Secretary Kerry Ukraine Statement

Photo: U.S. State DepartmentPress Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Cabinet of Ministers
Kyiv, Ukraine
February 5, 2015

PRIME MINISTER YATSENYUK: Mr. Secretary, it’s a great, great pleasure to see you in Kyiv. I want to be very clear saying the United States of America is one of the strongest allies of Ukraine, and we truly appreciate your support in our fight for our freedom, for our liberty, and for our independence.

The globe and the world is facing one of the most dramatic periods, when Russian Federation violated an international law, illegally annexed Crimea, and invaded the east of Ukraine. What we need – we need peace. The Minsk deal that was reached a few months ago is still alive, but we urge Russian Federation to implement and to execute the Minsk deal. The key precondition is to seal the border, to pull back Russian forces, and to stop the supply of Russian-led terrorists. This is the best remedy and the best recipe how to stop Russian invasion, and how to de-escalate the situation.

We strongly believe that in order to reach the peace deal, Ukraine needs to increase its defensive capabilities. Ukrainian Government is doing its utmost to support humanitarian aid to the east of Ukraine as those who still live in the areas that are under the control of – under the temporary control of Russian-led terrorists became hostages of these so-called rebels. We still supply gas, we still supply electricity, we send a number of humanitarian aid to these territories, and we truly appreciate the support of the U.S. Government, of 16 million U.S. dollars, which will be delivered directly to Donetsk and Lugansk region to support those who are in a very dire condition.

I want to be very clear on any kinds of further peace talks and peace deals. The first and most important and crucial issue: We need to get peace. But we will never consider anything that undermines territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence of Ukraine, and its European future. We truly appreciate the support of the U.S. Government in implementing and executing reforms – reforms that are needed and reforms that are implemented by the Ukrainian Government, mainly in judiciary, tax reform, in tackling corruption, in closing the tax loopholes, in building a new type of governance in Ukraine. And the technical support and financial support that is provided by the United States Government is of crucial importance for us.

We believe that Ukraine will accomplish its talks with the IMF, and we believe that Ukraine will be successful in implementing all reforms, and this is to be a joint success – a joint success of the free world. And let me underline one extremely important aspect: We have to retain the unity of the free world – the unity among the U.S., the EU, and Ukraine – in hammering out the real peace deal in order to secure peace and stability in Europe and to stop Russian invasion.

Secretary Kerry, it’s a great pleasure as always to see you and to have comprehensive talks with you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you, Arseniy, Prime Minister. Thank you very, very much for your welcome. Thank you for your terrific, cooperative effort not just today, but since the day I first met you when I came here a year ago and we began to work together on this.

I’m very glad to be back in Kyiv on what is obviously a very busy diplomatic day, and to be able to have important conversations with the prime minister, and before that, lunch with the foreign minister, and before that, a meeting with President Poroshenko. And in doing this, also to be able to coordinate our diplomacy with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, whose presence here today is really a further testament both to the importance of this moment, but also to the very strong support – the united support Ukraine enjoys throughout Europe and together with the United States and many other countries.

I was last in Kyiv about 11 months ago, and in the time since, Kyiv has been tested; the people of Ukraine have been tested over and over again. Just days after I was here, Russia seized Crimea, and we all know what followed. But what often gets lost in the headlines, what people haven’t focused on sufficiently, is the fact that Ukraine has survived all of the tests that have been put in front of it. It has endured, and the Ukrainian people have evidenced enormous resolve to be able to live in a strong democratic state. In fact, this country has experienced some really rather remarkable democratic successes, even in the face of these incredible challenges. And we’ve seen from the brave demonstrations that took place on the Maidan to two rounds of free and fair elections – I might add, conducted with great effort by opponents of democracy to prevent them from taking place – those two rounds have taken place, and a strong government, respecting the sovereignty of the state, has emerged. Importantly, the parliament has passed a solid budget, and it has laid the groundwork for and begun to implement very important reforms as part of a larger reform plan for the country.

Now, no one thinks that the hard work is over. It’s not over. In some ways, some of the hard work is only beginning. But as I told the prime minister just a few minutes ago, the United States is going to continue to support Ukraine as it pursues more democratic and more sovereign clarity of independence as it pursues its future. And we are committing to help to ensure that Ukraine has the economic stability in order to implement the reforms that the people are demanding and that the government has promised. So we’re working with the government; we’re working with the IMF, with the World Bank; we’re working with our allies. We’re working in many different ways to try to guarantee the economic future as well as the civic society democratic future of Ukraine.

We are moving forward, as we announced just the other day, a loan guarantee of $1 billion in order to support Ukraine’s economic reform program and assist the government to meet its near-term spending needs. And we have told the government and we’ve announced publicly that we are prepared to pursue another $1 billion loan guarantee this year as we see the reforms stay on track. We also know that the cost will be well more than what I’ve just articulated, and we understand the importance of all those who have been advocates of a free and democratic Ukraine, and all those who understand the importance of the effort being expended by the people of Ukraine. It makes it all the more important that we are there for the long term and for the future.

Today, I was very pleased to hear in all of my meetings that the government remains very committed to the path of reform. And the reform process, though difficult, is part of the economic future of Ukraine. That is, in fact, Ukraine’s best weapon in the end, in terms of this fight for sovereignty and independence and democracy. The more the reforms take hold, the more the reforms take place, the more there will be investment from the outside, the more opportunity there will be to deal with the economic crisis, and the more the people of Ukraine will believe that they are getting exactly what they fought for, which is important. The prime minister, the president, the foreign minister each highlighted the efforts to me that are already underway in order to root out corruption, to reform the judicial and the energy sector, to fix Ukraine’s financial system, and to improve the business climate.

Now, obviously, we are focused first and foremost on stopping the violence that has torn through eastern Ukraine. Since last April, more than 5,350 people have been killed, and thousands of residential buildings have been completely destroyed. The shelling by the separatists is indiscriminate, hitting hospitals, schools, and public areas where civilians wait in line for a bus, for transportation, for food and for supplies. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee, leaving everything behind – that’s if they’re even able to be able to get out. Families are huddled in basements and train stations without food, without heat, without electricity, not knowing whether they will be able or when they might be able to leave. So this is the reality that far too many people are facing here in this conflict.

As a result of that, as the prime minister mentioned a moment ago, the United States is committing another several millions of dollars – $16.5 million immediately in order to help those Ukrainians most affected by the conflict in the Donbas. And like the other humanitarian aid that we have provided since the conflict began, these funds are going to support the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, and other organizations, and is money that will be specifically directed to go to the east, to the very place that Russia’s aid to the separatists and the separatists’ efforts are having the most negative impact. So we’re not overlooking even that area of conflict. And this announcement brings the total U.S. assistance to Ukraine to more than $355 million since the crisis began for the purpose of addressing these kinds of emergency humanitarian needs. That’s outside of other assistance that we have provided directly to the government in various other forms and outside of the loan guarantees that I just mentioned.

Now we are deeply concerned that the violence in Ukraine is accelerating. That’s why I’m here. That’s why President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel are here. That’s why this weekend we will meet again in Munich – at the Munich conference with Vice President Biden, with Chancellor Merkel and others – in order to continue the diplomacy that is taking place here today. Far from meeting the Minsk commitments, Russia and the separatists are seizing more territory, terrorizing more citizens, and refusing to participate in serious negotiations.

Let there be no doubt about who is blocking the prospect of peace here. They continue to refuse Ukraine the control of its own border – its own border. This is an international border, recognized as the sovereign property and line of demarcation of a nation-state in the modern world. And yet, Russia, with impunity, seemingly, has acted to cross that border at will with weapons, with personnel, with the instruments of death that they are bringing into Ukraine. Russia and the separatists are seizing more territory and continuing to refuse control to Ukraine of its rights as a sovereign nation.

Russian weapons and fighters – and I might add, this is not an accusation without foundation. We live in a modern world of great technology. Everybody understands the ability to see things from high altitudes, whether it’s in space or lower. And the fact is, we have been tracing and we have seen exactly what they’re bringing over, when and how, and there’s no question about tanks flowing, rocket systems being transported, convoys of goods carrying both people, weapons, and other instruments of battle.

So unfortunately, a large propaganda system in their media continues to spew what can only be characterized as lies about what is happening on the ground and who is responsible for violence. Now we know one thing for sure: President Putin can make the choices that could end this war, together with President Poroshenko’s choices to move towards peace, as he has evidenced he is prepared to do and wants to do and has done so in good faith in his effort to sign onto the Minsk agreements.

As I have said repeatedly, there have been a number of off ramps for Russia to take over the course of the past months, but unfortunately, they’ve been left in the rear view mirror. Those off ramps are narrowing and there’s still an opportunity to be able to seize them. There is a way back to better ties with Europe, with the West, with the United States. There is a way to get back to a cooperative set of measures that we could take together. But it begins with a ceasefire and with allowing Russia – allowing Ukraine to control its own international border and respect that border and begin to move the heavy machinery, the heavy weapons of war, out to the opposite side of that border.

It also begins with the release of political prisoners, including Nadiya Savchenko and others. As soon as these choices are made, this situation can improve. The only way that it ends is through diplomacy. We have no illusions that there is a “military solution,” and contrary to some comments that I’ve read in the last days coming from some of the folks who have made the choices to fuel this conflict, we are not choosing a military outcome; we are choosing a peaceful solution through diplomacy. But you cannot have a one-sided peace. It takes the parties to come together in an effort to try to achieve it.

Now people thought that had happened with the Minsk agreement, that that was a significant step with a significant road forward to be able to achieve a different outcome. No one – not Ukraine, not the United States, not our European partners – want this conflict to – with Russia to continue another day, not another day. All we’re asking is, though, that Russia and separatists support and honor the commitments that they made, that they implement a real ceasefire, including by pulling back those heavy weapons from the ceasefire line at the border, that they remove foreign troops and equipment from Ukraine, that hostages are released, and ultimately, that they respect the international border and Ukrainian sovereignty. And I can guarantee you the United States of America will help be a guarantor of that kind of a peace if it can be achieved.

For its part, Ukraine has repeatedly reaffirmed, and did so again today, that its commitment to the special status that the Rada passed providing greater political and economic freedom to municipalities in the Donbas, it’s still on the table, it can be honored. The commitment to pursuing constitutional reform is still there, and the commitment to holding new free and fair elections in the Donbas is ready to be acted on. This is the outline of peace. These are the steps that need to be taken on both sides, and as soon as they are, Ukrainian families will be able to return to their homes, Russia’s isolation will be eased, and of course, life will improve for the people of eastern Ukraine who will be able to decide their own future on a peaceful, lawful, and constitutional basis.

Now I would just underscore what I’ve described is exactly the same outcome that Russia says it wants. It’s the only way the bloodshed will end, and the fact that Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande are also visiting Kyiv today underscores that together the United States, France, Germany, and the rest of our international partners are united with Ukraine in calling on Russia to help become part of the constructive solution to this process without delay.

In the meantime, we’re going to be steadfast in standing with the Ukrainian people who have not for a moment forgotten the better future that they’re fighting for. And together, we’re going to continue to work with the leaders in Kyiv, including this weekend in Munich, toward a diplomatic solution that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and allows Ukraine’s people to continue rebuilding the political, economic, and cultural cornerstone of a democratic Ukraine.

I think we’d be happy to take a few questions here.

MS. PSAKI: First question will be from Jim Sciutto of CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Prime Minister. I wonder if I can begin with you, Secretary Kerry. My CNN colleagues in Moscow reached out to the Kremlin for reaction to your statement alongside President Poroshenko earlier today. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov took particular issue with you saying that there are Russian forces inside Ukraine escalating the situation. He said: “There are no Russian tanks or army in Ukraine. These accusations are not true.” I wonder if you could react to that and also just answer if you believe the U.S. and the West can have a reasonable negotiation with a counterpart who has a diametrically opposed view of even the facts on the ground, before you get to potential solutions moving forward.

And if I could ask you as a follow-up, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk – thank you very much – with the escalation on the ground that has been described in very grave and alarming terms by U.S. officials and French officials and German officials, and with that trio of Western powers coming here, it would be reasonable to expect them to be coming here with, for instance, another punishing round of sanctions ready to go or perhaps the lethal weapons that Ukraine has been asking for. Instead, they come with another diplomatic mission to Moscow. And I wonder if you’re disappointed. And I wonder if in the meantime, without military assistance on the ground, is Ukraine being left doomed to fail in the face of Russian military action?

SECRETARY KERRY: So let me try to approach this question in two ways. One, I will answer part of it, but I want the Ukrainian prime minister, who’s standing here with me, to share with you some of the evidence that he has and Ukraine has with respect to whether or not Russians are on the ground. And I would ask him very simply: Mr. Prime Minister, is it true that, as the Kremlin just said today, there are no Russians in the ground in —

PRIME MINISTER YATSENYUK: It seems to me that the only country who strongly deny clear military Russian boots on the ground is Russian Federation and personally President Putin. If they need, I can give them my glasses. While crystal clear that Russian military is on the ground, crystal clear that it was Russia who invaded Crimea, Russia invaded the east of Ukraine, because frankly, it’s a little bit difficult to buy SA-11 and SA-22 and Russian tanks and Russian Howitzers and Russian artillery at the marketplace in Donetsk or Lugansk. We have strong evidences and grounds that Russian Federation violated an international law and Russian president ordered Russian troops to invade both Crimea and the east of Ukraine. We are not fighting with so-called rebels or guerillas. We are fighting with the Russian regular army.

SECRETARY KERRY: Let me add to that that social media is filled with comment – and on occasion, photos – of Russian soldiers being returned to Russia dead, and parents in Russia being told a lie that their children, their sons, died in an accident somewhere. And there are other stories. I won’t go into them at great length now except to say to you that there are intercepts of conversations of orders being given by people who are discernibly Russian. There are references – there’s a person in captivity today who has recently given evidence of his own role with respect to these kinds of decisions. So enough is enough.

Now, the other part of your question is: Can you negotiate with somebody who makes these kinds of statements? The answer is yes, of course, you can. Because the negotiation is never – the outcome of a negotiation is never predicated on somebody’s word; it’s predicated on very specific agreements of things that need to be done which are traceable and doable. And for years we negotiated with the former Soviet Union; we negotiated with what people used to call Red China, and we reached agreements with respect to weapons, weapon systems, verification. Ronald Reagan negotiated and came to agreements on arms agreements where the key was verification, being able to know what you’re doing, what is required of each party. And that is what we will try to negotiate here. And that is what President Obama has wanted to have negotiated from the very beginning of this process.

There are – there have been any number of opportunities. We were in Geneva. There have been meetings in trilateral form; there have been meetings in Normandy, meetings in so-called Normandy form; there have been telephone calls. There have been lots of efforts to move this process. I don’t think we gain a lot by debating the facts now. If they want to deny those particular facts, what for certain could be ascertained and negotiated is the withdrawal of heavy equipment, regardless of who’s it is – though it’d be very odd for Ukrainian equipment to be taken back to Russia, but we’d negotiate and we obviously are prepared to negotiate the respect for the international border, negotiate the return of hostages, negotiate the line of control, negotiate the political process going forward that can guarantee to those who call themselves separatists, though they’re not really separating from Ukraine. They want to be part of Ukraine, they want greater rights. And the Government of Ukraine has made it clear to them they can have greater rights.

So all of these things can indeed be negotiated, and that’s why we’re here, because we stand ready to do so.

QUESTION: Follow-up?

QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, just a – I had a follow-up question.


PRIME MINISTER YATSENYUK: We did everything what was on the Ukrainian side under the Minsk deal. The house passed a number of bills, starting with the special statutes to Donetsk and Luhansk, and an amnesty bill which was not supported by the entire Ukrainian public. But this was the price that we had to pay. President announced a ceasefire, so everything – that is and that was on our side was implemented and executed. Russia violated the entire deal and the key pre-conditions. That’s not the precondition, but the crucial items and issues of this deal is the first one to seal the border; the second one to stop the supply of Russian-led terrorists; and the third one is to pull back its forces, was not executed by Russia.

Why we are asking for an increase defense capabilities of Ukraine? It’s not for the offensive operation. This is for the defensive operation. God knows what is the ultimate goal of Russia and President Putin. Russian aggression is a threat to the global order, to the European security, and is a threat to NATO member-states.

So the idea we have is to get peace, but to get peace you have to defend your country and you have to deter Russia – not allowing Russian troops to move further and further.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. And my question is about economy (inaudible). You’ve already touched the IMF theme, and what is the probability that Ukraine will get the new IMF program in recent days? Well, because they are in negotiations on. And will the United States help Ukraine to attract new donor countries for financial support? Thank you very much.


QUESTION: Financial support, new donor countries.

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, new money. And the first part was on the weapons and the help?


SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, on the IMF. Both – all economic. Thank you. Well, we’re very hopeful. I can’t give you a probability because that is a – the decision as to whether or not the IMF makes an agreement depends on a set of IMF internal standards that have to be met. There are very rigorous economic requirements with respect to any number of different facets of a local economy. Those are the negotiation that’s taking place right now.

I’m confident, however, that the government is going to do everything in its power to meet those standards, to make sure that they qualify, and then to deliver. So I would hope, and we are anticipating, that there will be an IMF loan. Our hope is also that there will be sufficient contribution in other ways. EU has made a commitment of some $2.5 billion; we’ve made a commitment, as I said, of initially the 1 billion, another billion as the reforms go into place. And I’m quite confident, based on the conversations we’re having, that we’re prepared to step up and continue to be helpful.

There will need to be a closing of the existing gap. So the second part of your question, I would say to you that we are working very hard. Secretary Jack Lew is working diligently right now to reach out to other countries in order to secure commitments to them because we all understand the importance of fulfilling this requirement for Ukraine. It’s very, very important that the money be provided, the government is doing its part, the people of Ukraine are doing their part. It’s important for its friends to step up and do their part too.

MS. PSAKI: The next question is from Michael Gordon of The New York Times.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there’s a great interest in the – Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande’s proposal and their pending trip to Moscow. Do you support their initiative and proposal in all of its details, and will it build on the Minsk agreement? And is there an either/or issue at stake in terms of defensive arms? If their proposal were to be successful and lead to peace, would that eliminate the need to send defensive arms to Ukraine, or would it still be necessary to send defensive arms to build up Ukraine’s capability and safeguard the peace against future aggression?

And a question for the prime minister, please: I would like your assessment. Do you welcome the French and German proposal? Do you know what the French and German proposal is, and what – under what conditions do you think it – could it contribute to the quest for a peace agreement? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Michael, yesterday morning, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called me to inform me that Chancellor Merkel[1] would be traveling, and we discussed what they had received from – President Putin has a couple of ideas, but they had not yet fully analyzed. And then subsequently, Foreign Minister Steinmeier called me in order to inform me that Chancellor Merkel would also be traveling and that, likewise, they were evaluating what President Putin had offered. We now have that language; we’ve seen it, we know what that is. But only this afternoon was it announced that they were going to make some kind of a counter-proposal, and we have not yet thoroughly reviewed that with them. We don’t – those discussions are going on now.

But do we support their effort to be engaged and their willingness to go to Moscow and meet President Putin to see if we can find a diplomatic solution? Of course we do. We think that’s very, very much the diplomacy that is needed right now, and it’s particularly helpful because we do have key decisions on the choices we need to make about the road ahead. And we’re meeting with – I’m meeting with Chancellor Merkel in Munich, and subsequently, Chancellor Merkel is coming to Washington and will be meeting again with the President on Monday. So all of this is part of a concerted effort to see if we can put a little bit more meat on the bones of a legitimate initiative that could bring about a de-escalation of this situation, which we have been pushing for since we went to Geneva months ago last year, at the very beginning.

So we are supportive of their initiative in principle, writ large. We are supportive of trying to find a solution. We’ve said, as I said earlier in my press availability with President Poroshenko, the outlines of that agreement must include a adherence to the fundamentals of Minsk: the fundamental concept of the ceasefire; the fundamental concept, ultimately, of the international border being part of the negotiation; and the other things that I discussed with respect to rights and the removement of armament and so forth.

But the first thing to achieve is a ceasefire. None of what I have just described can come at the expense of the sovereignty of Ukraine, or its independence. And that is an important principle that has guided us, and it will guide us through the next days as we consider in specific detail where we are.

PRIME MINISTER YATSENYUK: Look, we have the deal – or we had the deal – in Minsk. And there are fingerprints of President Putin on this deal. So the thing is, to have a new deal, not executing the previous one, seems to me being a trap. So we urge Russia to implement and execute what was agreed, signed, and authorized personally by President Putin. We do support concerted actions of France, Germany, EU, and the United States of America in resolving this conflict and in stopping Russian aggression.

We had a number of different formats. The first one was Geneva. Another one was Normandia. So I believe that the best format to establish is a Kyiv format, and to have the U.S., Germany, France – well, the EU, actually – and Ukraine sitting at the same table, having one joint, strong, and solid position. And the only idea we have is to get peace, but we will never trade our values and principles. We will never trade our dignity and freedom. We will never consider anything that undermines our independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty, and our choice, because this is our choice. And we paid our lives at Maidan – European choice.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary Kerry for coming here at this difficult time. Thank you for supporting Ukraine. My question is about defense weapons for Ukraine. There is bipartisan support in U.S. Congress to give Ukraine defense weapons. As you said previously, tens and hundreds Ukrainian soldiers and civilians dying every day, every hour on the east. When U.S. or Obama Administration are planning to reconsider their previous decision, and when Ukraine will receive such defense weapons?

And second, to prime minister: What kind of support you expecting from U.S. and its allies at this time of war? And how do you feel as a prime minister when President Putin is sending proposal to Germany and France bypassing Ukraine? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s a well-known fact from what’s been circulating in the media lately that the President is reviewing all of his options with respect to where we are. And the reason for that is very simple: that the violence has gotten worse, the Minsk agreement has not been implemented and adhered to, and the danger that comes from this increased violence is recognized by all as unacceptable. So for that reason, the President is reviewing all of his options. Among those options, obviously, is the possibility of providing defensive – defensive – assistance to Ukraine. And those discussions are going on.

The President will make his decision, I am confident, soon, but not before he’s had a chance to hear back from myself, from others who are having conversations in Europe at this time – the meetings at the Munich conference and, of course, the meeting with Chancellor Merkel will be very important on Monday. And then when the President deems it necessary or is ready, he will make his decision. I think that the President would reiterate, were he here today – and I’m here on his behalf – that his first preference is obviously to be able to resolve this through diplomacy, through an agreement that everybody will live up to and adhere to. And we are not interested in a proxy war. Our objective is to change Russia’s behavior, and we’ll consider all options that are available to us in coordination with our partners that will help us achieve a negotiated solution.

PRIME MINISTER YATSENYUK: Well, I always feel great about any kind of initiatives that launched by President Putin; sometimes it’s even dangerous to touch them. But in this case, let me reiterate once again: The best way to solve this conflict is to retain unity of the free world. The U.S., the EU, and Ukraine, we stay together, we act in concert, indeed it’s up to Ukraine to decide its future. And we believe that the U.S. and the European Union will support everything that is facilitated and shaped by the Ukrainian Government and by the Ukrainian people. Because we share the same values; we have the same targets and the same aims. The first one is to have Ukraine as a successful, solid, European state, to reach peace, to stop Russian invasion, and to restore law and order in Europe.

So this is the best format of our cooperation. And it’s crystal clear that President Putin wants to split the unity in the EU. He wants to split the unity between the EU and the U.S. But he will fail, as he failed a number of times. This time, he will fail again.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, all.