John Kerry Secretary of State Opening Statement Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC April 8, 2014
Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, very much, Ranking Member Corker, members of the committee. I’m very happy to be back here and appreciate enormously the committee’s indulgence to have shifted this hearing because it came at a critical moment just before I was asked by the President to meet with Lavrov relative to Ukraine. And so I also want to thank everybody on the committee for working so hard to move the nominations, which obviously is critical. I think our – it’s not the fault of the committee, but with a combination of vetting process and public process and so forth and the combination of the slowdown on the floor of the Senate, I think we’re averaging something like 220-some days and some people at 300 days and some over 365 days. So I have literally only in the last month gotten my top team in place one year in, and I’m very grateful to the committee. Mr. Chairman, you’ve worked really hard to make that happen, and the ranking member, great cooperation. Senator McCain, others, helped to intervene on that, and I’m – I want to thank you all for that.
A lot of questions, Senator Corker, that you raised, and I really look forward to answering all of them because there is a cohesive approach. We’re living in an extremely complicated world unlike anything most of us grew up with. And we can talk about that here today because it really is critical to the question of how we deal, as the United States, in our budget and our own politics here and in our – in the choices we make.
Obviously – Senator Corker just brought it up – the intense focus on Ukraine continues. And everything that we’ve seen in the last 48 hours from Russian provocateurs and agents operating in eastern Ukraine tells us that they’ve been sent there determined to create chaos. And that is absolutely unacceptable. These efforts are as ham-handed as they are transparent, frankly. And quite simply, what we see from Russia is an illegal and illegitimate effort to destabilize a sovereign state and create a contrived crisis with paid operatives across an international boundary engaged in this initiative.
Russia’s clear and unmistakable involvement in destabilizing and engaging in separatist activities in the east of Ukraine is more than deeply disturbing. No one should be fooled, and believe me, no one is fooled by what could potentially be a contrived pretext for military intervention just as we saw in Crimea. It is clear that Russian special forces and agents have been the catalyst behind the chaos of the last 24 hours. Some have even been arrested and exposed. And equally as clear must be the reality that the United States and our allies will not hesitate to use 21st-century tools to hold Russia accountable for 19th-century behavior. We have stated again and again that our preference – and the preference of our friends and allies – is de-escalation and a diplomatic solution. But Russia should not for a single solitary second mistake the expression of that preference as an unwillingness to do what is necessary to stop any violation of the international order.
At NATO last week and in all of my conversations of the past weeks, it is clear that the United States and our closest partners are united in this effort despite the costs and willing to put in effect tough new sanctions on those orchestrating this action and on key sectors of the Russian economy. In energy, banking, mining – they’re all on the table. And President Obama has already signed an executive order to implement these actions if Russia does not end its pressure and aggression on Ukraine.
Now, let me make an equally important statement. It doesn’t have to be this way. But it will be this way if Russia continues down this provocative path. In my conversation yesterday with Foreign Minister Lavrov, we agreed to meet soon in Europe, next week, with Ukraine and our European partners to discuss de-escalation, demobilization, inclusivity, support for elections, and constitutional reform. And it is not, in our judgment, a small matter that Russia has agreed to sit in this four-party status with Ukraine at the table in an effort to try to forge a road ahead. Between now and then, we have made it clear that Russia needs to take concrete steps to disavow separatist actions in eastern Ukraine, pull back its forces outside the country, which they say they have begun to do with the movement of one battalion, and demonstrate that they are prepared to come to these discussions to do what is necessary to de-escalate.
So Russia has a choice: to work with the international community to help build an independent Ukraine that could be a bridge between the East and West – not the object of a tug of war – that could meet the hopes and aspirations of all Ukrainians, or they could face greater isolation and pay the cost for their failure to see that the world is not a zero-sum game.
Ukraine and so many other ongoing simultaneous challenges globally reinforce what I said a moment ago to all of you. I think the members of this committee have long appreciated it. That is that - this is not the bipolar, straightforward choice of the Cold War. We’re living in an incredibly challenging time where some of the things that the East-West order took for granted most of my life are suddenly finding a world in which American engagement is more critical. And in many ways it’s more complicated because of nation-state interests, balance of power, are the kinds of issues that are on the table.