Kerry: Ukraine Crisis Could ‘Get Ugly Fast’

But the secretary holds out hope that tensions can be drawn down.

Anti-government stand behind a 'wall of smoke' during clashes with police in the center of Kiev on February 20, 2014.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
March 12, 2014, 11:21 a.m.

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.”

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