Kerry Bristles: ‘We Didn’t Come Here to Talk About Crimea’

April 17, 2014 - 5:04 PM

Kerry Ukraine

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to the media after attending a quadrilateral meeting between representatives of the US, Ukraine, Russia and the European Union about the ongoing situation in Ukraine, Thursday, April 17, 2014, in Geneva. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool)

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State John Kerry expressed irritation when a reporter asked him after Ukraine crisis talks in Geneva Thursday if the West has now “given up on Crimea,” since the region – which Russia annexed last month – had scarcely been mentioned all day.

“I’m amazed that you asked that question after the answer I just gave,” Kerry told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick. “Maybe it was a question you really felt you had to ask, and despite my prior answer you asked it anyway. But I said very clearly that we differed on Crimea, and I said it was illegal, and I said we disagree with the basis, on the constitution of Ukraine as well as on international law. I just said it.”

“We are not, quote, ‘given up,’ but today we didn’t come here to talk about Crimea,” Kerry said. “Today we came here to get something done to reduce the violence, reduce the potential for a complete and total implosion, and to try to move away from what is a spiraling downwards confrontation that takes nobody to a great place. And our hope is that we’ve opened up the opportunity to be able to do that.”

Kerry joined European Union foreign policy chief Cathy Ashton and the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine, Sergei Lavrov and Andrii Deshchytsia, for talks aimed at “de-escalating” the crisis in Ukraine. In the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea pro-Moscow activists have seized government facilities in a campaign the U.S. suspects is being covertly directed by Russia, which has also amassed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s border.

The four-way talks ended with a joint statement saying that “all sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions.”

“All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated,” it says.

The statement also reaffirms a Ukrainian offer of amnesty for those who have vacated the occupied buildings and surrendered any weapons, “with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes.”

Kerry said implementation was expected to begin within the coming days, and reaffirmed the administration’s position that “if there is not progress over the course of these next days and we don’t see a movement in the right direction, then there will be additional sanctions, additional costs as a consequence.”

President Obama 28 days ago signed an executive order giving authority for sanctions targeting specific sectors of the Russian economy, but despite repeated administration warnings that such sanctions may be imposed action has yet to be taken.

The joint statement issued after the Geneva talks does not call for an end to the Russian troop buildup near the border.

Asked about that issue, Kerry said the Russians had “made it clear that over a period of time, assuming this can de-escalate and it does de-escalate, as the rights of the people they are concerned about are represented, as the constitutional process unfolds and the future government of Ukraine takes place, they are absolutely prepared to begin to respond with respect to troops and larger numbers.”

The exchange relating to Crimea is below:

Reporter: “I’m amazed, up until the last answer, Secretary of State and Baroness Ashton, that we haven’t heard the word ‘Crimea’ at all today. Could I confirm now that the West and Ukraine have given up on Crimea and that the whole sanctions process and escalation of sanctions or de-escalation of sanctions has now got nothing to do with Crimea anymore; it’s all about the south and the east of remaining Ukrainian territory?”

Kerry: “No, you cannot confirm that. And I’m amazed that you asked that question after the answer I just gave. Maybe it was a question you really felt you had to ask, and despite my prior answer you asked it anyway. But I said very clearly that we differed on Crimea, and I said it was illegal, and I said we disagree with the basis, on the constitution of Ukraine as well as on international law. I just said it. In addition to that, the fact is that we just sanctioned them two days ago, I believe, on the issue of Crimea.”

(It was not immediately clear which sanctions Kerry was referring to. The most recent Russia/Ukraine-related sanctions announced by the U.S. Treasury, last Friday, targeted six “Crimean separatists,” one former Ukrainian official, and a Crimea-based gas company.)

“So the fact is that we have made it crystal clear that there is a significant difference over Crimea. We are not, quote, ‘given up,’ but today we didn’t come here to talk about Crimea. Today we came here to get something done to reduce the violence, reduce the potential for a complete and total implosion, and to try to move away from what is a spiraling downwards confrontation that takes nobody to a great place. And our hope is that we’ve opened up the opportunity to be able to do that.”

“But no, nobody has left behind the issue of Crimea, which remains as differentiated today as it was on the day that we first raised the issue and put the sanctions in place.”