Secretary of State John Kerry warned Wednesday that the ongoing crisis in Ukraine could "get ugly fast if the wrong choices are made. And it can get ugly in multiple directions."
Kerry's comments came as part of his testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee about the department's fiscal 2015 budget request.
And, not surprisingly, Ukraine quickly came up.
Republican Rep. Kay Granger, the chairwoman of the the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee, said in her opening statement that "the situation continues with no resolution in sight" despite Kerry's work.
But the secretary is prepared to try, and try again. He announced he'll travel to London on Friday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after a series of phone calls. The meeting comes two days before an expected Crimean referendum.
"Nothing justifies a military intervention that the world has witnessed. There are many other legitimate ways to address Russia's concerns," Kerry said during Wednesday's hearing. But he added that the administration recognizes "Russia has interests in Crimea."
The administration has already announced it will issue visa bans and fiscal sanctions against individuals it believes are responsible for the crisis in Crimea and for undermining the Ukrainian government.
But Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said he, like many members of Congress, believes that further sanctions are necessary, adding, "It's clear that they're going forward with the referendum, and probably annexation, under the barrel of a gun."
And while Kerry was hesitant to outline what further steps the administration could take, he noted, "Russia has challenges of its own, and I'm not sure they need to have the kind of economic constraints that may be following, depending on the decisions they make."
Congressional Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for playing what they view as a weak foreign policy hand in response not only on Russia's incursion into Crimea, but also on Syria, the Iran negotiations, and a nuclear-weapons treaty that was part of a broad effort to restart U.S.-Russian relations.
But Kerry pressed back on that narrative, saying: "The reset with Russia was not just a pushing of a button and saying, 'Oh, everything is going to be terrific.' The reset was an effort to find those things we could cooperate on, understanding, of course, that with Russia, we're going to have major kinds of philosophical … differences."
This article appears in the March 13, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.