The United States on Wednesday warned Russia against a military intervention in Ukraine as troops in western Russia were placed on high alert including near the Ukrainian border.
In delivering the blunt message, Kerry also announced that the Obama administration was planning $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine and would consider additional direct assistance for the former Soviet republic following unrest that led to the overthrow of its Russian-backed president, Viktor Yanukovich.
Kerry also renewed US demands that Moscow withdraw troops from disputed enclaves in another former Soviet republic, Georgia, and urged Georgia to further integrate with Europe and NATO. Russia has maintained a military presence in the enclaves since a 2008 war between the two countries.
The warning, aid announcement and nudge westward for Georgia all came amid growing tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine and were likely to fuel already-heightened Russian suspicions over Western intentions in its backyard.
Kerry insisted, however, that that US policy towards Ukraine, Georgia and the other states that once made up the Soviet Union was not aimed at reducing Russia’s influence in its neighbourhood. Instead, he maintained that US encouragement for former Soviet states to integrate with the West was driven by Washington’s desire to see their people realise aspirations for freedom in robust democracies with strong economies.
“The Obama administration is insisting that this is not a cold war confrontation; not a confrontation between superpowers,” FRANCE 24’s Philip Crowther reported from Washington. “But this is a confrontation between Russia and the United States, if only verbally.”
At talks on Tuesday with his British counterpart, William Hague, Kerry joked that the situation was “not ‘Rocky IV’,” referring to the hit 1985 Sylvester Stallone film in which an ageing American boxer takes on a daunting Soviet muscleman.
Noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered large-scale military exercises in what many see as a show of force or possible prelude to intervention in Ukraine, Kerry said it would be hypocritical for Moscow to send troops into another country after spending the last several years opposing foreign military action in places like Libya and Syria.
“For a country that has spoken out so frequently in the last year ... against foreign intervention in Libya, Syria, elsewhere, it would be important for them to heed those warnings as they think about options in the sovereign nation of Ukraine,” Kerry said. “The territorial integrity of Ukraine needs to be respected.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest urged “outside actors” to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty. Without specifically mentioning Russia, Earnest also called on others in the region to end “provocative rhetoric and actions”.
On assistance, Kerry said it was “urgent to move forward” to help Ukraine but also said it was urgent for Ukraine’s interim authorities to enact reforms, curb corruption, and prepare free and fair elections. He said the planned $1 billion in US loan guarantees would be accompanied by additional aid to be determined later in consultation with Congress, as well as about $1.5 billion from the European Union, along with loans from global financial institutions.
Georgia in focus
Kerry made the comments at a round-table interview with a small group of reporters at the State Department where he presided over a meeting of the US-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission earlier on Wednesday.
At that meeting, he announced additional, but unspecified, US assistance “to help support Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic vision.” He denounced Russia’s continued military presence in the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in violation of the ceasefire that ended the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict.
He stressed that the US supports Georgia’s membership in NATO – something opposed by Russia – and wants to see it sign a partnership agreement with the EU later this year. A similar proposed agreement between Ukraine and the EU was among the catalysts that led to the deadly unrest in Kiev that unseated Yanukovich last week.
Some Russian officials accuse the West of being behind the revolt against Yanukovich. US and European officials have denied such allegations.
In addition to Putin ordering the military exercises, Russia’s defence ministry said it would take steps to strengthen security at facilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, where there have been clashes between pro- and anti-Russian demonstrators. Pro-Russian protesters have spoken of secession, and a Russian lawmaker has stoked their passions by promising that Russia will protect them.
Those steps have raised fears of possible Russian military intervention in Ukraine along the lines of its 2008 operation in Georgia, which led to the occupations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and was roundly condemned by US and European allies.
Kerry, sitting next to Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, affirmed that the US “remains steadfast in our support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
“We continue to object to Russia’s occupation, militarisation and borderisation of Georgian territory, and we call on Russia to fulfil its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of forces and free access for humanitarian assistance,” Kerry said.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-02-27