Kerry pledges support in Kiev as US prepares US$1b aid package for troubled Ukraine
US secretary of state reaches out to new government and its people
The Obama administration readied economic sanctions against Russia on Tuesday as it formally announced an aid package of US$1 billion in energy subsidies to Ukraine amid worries that Moscow would extend its military reach into the mainland of the former Soviet republic.
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev for a show of support for the fledgling Ukraine government as it grapples with a military takeover of Crimea, a strategic, mostly pro-Russian region in the country’s southeast.
“It is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further,” Kerry said. “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, G-8, major nation behaviour.”
Kerry headed straight to Institutska Street at the start of an hours-long visit intended to bolster the new government that took over just a week ago when Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych fled. Kerry placed a bouquet of red roses, and twice the Roman Catholic secretary of state made the sign of the cross at a shrine set up to memorialise protesters who were killed during mid-February riots.
“We’re concerned very much. We hope for your help, we hope for your assistance,” a woman shouted as Kerry walked down a misty street lined with tyres, plywood, barbed wire and other remnants of the barricades that protesters had stood up to try to keep Yanukovych’s forces from reaching nearby Maidan Square, the heart of the demonstrations.
Piles of flowers brought in honour of the dead provided splashes of colour in an otherwise drab day that was still tinged with the smell of smoke.
“We will be helping,” Kerry said. “We are helping. President Obama is planning more assistance.”
— Euromaidan PR (@EuromaidanPR) March 4, 2014
As Kerry arrived, the White House announced a package of energy aid, training for financial and election institutions, and anti-corruption efforts. US officials travelling with Kerry also said the Obama administration is considering slapping Russia with unspecified economic sanctions as soon as this week.
Additionally, the officials said, the US has suspended what was described as a narrow set of discussions with Russia over a bilateral trade investment treaty. It is also going to provide technical advice to the Ukraine government about its trade rights with Russia. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to be quoted by name before the official announcement was made.
President Barack Obama, visiting a Washington school to highlight his new budget, said his administration’s push to punish Putin put the US 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, you know, Mr Putin can throw a lot of words out there, but the facts on the ground indicate that right now he is not abiding by that principle.”
Obama spoke for more than an hour yesterday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been in contact with Putin in recent days and whose country has deep economic ties with Russia.
The Obama administration announced a US$1 billion energy subsidy package in Washington as Kerry was arriving in Kiev. The fast-moving developments came as the United States readied economic sanctions amid worries that Moscow was ready to stretch its military reach further into the mainland of the former Soviet republic.
Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled his forces back from the Ukrainian border on Tuesday yet said Moscow reserves the right to use all means to protect Russians in the country. He accused the West of encouraging an anti-constitutional coup in Ukraine and driving it onto anarchy and declared that any sanctions the West places on Russia will backfire.
Watch: Obama: Russia in "violation of international law" in Ukraine
Earlier, the Pentagon announced it was suspending military-to-military engagements with Russia, including exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and conferences.
The 28-nation European Union on Monday threatened to halt long-running talks on visa liberalisation and negotiations on further economic co-operation as a first step unless Russian troops on the Crimean peninsula retreat to their barracks by Thursday.
“There’s no reset with Vladimir Putin,” Senator John McCain, said on Tuesday on MSNBC. McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, said the president must “recognise that Vladimir Putin does not want a democracy on his borders. That would be a very bad example from his point of view to be set for the Russian people.”
Conservative critics of the administration have been citing the highly publicised Obama “reset” with Moscow since it was touted in 2009 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a visit with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow.
Some Republicans in Congress were considering a possible package of “debilitating economic sanctions” to get Putin’s attention. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said that the US and Europe should act collectively to threaten the Russian stock market, economy and ruble if Russia doesn’t withdraw from Crimea.
“We can’t just keep talking,” Royce said on Monday. “We need to do something.”
The European Union issued a Thursday deadline for Putin to pull back his troops from Crimea or also face a rejection of visa liberalisation and economic cooperation negotiations that have long been in the works.
The US officials travelling to Kiev said Washington is warily watching to see whether Russia will try to advance beyond Crimea.
They cited reports of Russian helicopters nearly flying into mainland Ukraine airspace before being intercepted by jets controlled by Kiev. The officials said it’s believed that as many as 16,000 Russian troops have deployed to Crimea, while Ukrainian forces amassed on both sides of an isthmus that separates the region’s peninsula from the mainland.
The officials also said there is no support currently within the Obama administration to eventually let Russia annex Crimea –a possibility that has been raised quietly amid questions about US interests in the pro-Russian region. They said it is up to the Ukraine government to decide whether a referendum should be held to let the Crimean people decide their own fate.
Speaking Monday at a UN session in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attempted to deflect blame back on the West. He defended the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine as a necessary protection for his country’s citizens living there.
“Those who are trying to interpret the situation as a sort of aggression and threatening us with sanctions and boycotts, these are the same partners who have been consistently and vigorously encouraging the political powers close to them to declare ultimatums and renounce dialogue,” Lavrov said.
“This is a question of defending our citizens and compatriots, ensuring human rights, especially the right to life,” he said.
President Barack Obama on Monday described the Russian advance as a violation of international law. He called on Congress to approve an aid package for the new Ukrainian government and repeated earlier threats that the US will take steps to hobble Russia’s economy and isolate it diplomatically if Putin does not back down.
“The strong condemnation that has proceeded from countries around the world indicates the degree to which Russia is on the wrong side of history,” Obama said.