean regional administration last Thursday after armed men seized the parliament building and raised the Russian flag overhead.
He said that a referendum on independence from Ukraine, scheduled for March 30, would probably be held sooner, but he offered no details. He said that he had not been in contact with Viktor F. Yanukovych, the ousted president of Ukraine, who fled to Russia but has said he plans to return.