- Created on Sunday, 02 March 2014 22:17
- Written by IVN
Washington, DC - United States State Department Briefing on the Situation in Ukraine:
MODERATOR: Good afternoon and thank you, everyone, for joining us today. Before we get started, I just want to remind you that this call is on background. Our speakers today are [name withheld] will be referred to as Senior Administration Official Number One from this point forward. Also with us is [name withheld] who will be referred to as Senior Administration Official Number Two. And we have [name withheld] will be referred to as Senior Administration Official Number Three.
With that, we will go ahead and start with brief remarks from our speakers and then we’ll turn it over to you to take a few questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Sure, thanks. I’ll just give a very quick overview of what the President’s been doing. Yesterday, you know he was updated by his national security team and spoke separately with President Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Harper of Canada, and President Hollande of France. Today, the President has spoken with Chancellor Merkel of Germany. He’ll be – he is either speaking now or will be speaking to Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom and President Komorowski of Poland.
The President’s point in all of his calls, frankly, has been to underscore the complete illegitimacy of Russia’s intervention in Crimea, in Ukraine, and to underscore the support of the United States for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its sovereignty. We can talk through what steps we’re taking on the diplomatic side to make clear that there will be political and economic costs for Russia in terms of its isolation from the international community, as well as the affirmative steps we’re taking to signal our strong support for the people and government of Ukraine, including taking steps towards providing robust economic and technical assistance as well as reassuring them through their participation and consultations in Euro-Atlantic institutions.
With that, I’ll hand it over to my colleague.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks very much. I thought I would quickly go through the ground situation in Ukraine, then talk about the diplomatic strategy that we have both, as Speaker One said, to make it clear that a broad consensus in the international community considers what Russia has done illegitimate, but also to provide an off-ramp, if you will, should Russia be willing to address its concerns in a manner other than with military force, and then also to talk a little bit about our support for Ukraine.
So first to the ground situation, as you will have seen, Russian forces now have complete operational control of the Crimean Peninsula, some 6,000-plus airborne and naval forces with considerable materiel. The Ukrainians, by and large, have stayed in base. In some cases, they’ve actually locked their weapons up. We’ve also had occasional ethnic skirmishes in parts of the east. In particular, we are watching Kharkiv, where there have been efforts to stir up ethnic Russians and Russian citizens in protest to the government. We also have a large Russian military exercise going on on the Russian side of the border to Ukraine’s east. That exercise is due to wrap up in the next couple of days.
Just to go back to the presidential phone call yesterday with President Putin, as Speaker One said, the President in that call flatly rejected President Putin’s arguments with regard to his rationale for moving his military into Crimea, including the illegitimacy of the government in Kyiv and his assertion that Russian citizens or his – or the base in Sevastopol were under direct threat.
They did then begin talking about a way ahead, with the President pressing that there were other ways for Putin to address any concerns that he might have, and that they could be addressed consensually in dialogue with the Ukrainian Government; that the Vice President and the Secretary of State’s conversations with both acting President Turchynov in Ukraine, and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk indicated that they were eager for dialogue, that they were committed to protecting the rights of all minorities in Ukraine, and that they had no plans to change any of the international obligations that Ukraine had during this transition period, notably, including the base.
The President also stressed that if there were concerns either about safety or about minorities, that there were international tools available to President Putin – monitoring through the United Nations, monitoring and observation through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – and that we, the United States, would support both Russia and Ukraine if they wanted to avail themselves of those tools. So – but and I would say Putin did not slam the door on that, but there was agreement to continue to discuss.
So on those two vectors – first on delegitimizing what the – what President Putin has chosen to do, we have, as you have seen, worked with allies and partners around the world to have strong national statements that match the statement that we put out yesterday, making clear that we all consider the Russian occupation of Crimea to be a violation of international law, a violation of Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter and various other commitments, including their bilateral basing agreement with the Ukrainians.
You will have seen this afternoon a very strong statement from the North Atlantic Council making clear that it too – all 28 members condemned the actions that Russia has taken, called for a pullback, and re-expressed its support for Ukraine. There was also a NATO-Ukraine Council meeting today to show broad political support for Ukraine, and we expect that there will be a NATO-Russia Council tomorrow to use that format to make clear the view of all 28 allies to the Russians and to insist on an explanation.
Moving forward, we are also working with our G-7 partners. You saw in the President’s statement yesterday reference to the fact that in light of Russian action, we do not see moving forward with preparations for the G-8 summit in Sochi, that Russia’s actions are incompatible with the basic underlying principles that allowed us to bring them into the G-8 in the first place. There have been a number of national statements, notably by Canada, the UK, France, making clear that they too will suspend participation in G-8 preparatory fora. So that’s further to the pressure strategy.
We are also looking with allies and partners at a broad menu of options to curtail our economic and trade relationship, to look at pressure on individuals who may have been responsible, and to curtail normal activity that we have ongoing with Russia at this time to make it clear how we feel about this.
At the same time, we are also pursuing efforts to settle these concerns another way, as I said, through deployment of monitoring and observation teams. Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland is on her way to Vienna tomorrow for a high officials meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE, as you may know, has a very strong record of providing observation and monitoring in conflict situations. We will be looking at what we can do immediately to get monitors into eastern Ukraine, where we could have flashpoints to get monitors to the flashpoint now on the Crimean Peninsula between the area where the Russians are occupying and the rest of Ukraine, and also to propose and scope a much broader OSCE mission that could go in to replace Russian military forces if the Russians can be persuaded to pull back.
We are doing similar work in the UN. The UN also has the ability to send monitors. So that would also provide a way other than military forces to address any concerns about either the security of the base or the protection of minorities. The Ukrainians themselves have welcomed and invited OSCE or UN monitors – and UN monitors. They approved that not only from the government, but also through the Rada today.
And then now on to other steps that we’re taking to support Ukraine, Secretary of State Kerry will travel to Kyiv. He will be there on Tuesday for consultations with the transitional Ukrainian government. He will also meet with members of the Rada, we expect, civil society, and talk about steps that we are taking to support Ukraine economically, to support Ukraine politically, and to address the needs that they have.
We are also, at the Ukrainians’ request, calling a meeting, likely on Wednesday but later in the week, of the parties who committed in 1994 at Budapest when Ukraine made the decision to become a nonnuclear state to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The four signatories to that were the UK, the U.S., Russia, and Ukraine. Ukrainians have asked for emergency consultations under this Budapest agreement, and we will call those and host those later in the week and see whether the Russians show.
Just a few last comments here: We are concerned as we watch this situation that the Russians have badly miscalculated here. There is a very proud and fierce tradition in Ukraine of defending their sovereignty and territorial integrity. So far, Ukraine has showed and Ukrainians individually have showed marked restraint, notably led by the government, which has insisted that its own forces stay in barracks. But the longer this situation goes on, the more delicate it becomes.
More broadly, what we see here are distinctly 19th and 20th century decisions made by President Putin to address problems – deploying military forces rather than negotiating, rather than talking. But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st century world, an interdependent world. And as you may have noticed, his economy is not in the greatest of shape. The ruble has taken a significant hit over the last three days. He depends on good trade relations with all of us, notably with Europe, and it is going to be very difficult to maintain that kind of a relationship with the outside world while he is using his military forces to threaten and intimidate a neighbor.
Let me stop there.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Great. [Senior Administration Official Three], anything you want to add to open?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Sure. I would just follow up on the point about the Russian economy because I know a lot of the focus is on what actions are being taken to show the Russian Government and the Russian people the cost of the action that their president has chosen. And those are really important and I know we’ll talk more about them.
But to put a specific number to it, the Russian ruble has fallen 8.3 percent year to date, and so the Russian economy is really quite vulnerable given the level of integration to international markets’ reactions to concerns about the Russian actions in Ukraine in the last week.
I would also add that when the President spoke with President Putin, he made very clear that in addition to the terrific capabilities that the UN and the OSCE have for monitoring, for fact-finding, for creating the kind of reassurance and transparency to address the kinds of concerns that President Putin brought up and that you’re hearing in the Russian press, about which I would say there’s absolutely no evidence. This is all being discussed in the Russian press, but there is no confirmation of any of the stories we’re seeing about attacks on Russians or many of the claims we’re seeing.
But he pointed out to President Putin that Russia has a leading role in both of those institutions. Russia has a leadership responsibility and a leadership opportunity, and so the door is quite open to addressing Russia’s – the concerns that they’ve expressed, to working on them together in a way that is consistent with international law; and not only Russia’s commitments, but Russia’s potential role to help meet the – to help address this crisis in a way that is constructive and worthy of a great power.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Great. Operator, we’ll move to questions.
OPERATOR: Okay, certainly. And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. You’ll hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue. You may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing the pound key. If you’re using a speakerphone, pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. If you have a question, *1.
Your first question comes from the line of Michael Gordon of New York Times. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Great, thank you. You mentioned in your background call a number of economic steps that the Administration is considering. Secretary Kerry said that that might include evicting Russia from the G-8 or postponing a meeting. But can you specify any step, economic or diplomatic, that the Administration has already taken or is prepared to take this week beyond proposing sending observers – an economic or a diplomatic step to isolate Russia?
And also, there are reports that even today Russia is sending thousands of troops to Crimea to reinforce its position. That doesn’t seem like the behavior of a country that’s likely to reverse course. Can you please address that? And what is your response to those reports? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I’ll go first here and then let – [Senior Administration Official Two] may want to get in here. But, Michael, first of all, we have suspended participation in the preparatory meetings for the Sochi G-8, so keep in mind that these aren’t just meetings where leaders show up in June. There is a whole host of meetings that lead into that. So that’s an action that’s already been taken. The United States will not be participating in meetings in preparation for the Sochi G-8.
That’s a pretty strong signal of the fact that we believe that Russia does not have a role to play in the G-8 if it continues on this current course, and we’re working to coordinate that position with the other members of the G-7, frankly, who broadly share our concerns.
In terms of political isolation, I think it’s a pretty strong signal to Russia when you have the North Atlantic Council meet and universally condemn this action but also meet with the Ukrainian Government. And so part of this is the fact that the Russian Federation is isolated from these institutions of the international community, but part of it is also that they are demonstrating their support for the Ukrainian Government in Kyiv, which has, frankly, rejected the degree of Russian heavy-handed influence in favor of a more European orientation.
And then we’re also considering steps to be taken in the very near future around expediting the provision of economic assistance to the Government of Ukraine. So that is something that, as we head into the week, we’re looking to move as quickly as we can on. [Senior Administration Official Two], you may want to add to that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I would just add that we are also, as we said, beginning to review all of our economic and trade cooperation with the Russian Federation. We have already taken some decisions to cancel meetings that were planned next week which had been put on to try to deepen and broaden that relationship. For example, we had a negotiation team from USTR heading to discuss a bilateral investment treaty with the Russians. That trip will now not go forward. And we’re reviewing the full menu of other things that we have in place in the coming weeks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: I would add that we also – on that list, we canceled a Russian visit to the United States to talk about cooperation in international energy markets as well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: And we anticipate – there’s a big naval event coming up that we will also intend to cancel. So you’ll start to see in mil-mil channels, in economic channels, and these other cooperation channels meetings be canceled until they make the right decision.
QUESTION: Can you address the second part – my second part of my question, please?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: That was the fact that they’re still in Crimea?
QUESTION: No, Russian troops flowing to Crimea today in considerable numbers --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Look, Michael --
QUESTION: -- to reinforce their position.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: -- it is – there is no question that they are in an occupation position in Crimea, that they are flying in reinforcements, and they’re settling in. That is not – and that is the situation that we confront. That said, it is Russia’s choice whether it wants to behave in this manner or whether it wants to come back into the community of civilized nations.
So we – even as we make it hurt for them economically, politically, morally, and legally for what they’ve done, we will continue to leave the door open and provide opportunities for a better, more 21st century way forward.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: And I don’t think that the long – that time aids them in this regard. With time, they will find themselves further isolated from international institutions, from the international community. There will be a further impact on their economy. The trade and commercial ties that were referenced have been the priority of Russia in their relationship with us and their relationship with Europe; and if those are put on hold, together with the destabilizing impact of this intervention, I think it could have a long-term hit on the Russian economy.
And then finally, all this is doing is reinforcing the people of Ukraine’s desire to orient towards Europe. So it is not going to have a desired impact if it is – if one of the goals was to reverse what’s been taking place in Kyiv over the last several months.
We’ll go to the next question.
OPERATOR: Okay. And the next question, it comes from the line of Arshad Mohammed of Reuters. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Secretary Kerry several times in his interview today on ABC said that all options are on the table. I think he said it three times. Is the U.S. Government giving any serious consideration to the possibility of a military option in Ukraine in response to either Russia’s seizure of the Crimea or the possibility of Russia moving further into eastern Ukraine or elsewhere in the country?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I’ll just go first. And look, right now I think we are focused on political and economic and diplomatic options. And we do have a wide range of options, to include isolation, potential sanctions, and relationships between Russia and international institutions. So we have not – and frankly, our goal is to uphold the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, not to have a military escalation. So I don’t think we’re focused right now on the notion of some U.S. military intervention. I don’t think, frankly, that would be an effective way to de-escalate the situation. So the Secretary, I think, was referring to the fact that we have a broad toolkit and we have many options to consider.
On the – I would say that it is a strong signal that NATO – it’s reaffirming its relationship with Ukraine today. That has a political component, but that’s also a forum for consultation. And then I think on the military side we are able to consult and have discussions with our Ukrainian counterparts, just as we do diplomatically and on economic issues.
But I don’t know, [Senior Administration Official Two], if you want to add to that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I don’t think I can improve on that. I think that was right up there. We are not – we’re looking to de-escalate this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yep. Next question.
OPERATOR: Okay. And the next question comes from the line of Margaret Brennan of CBS News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks so much for doing this. Can you give us a sense of bigger picture, how this tension – if it’s leading to disruption of planned meetings, et cetera, with Russia – how this complicates other diplomatic efforts underway for the Administration right now in which Russia is a key part? I’m thinking, of course, of chemical weapons treaty delivery. I’m also thinking of the pressure against Iran. Can you talk about – I know you want to keep these things in separate lanes, but there is some crossover here.
And then specifically, can you flesh out a little bit more on the shape and scale of some of these economic measures that are being considered? I’m thinking when you’re talking about putting pressure on those who might be responsible, whether or not you’re talking about actions you considered with Ukrainian officials and visa bans and asset freezes. Can you flesh that out?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. I’ll take the first one, and my colleagues may want to take second.
I think, Margaret, obviously we have a very broad relationship with Russia that touches on a lot of different issues. Clearly, our bilateral relationship is going to be impacted by Russia’s action in the Ukraine, and we’ve already begun to impose consequences. At the same time, when you look at an issue like Iran, we don’t believe that Russia has participated in the P5+1 process as some kind of favor to the United States or as some vehicle of improving relationships with us. I think it’s because Russia, like every other world power at the table, has an interest in nonproliferation and not seeing an escalation into conflict in the Persian Gulf.
On Syria, they have not been cooperative on a host of issues, a whole range of issues. So in some respects that’s – I wouldn’t hold that up as an issue where we’ve gotten the type of Russian cooperation we’ve wanted in the first place. But I wouldn’t – I would say on the chemical weapons they have invested a lot in that issue, and clearly President Putin has invested his own personal prestige in the issue, and they have an interest in seeing chemical weapons removed from Syria, given their concerns about the extremist threat that, frankly, could emanate from Syria into their borders. So on chemical weapons in particular, I do think they have an interest.
I’d just also note before we move on to the second question that on Syria, generally, President Putin has consistently suggested that the reason for opposing any further sanction on the Assad regime is respect for territorial integrity, sovereignty of Syria, and so there’s an extraordinary amount of Russian hypocrisy in what we see in Ukraine today. But my colleagues may want to take the second portion.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: I want to follow up – before we move to the question of what we’re doing for Ukraine, I just want to reiterate – I want to emphasize that we’ve said from the beginning of the Administration that our strategy has been to work with Russia where we agree and to be very, very clear with Russia and with the international community where we think Russia’s on the wrong track, where it makes the wrong choices. We have focused on where it’s possible, and you know the list of the issues. What the question raises is simply pointing to the fact that both elements of that remain true. We want to work with Russia on Iran and on Syria because we have a responsibility to the global community. Those are serious problems that we want to work on. But that’s not going to somehow lead us to not tell the truth and not support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and do everything we can to make sure that Russia respects Ukraine as a sovereign country.
On the economic issue, I’d just – I’m going to let my colleague go into the details because I know [Senior Administration Official Two] has more granularity on it, but I want to point out just sort of for big picture point is that the main problem with Ukraine right now and the economy is really short term. Ukraine is facing a short-term challenge, not because it is not a strong economy with a lot of potential, but precisely because it has been so mismanaged by the previous leadership. And so the focus of our efforts right now is on helping Ukraine get through this short-term challenge. But over the long run, Ukraine has a low debt-to-GDP ratio, markets are signaling that over several months Ukraine, as long as it gets through the short-term period, it will be in a position to be successful. And that’s where we want to get Ukraine. We want to get Ukraine to that point, to be able to be poised for success under a new leadership.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Just to underscore the point that speaker one made about the Russian position on Syria, for years Russian Government has warned everyone in the international community, including the United States, not to violate Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, claiming that that was a fundamental tenet of international law. How does that square with the choice that they have now made in Ukraine? Either you obey the rules or you don’t obey the rules.
Moving on to Ukraine, just to say you know what we’re working on. We are working on – with the new transitional technical government on an IMF package that can then be matched by bilateral contributions, other support through international financial institutions like the IBRD, et cetera. And as colleague three said, this is a short-term problem that results from the gross mismanagement and corruption and ripping off of the Ukrainian economy of the previous regime. Ukraine is a very rich country and will be even richer when some of the natural gas is exploited.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: And on punitive measures, I’d just add – because that was referenced in the question. Yeah, we have a broad range of tools that can include things from visa bans to individual sanctions. So as this continues, if it continues, we would consider those types of options going forward.
We’ll take the next question, please.
MODERATOR: Okay. And the next question comes from the line of Jay Solomon of Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks for doing this. Over the past four or five years, by far the most effective sanctions – again, it’s whether it was Iran or North Korea, Burma – have been very targeted sanctions on companies and senior individuals. Can you confirm whether that’s something that’s already being looked at as part of the response – those types of targeted sanctions of banks? Because the Russians seem extremely vulnerable due to the amount of money they have in banks in London or Geneva that they could be hit pretty hard if you go down that course. But I just don’t know if that’s something that we can say is already being considered.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Jay, I think we’re not going to get into any more details about what’s being considered, but you are absolutely right about the vulnerability of Russian banks. We’re looking at all of the options.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, and I think it’s both the immediate chilling impact on the Russian economy of people being aware of the international condemnation of this action and of there being a halt to the types of trade and commercial ties that they’ve sought to broaden with us and potentially other European and Western countries. And then there’s that second subset of more punitive actions like the ones you reference. And again, we don’t want to get ahead of those, but again, we’ll be taking a look at all these different elements, because in the long term this will have a cost on the Russian economy. And the President was very clear in his word choice of cost. Some of those costs will be imposed by the United States. Some of those Russia has already invited upon itself. And you see that as evidenced in the ruble. And some of that will be internationally. So this is – there are many vulnerabilities that I think will only grow if Russia does not make the right choice and take the off-ramp that has been provided to join an effort and de-escalating the situation.
We’ll take the next question.
OPERATOR: Okay, thank you. And next question comes from the line of Andrea Mitchell of NBC News. Please go ahead. Andrea Mitchell, your line is open.
Okay, and she dropped from queue. Just a moment. Next question from the line of Josh Rogin of The Daily Beast. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks very much. You mentioned at the top of the call that you’re seeing signs of efforts to stir unrest in parts of eastern and southern Ukraine, outside of Crimea. I’m wondering if you can expand on that a little bit. Specifically, my question is: Do you see any evidence that there are either Russian armed forces or Russian paramilitary forces or Russian intelligence forces on the ground out in Ukraine, outside of Crimea, and are they involved in that effort? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: What we’re seeing in Kharkiv in particular are efforts to stir up tensions between ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians. We’re seeing some protest activity both ways, for the Ukrainian Government and against it. We have not seen Russian military moves in the east of Ukraine at this stage, at this point in time, but we’re watching very carefully.
QUESTION: But you are saying that it is the Russians that are stirring the unrest in parts of Ukraine outside Crimea?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I am not assigning responsibility there. I’m simply saying that we are concerned that tensions are being stirred up.
QUESTION: You (inaudible). Okay, thank you.
OPERATOR: Okay, thank you.
MODERATOR: We’ve got time for a couple more.
OPERATOR: Okay. And the next question, it comes from the line of Martha Raddatz of ABC News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. I just want to go back to the end of Michael Gordon’s question. Is there any indication that Vladimir Putin is listening to anything the U.S. is saying? I mean, it certainly doesn’t appear that way. And could you elaborate a little bit more on the call with Putin in regards to that, or whether he is taking anything to heart?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, we in this Administration have made it a practice to not look into Vladimir Putin’s soul, so I can’t speak for him. What I can say is that we’re not just speaking from the United States; we’re speaking from the entire world. And what you see is, I think, a very clear message that nobody is going to accept the legitimacy of this action in Ukraine.
He has a number of choices of make. The first one is whether to continue to escalate through movement into other parts of Ukraine from – so we’ve already seen the intervention in Crimea, and it would be even further destabilizing to expand that intervention into eastern Ukraine.
And our bottom line is they had to pull back from what they’ve already done, go back to their bases in Crimea. But we’ll be watching very carefully, of course, and we’ll be very, very, very concerned if we saw further escalation into eastern Ukraine. And frankly, I think that President Putin will have some decisions to make here, because frankly, the course that he is on will take Russia into a much weaker position in the international community.
QUESTION: [Senior Administration Official One], are --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, let me just – to be clear, Martha, what’s happened – let’s remember what’s happened in the last three months, which is a pro-Russian government in Kyiv was effectively rejected by the people of Ukraine when they chose not to orient towards the West. The leader of that government fled, packed up in the middle of night, and a pro-Western government took its place in Kyiv. That’s hardly a huge success for Russia.
QUESTION: A pro-Ukrainian, pro-Western --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, as I said, pro-Western. That’s hardly a huge success story for President Putin. And now he is under a pretext of – a variety of pretexts, frankly – intervening militarily in a way that is only going to hurt Russia’s standing in the international community. So again, I don’t think this is somehow a moment of strength for Russia or its leader.
But sorry, Martha, I don’t know if you --
QUESTION: No, that’s all right. But no indication that he’s listening at all to any of these warnings or threats?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, we’ll have to see what he does. I mean, we’ll have to see what they do with their forces with respect to potential escalation in the eastern Ukraine. We’ll have to see what they do with their forces in Crimea. But I don’t know if my colleagues want to add to that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: I would also add we’ll see – Putin did not disagree that the UN and the OSCE were options for addressing the issues that he raised and that Russian officials have raised in public about concerns about the safety of Ukrainian citizens who are ethnic Russians and ethnic speakers – and I want to emphasize they are Ukrainian citizens. So we’ll see. This issue – they’re not going to be able to duck this issue. It’s going to be raised in the OSCE, as senior official two pointed out. It’s going to be raised in the UN.
So if they are serious about these concerns, then they need to step to the table. And so we can’t answer for you whether Putin and the Russian leadership are listening to the opportunities before them to address their concerns. Their actions will speak louder than words.
OPERATOR: Okay. And the next question comes from the line of James Rosen of Fox News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you hear me all right?
QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing the call. It just seems to me that you wouldn’t be viewing this whole set of events through a realist perspective if you did not take some acknowledgment of the chronology here, whereby the President of the United States appears in the briefing room at the White House on Friday evening and warns of costs if the Russian Federation violates the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, and later that night and over the next morning, that is precisely what the Russian Federation does. This further, of course, occurs in the context of what has happened in Syria, where the President several times drew a red line, and when that red line was crossed, sought to deny that it was his red line but in fact said it was the world’s red line.
The question I think Martha was raising and I think is on a lot of people’s minds right now is whether the President of the United States – this President of the United States has a credibility problem around the world with other foreign leaders, and particularly very strong ones like Vladimir Putin, and doesn’t these set of facts and the chronology, in fact, establish that? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I guess there’s a question there. The – let’s look at the chronology again of what happened in Ukraine, okay, which is that several months ago, you had a government that was backed by Russia that rejected an association agreement with the European Union, and in doing so invoked – evoked a, essentially, popular uprising against its legitimacy. And over many months, Russia sought to back up their government in Kyiv, and they were unsuccessful in that effort. And the people of Ukraine effectively rejected the legitimacy of their own government. The Rada has voted to install a government that reflects the views of the Ukrainian people and their desire for an orientation to the West. The pro-Russian president is forced to flee in the middle of the night and pack up, and shows up on the border and then shows up in Russia, right?
So Ukraine, a key – a very important country for the Russians, essentially the Russians see their guy in Kyiv get – have to flee in the middle of the night, to leave town, and be replaced by a pro-Western --
QUESTION: We’ve heard this litany. I’m wondering about a response to my question about the last 72 hours.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. I’m getting to the question, which is that you have said that he is a strong leader. I don’t think that he – Vladimir Putin – so the premise of your question is that he is strong and the President of the United States is weak, when, in fact, he is not acting from a position of strength right now. He is acting from a position of having lost the government that they backed in Kyiv and made a play to move in to Crimea, a piece of Ukraine, and being met with international condemnation.
I think when the President of the United States goes to the briefing room, it’s very important that the world knows where the United States stands, that he lays a predicate, frankly, for what we’re doing now, which is we saw very concerning Russian moves with them moving forces. So when he went out to speak, we had frankly already begun to see things that were concerning to us. That’s why he spoke. And by doing so, he lays a predicate for us to say, “We warned you not to do this. Now that you have, we are going to mobilize the international community in response to what you’ve done.” And that’s exactly what we’re doing.
And you’re seeing the ability of the United States to bring with us not just ourselves, but the rest of the G7 countries, the rest of NATO, and frankly, the broad majority of the world in condemning its actions and beginning to isolate Russia. So the credibility of the President is manifested in how many leaders and how many countries are joining with us and standing with us in rejecting this Russian action.
And again, I don’t think that there is a narrative of strength here for President Putin. That’s why I go through the chronology. Because he is looking at a situation in which we now have a pro-Western, democratic Ukrainian Government in Kyiv that is looking to the West. That is not a good development for him. So --
QUESTION: Well, if I can just follow up --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: James, can I just put one more point on this? Which is --
QUESTION: Certainly, certainly.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: -- this chapter has proven decisively that when it comes to soft power, the power of attraction, Vladimir Putin has no game. So he’s left with hard power. And it’s a very dangerous game to play in Ukraine because the Ukrainian people are not going to stand for it, and nor is the international community.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: I would add that let’s put the blame for the Russian decision to invade Ukraine and violate Russia’s international commitments exactly where it belongs, which is at the feet of Vladimir Putin.
QUESTION: If I can simply follow up, it just seems to me that this may be a first occasion where senior Administration officials of this rank are left arguing that an occasion where the head of Russia flagrantly disregards a warning from the President of the United States issued on the world stage as a win for that President of the United States.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: James, I’m not --
QUESTION: You’re trying to make a virtue out of his being disregarded and flouted by Vladimir Putin.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: This is not about a win for anybody. We’re focused on the people of Ukraine. We’re not focused on some political game here in Washington. Look, Russia has done this before too. I’m sure they were warned not to do what they did in Georgia in 2008, and they did. So this is not the first time in history that there has been an act of an aggression – of aggression by a foreign leader or a Russian leader.
What the United States does is we define clearly our interests and we pursue them in conjunction with our allies around the world. And we’re focused on how can we support the Ukrainian people who have – who should be, frankly, everybody’s focus right now. They’re the ones who have heroically stood up for the last several months to demand democracy. That’s what I’m focused on. I’m not focusing on whether people are going to give us credit for X or Y or Z.
I do think it’s a bit strange to lift up this action, this outrageous action that President Putin has taken, as some great show of strength by him. What it is, is it’s a show of weakness in the sense that they have lost the government that they backed in Kyiv and have now had to resort to the type of intervention that is going to lead them to be severely isolated within the international community and, frankly, is not going to achieve the objective of un-ringing the bell that we heard in Kyiv when the Ukrainian people were able to take control of their own future.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I’m going to hop off here. I’ve got a plane to catch. Thank you all. Thanks, [Senior Administration Official One].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. We can take one more question.
OPERATOR: Okay. Then the final question is from the line of Elise Labott of CNN. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks so much for doing the call. Just to kind of follow up a little bit on Martha’s question, I understand that you’re waiting to see what he does, whether – to know whether he’s listening. But do you think that these measures that you’re taking right now, that he’s obviously calculated that he can withstand some of these costs because, as you discussed before, that this is an existential issue for him and this is a zero-sum game, as – despite your denial, it kind of is for you too?
So I’m wondering, if he’s willing to withstand those costs, how far are you prepared to take it knowing that he can have his own retaliation? I mean, you saw what he did with the Magnitsky Act. He had moves of his own – canceling U.S. adoptions of Russian children. So I’m just wondering, like, how far you think this tit-for-tat can go. I mean, and isn’t the diplomatic track on some of these monitors and making Putin part of the solution rather than part of the problem preferable?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Sorry, I’ll just make a quick comment, Elise. Part of this depends on how this plays out. Again, obviously, our preference would be for Russia to de-escalate right now and to accept international observers and to go back to their bases in Crimea. Then we will see again whether they make the decision to escalate further in eastern Ukraine.
I think as this plays out over time, though, we will want to create a dynamic in which Russia is steadily facing greater pressure from the international community for any continued military intervention and presence in Crimea and within Ukraine’s borders. But my colleague will probably be able to speak well to President Putin’s calculus and our response.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Well, as [Senior Administration Official One] pointed out, being inside Putin’s head is not someplace anyone wants to be. So I won’t speculate too much on his calculations. But I do want to point out that the strategy that the President has laid out and that we’re working on with our allies and partners in the international community, and which you’re going to see playing out in the next couple of days and weeks going forward, is partly the costs that Russia has taken on upon itself and will begin to experience, but it’s also – as we’ve already mentioned, it’s offering a better way, a way – an off-ramp. They have made a terrible choice. They’ve made the wrong choice. They’re going to begin to see the effects of that choice. That doesn’t happen in 24 hours. That’s going to take some time. It’s going to take time to affect the Russian economy. It’s going to take time for it to begin to sink in that the ambitions for an innovation economy, more international investment, all the things that Russian leaders have been saying are their number one priority, are not going to happen. That’s going to take a little while for them to see.
QUESTION: But if I could just quickly follow up, though. The way that you’re talking about those type of things – like, those type of costs to an economy take an awful long time. I mean, don’t you think this situation kind of – you need to settle this kind of pretty soon? I mean, you saw that happened in Georgia. It wasn’t any kind of – although you weren’t in the – it was a different administration, but it wasn’t any threats of economy or kicking him out of G8 or anything like that that got him to pull back. It was some kind of diplomatic solution where he could save face and then he could pull back. I mean, it sounds like some of the things that you’re talking about --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: Well, like I said, the --
QUESTION: -- him feeling the costs on the economy could take months.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: And I said, and the other part of the strategy is to offer him a way out. You just said the – a diplomatic solution. So that is part of the strategy and that’s being worked in the UN, at the OSCE, with European allies. And so you’re exactly right. You asked a question in which you pose it exactly right; you have to have both elements to the strategy.
So I – sorry, I’ve lost my own train of thought. But the expectation that this is going to change in 24 hours is not – that’s not in the real world. We’re talking about being realistic. That’s not real world. Real world is a serious situation that the Russians have created, it’s going to take serious efforts to unwind it, and we’re absolutely seriously engaged in doing that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, and I just – that’s a good note to close on here is that we are going to move very quickly in some regards in terms of our actions with other international partners and organizations in terms of our assistance to Ukraine, but then we’re prepared to continue in the longer term if that’s what it takes. At the same time, at every juncture there’s an off-ramp for Russia if they choose to de-escalate, and we’d like to see them do that and pull back. In Georgia, that was enough to get them to pull back to some extent, although, of course, Abkhazia and South Ossetia continue to be unresolved issues.
So what we want to see is the full sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine restored, and frankly, to do so in a way that allows them to move forward with their own democratic future, which includes the elections in May.
So thanks, everybody, for getting on the call. Just a quick update: You heard the announcement of Secretary Kerry’s travel to Kyiv on Tuesday. The President’s calls are complete with the leaders of Poland, the United Kingdom and Germany, so we’ll get you a readout of that – a written readout shortly.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And I just want to remind everyone that today’s call is on background and we appreciate you joining us today.