"... What has already happened is a brazen act of aggression in violation of international law, in violation of the UN Charter, in violation of the Helsinki Final Act, in violation of the 1997 Ukraine-Russia basing agreement...".
QUESTION: We are joined now by Secretary of State John Kerry. Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us this morning. We’ve got these reports now – Russian forces surrounding Ukrainian military bases in the Crimea. Ukraine’s prime minister says, “We are on the brink of disaster.” Is he right?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we hope not. We hope it’s not going to be a disaster. What has already happened is a brazen act of aggression in violation of international law, in violation of the UN Charter, in violation of the Helsinki Final Act, in violation of the 1997 Ukraine-Russia basing agreement. Russia has engaged in a military act of aggression against another country and it has huge risks, George. It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century that really puts at question Russia’s capacity to be within the G-8, to --
QUESTION: All those violations, sir, so what’s the penalty for what Russia has already done?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re busy right now coordinating with our counterparts in many parts of the world. Yesterday the President of the United States had an hour-and-a-half conversation with President Putin. He pointed out importantly that we don’t want this to be a larger confrontation. We are not looking for a U.S.-Russia, East-West redux here. What we want is for Russia to work with us, with Ukraine. If they have legitimate concerns, George, about Russian-speaking people in Ukraine, there are plenty of ways to deal with that without invading the country. They have the ability to work with the government; they could work with us; they could work with the UN; they could call for observers to be put in the country. There are all kinds of alternatives. But Russia has chosen this aggressive act which really puts in question Russia’s role in the world and Russia’s willingness to be a modern nation and part of the G-8. I think there are – they are inviting the possibility of very serious repercussions on trade, on investment, on assets – asset freeze, visa bans – on the potential of actions by the global community against this unilateral step.
QUESTION: Let me pin you down on that, sir. Specify it: Is the United States willing to impose sanctions if Russia doesn’t back down? Are you willing to go to Ukraine and show solidarity with the Ukrainians if Russia doesn’t back down?
SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely. And the United States and the President is currently considering all options; they’re all on the table. We would call on Congress immediately to the degree that they are prepared to be helpful, that they immediately lay down with us an economic package in order to assist Ukraine. We think it’s very important for the international entities – the OSCE, the UN, NATO, the North Atlantic Council, the EU Foreign Affairs Council, which will meet tomorrow – all need to weigh in and I believe they will weigh in heavily.
QUESTION: So let me just pin you down on that. You’re saying that Congress is considering military aid to Ukraine. You want Congress to pass military aid to Ukraine. But do you want them to impose economic – economic – excuse me. Do you want them to impose economic sanctions on Russia?
SECRETARY KERRY: They’re – it may well come that we would have to engage in that kind of activity. Absolutely. I think all options are on the table. There’s no question but that Russia needs to understand this is serious. And we and the other friends and allies engaged in this are all deadly serious about this. You cannot behave this way in the 21stcentury and sit around the table of the normal entities and pretend that life is as usual. It is not going to be as usual, but we believe there is an alternative. We call on Russia to engage with the Government of Ukraine. We’re prepared to work very closely with Russia in order to address whatever legitimate concerns may exist. We believe there are many alternatives before you get to an invasion, and none of those have been tried at this point in time.
QUESTION: But the invasion has already happened, sir, hasn’t it?
SECRETARY KERRY: The invasion of Crimea has already happened. That’s absolutely accurate. And we believe that President Putin should make the decision to roll it back. And we will continue to press for that as well as for his legitimate engagement with the current Government of Ukraine in order to avoid further increase in the tension and the crisis.
QUESTION: Sir, are there any military options on the table? During the crisis with Georgia, President Bush moved military warships to the region, sent humanitarian aid on a military aircraft. Is the U.S. prepared to do that now? Anything more?
SECRETARY KERRY: George, the hope of the United States and everybody in the world is not to see this escalate into a military confrontation. That does not serve the world well, and I think everybody understands that. The President has all options on the table. But the President’s preference was clearly stated yesterday in his hour-and-a-half conversation with President Putin. President Obama made it clear that we are prepared to work with Russia. We understand that Russia has interests in Crimea. The Ukraine Government is prepared to respect the base agreement. Nobody has threatened those Russian interests. And we’re prepared to stand up against any hooligans, any thuggery, any individual efforts with Russians in order to create stability in Ukraine and allow the people of Ukraine to make their choices for the future.
QUESTION: But do you have any indication at all that President Putin is taking heed of what President Obama is saying?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, they just had the conversation yesterday. And the President invited him to engage with the government. I understand there may have been one phone call. We’re going to continue to engage diplomatically. This is a time for diplomacy, and we will engage diplomatically as much as we can in order to steer this away from an increase in the tension in the level of the crisis. Nobody wants this to spiral into a bad – a worse direction. The fact is that there are many options available to Russia by which Russia can see its interests met. And the most important thing to remember here is this is not – or should not be – East-West, Russia-United States, Russia versus Europe. This is about the people of Ukraine, people who stood up against snipers firing at them from the roofs, who are fighting against the tyranny of having political opposition put in jail.
And President Putin, I think, needs to think carefully about Russia’s real interests here. Russia may be able to invade Crimea, but in the end Russia will isolate itself. There’ll be costs to the economy of Russia, costs to Russian business, costs to Russian individuals. And ultimately, I think, Russia will isolate itself on a global stage that it just spent $60 billion through the Olympics to try to present a different face on. It seems to me that if Russia were to step back and look at where its interests are, we ought to be able to work this out through the diplomatic process. If Russia chooses not to, there will be serious repercussions.
QUESTION: Does that – do those repercussions include the U.S. not going to the G-8 Summit in Sochi come this summer, sir?
SECRETARY KERRY: It’s a distinct possibility. We would hope, rather, that Russia will choose to engage with us, to work with the Government of Ukraine, choose a different direction. Russia has cooperated with us on the START Treaty, on Afghanistan, on Iran. It ought to be possible to find legitimacy in this particular moment in order to be able to deal in a way that serves the world much better than this choice they’ve made. We’re open to that. We encourage that. President Obama made it clear he prefers that. But the choice is really up to Russia at this point.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks very much for your time this morning.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.