John Kerry: Russia ‘May Not Even Remain in the G-8’ if Aggression in Ukraine Continues

The Secretary of State laid out Sunday what the U.S. can do to pressure Putin.

Heavily-armed soldiers without identifying insignia guard the Crimean parliament building next to a sign that reads: 'Crimea Russia' after taking up positions there earlier in the day on March 1, 2014 in Simferopol, Ukraine.
National Journal
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Matt Berman
March 2, 2014, 5:25 a.m.

The situ­ation in Ukraine is mov­ing rap­idly. The coun­try’s in­ter­im gov­ern­ment is now call­ing up its mil­it­ary re­serves to pres­sure Rus­sia against fur­ther move­ments in­to the coun­try after the Rus­si­an Par­lia­ment gave Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin au­thor­ity to use mil­it­ary force in the area. But so far, after a short, un­spe­cif­ic state­ment from the White House on Fri­day, the U.S. re­sponse has been murky at best.

Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry tried to clear up the U.S. po­s­i­tion dur­ing a run of the Sunday show gaunt­let. And when he spoke with Dav­id Gregory on Meet the Press, he gave a sense of what the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is ac­tu­ally con­sid­er­ing to do to stop Putin from go­ing fur­ther, either in Crimea or in Ukraine as a whole.

“This is an act of ag­gres­sion that is com­pletely trumped up in terms of its pre­text,” Kerry said Sunday. “It’s really 19th cen­tury be­ha­vi­or in the 21st cen­tury.” Kerry sug­ges­ted that, if Rus­sia’s ac­tions in Crimea and Ukraine con­tin­ue, the G8 will, at a min­im­um, not meet in So­chi as planned for June. The U.S. is already mak­ing plans to pull out of that sum­mit.

Kerry elab­or­ated fur­ther on the costs the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity could im­pose on Rus­sia, say­ing that the G8 coun­tries are go­ing to “isol­ate” Rus­sia, that “they’re not go­ing to en­gage with Rus­sia in a nor­mal busi­ness as usu­al man­ner.” That state­ment is not much more spe­cif­ic than any­thing else the White House has said in the last week. Kerry also men­tioned po­ten­tial as­set freezes, visa bans, and that “there could be cer­tainly dis­rup­tion of any of the nor­mal trade routine.”

Could west­ern mil­it­ary forces get in­volved? Kerry hedged the ques­tion, say­ing that the North At­lantic Coun­cil is meet­ing Sunday, but that he doesn’t “know what is ac­tu­ally on the table with re­spect to the steps they may or may not take.”

“The last thing any­body wants is a mil­it­ary op­tion in this kind of a situ­ation,” Kerry said.

“We want a peace­ful res­ol­u­tion through the nor­mal pro­cesses of in­ter­na­tion­al re­la­tions. But in the ab­sence of Pres­id­ent Putin mak­ing the right de­cision to work with the gov­ern­ment of Ukraine, to work with the west, to work with all of us, as I said a mo­ment ago, this is not about the Rus­sia and the United States. It’s about the people of Ukraine…I mean, [Rus­sia is] in dir­ect, overt vi­ol­a­tion of in­ter­na­tion­al law.”

There’s noth­ing in Kerry’s re­sponse about po­ten­tial mil­it­ary ac­tion that firmly says that the U.S. will or will not con­sider mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion. Of course mil­it­ary ac­tion is nev­er prefer­able. But right now, the U.S. seems to be keep­ing as many op­tions open as pos­sible.

That in­cludes re­mov­ing Rus­sia from the G8.

Putin’s “go­ing to lose on the in­ter­na­tion­al stage, Rus­sia is go­ing to lose, the Rus­si­an people are go­ing to lose,” if something doesn’t change, Kerry said. Putin will “lose all of the glow that came out of the Olympics,” and he’ll lose his So­chi G8 sum­mit. But then came a re­l­at­ive ham­mer: “He may not even re­main in the G8 if this con­tin­ues.”

Some Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, were already push­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion Sunday to act to kick Rus­sia from the G8. Sen. Marco Ru­bio, in a Politico op-ed, wrote that “if Rus­si­an troops do not leave Ukraine im­me­di­ately, Rus­sia should be ex­pelled from [the G8] al­to­geth­er.” Pres­id­ent Obama hin­ted around the threat on Sat­urday in a 90-minute phone call with Putin him­self, say­ing that Rus­sia’s “stand­ing in the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity” was at risk.

Rus­sia has been a mem­ber of the G8 since 1998, when the group of sev­en in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions (then the G7) ad­ded the coun­try to its sum­mit.

“The United States is united, Rus­sia is isol­ated,” Kerry said Sunday “That is not a po­s­i­tion of strength.” So far though, it’s not really clear what ac­tion the United States is “united” around. Putin, on the oth­er hand, is mov­ing ahead. Even in isol­a­tion.

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