December 3, 2021

Kerry says West will respond to Putin’s ‘aggression,’ will travel to Kiev for talks

FILE: March 1, 2014: Armed servicemen wait in Russian army vehicles in the Crimean town of Balaclava,Ukraine.REUTERS

Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday outlined the far-reaching responses the United States and Western allies are considering for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “incredible act of aggression” in Ukraine, including economic sanctions and efforts to reduce Russia’s status as a world power.

“It’s an incredible act of aggression,” Kerry told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “It is really a stunning, willful choice by President Putin to invade another country.”

Kerry announced Sunday that he’s traveling to Kiev on Tuesday for diplomatic talks. The United States’ top diplomat added that Western powers are fully prepared to isolate Russia for its military incursion into Ukraine. Among the potential responses he outlined were bans on visas, freezing assets, penalties on trade and investment, and a boycott of the Russian-hosted, G-8  economic summit in June.

He even hinted at the removal of Russia from the list of powerful G-8 countries — the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.

Putin is “not going to have a Sochi G-8,” Kerry told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “He may not even remain in the G-8 if this continues. … He’s going to lose on the international stage.”

Kerry’s response follows Russia on Friday sending troops into Ukraine’s Crimea region, amid months of political upheaval in that country that included residents in late February ousting President Viktor Yanukovych.

Kerry said Putin should respect the democratic process through which the Ukrainian people ousted the pro-Russian president and assembled a new government.

President Obama said Friday that the U.S. “will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”

He pressed his case the next day in a 90-minute phone call with Putin, calling Russia’s actions “a clear violation” of Ukraine’s sovereignty and asking for his forces to pull back, according to the White House.

However, the situation appeared to worsen by Sunday with Ukraine’s new prime minister warning his country is “on the brink of disaster,” as hundreds of armed men in trucks and armored vehicles surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea.

Despite Kerry’ strong words Sunday, the Obama administration faces a difficult challenge in finding a response that might deter Putin, who argues the turmoil in neighboring Ukraine poses real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens living there and that Moscow has the right to protect them.

Still, Kerry suggested Putin’s stated motive is a “trumped-up pretext.”

He also said he spoke on Saturday with foreign ministers from the Group of Eight countries and a few other nations, and “every single one of them are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia” because of the invasion.

And he suggested American companies “may well want to start thinking twice about whether they want to do business with a country that behaves like this.”

Kerry also said the administration was ready to provide economic assistance “of a major sort” to Ukraine.

He made clear that a military response to counter Russia’s action was unlikely.

“The last thing anybody wants is a military option,” said Kerry, who was also interviewed on ABC’s “This Week.” “We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations.”

The U.S. and Europe are not obligated to come to Ukraine’s defense because it does not have full-member status in NATO. Broader international action through the United Nations seems all but impossible because of Russia’s veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council.

Kerry tried to frame the crisis as broader than U.S. versus Russia or East versus West. “We’re not trying to make this a Cold War,” he said. It’s about Ukrainians “fighting against the tyranny of having political opposition put in jail.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.