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Statements 2014

Ukraine in the State Department Daily Press Briefing

July 29, 2014

Briefer: Jen Psaki, Spokesperson

On Ukraine, the Secretary urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to agree to a comprehensive border-monitoring mission to provide international transparency on the ongoing flows of weapons and firing of artillery from Russia into Ukraine.  He also urged Russia to return to EU-facilitated gas talks with Ukraine, which Foreign Minister Lavrov said Russia is ready to discuss.  They agreed to continue their dialogue in the days ahead.

MS. PSAKI:  Ukraine?

QUESTION:  On Ukraine, yes.  Do you have any details about the sanctions the Secretary was mentioning this morning?  And apparently, according to the White House, the U.S. is ready to take these sanctions as soon as today.

MS. PSAKI:  That’s right.  I don’t have any details for you at this point.  As the Secretary mentioned this morning, we’re preparing and coordinating with the EU.  We certainly welcome Europe’s determination to take strong new steps and the strong – this transatlantic community, and G-7, are united in their determination to respond to continued and intensified Russian aggression.  And we expect a statement from the EU on sanctions against Russia shortly, and I expect you’ll hear more from us on ours shortly as well.

QUESTION:  We have some reporting that the U.S. has information that Ukrainian military has been firing short-range missiles at rebel strongholds in eastern Ukraine.  And I’m wondering, given that you’re calling for a de-escalation, if you’re concerned that the Russians will use this as a pretext for greater either involvement in Ukraine or possibly an invasion or something like that.  Like it does seem as if this is – Russians’ actions notwithstanding, this does seem to be the most powerful weapon used in the conflict so far, and I’m just wondering if this is a provocation that Russia may seize upon.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, you may have seen this morning that the Ukrainian foreign minister was asked about this at the press conference and spoke to it there, so I would certainly point you to that.

QUESTION:  Well, he didn’t really answer the question, but okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, obviously, there’s nothing I can add to or communicate on this particular point from the podium.  Obviously, any escalation we’d be concerned about, but beyond that, I don’t have much more to add.

QUESTION:  Can I just – I just want to follow up from my colleague said was – so after the EU comes out with a formal statement, you’re going to have also reciprocal --

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve said we’ve been preparing sanctions.  I expect you’ll hear more from us soon.  I don’t have anything on the timing of their formal statement.

QUESTION:  Sorry, could --

QUESTION:  And then something also the Secretary said during his news conference today:  He said that he had spoken to Lavrov and agreed there is a way forward to put – agreed there is a way forward and to put very specific proposals – I think he said forward -- I don’t have the full quote here.  What did he mean by that?  Are they talking – it seemed that a readout from Lavrov’s side was that they did discuss some sort of ceasefire around the crash site.  Or was he speaking about something more formal on increased dialogue with Moscow?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, one, there’s been an ongoing dialogue with Moscow, right, that has been taking place through the EU and through --

QUESTION:  Politically, yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  -- Ukraine and through other partners, and we certainly support that.  We also support a ceasefire, as the Secretary said this morning and as the foreign minister said this morning.  But the challenge is it can’t be a unilateral ceasefire, and that would require the Russians exerting additional pressure on the separatists so that they abide by it on their end. 

So there are a couple of issues at play here.  There is the future of de-escalating the situation in Ukraine, there’s also access to the crash site.  There haven’t been – and you may have all seen this, but for the third day in a row the OSCE reported that the team, along with international police and aviation experts, were unable to gain access.  So obviously, that continues to be a challenge.  There are still ongoing discussions with the Australians and the Dutch and others about sending a police force to provide additional security, but there are a number of issues that certainly related to de-escalation and a ceasefire – or I should say that a de-escalation and a ceasefire would help address, including access to the crash site, but also including the overarching issues we have with Ukraine.

QUESTION:  Jen, beyond any concern you might have that Russia might use the Ukrainian military’s artillery strikes as a provocation, do you have any concern at all about the damage that these strikes are doing?  I mean, they hit a home for the elderly today, apparently.  Do you share, as you do with Israel and Gaza – do you think that the Ukrainians need to do more to prevent civilian casualties?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I don’t have any confirmation, Matt, of the root of the – the source of the – these rockets, so I can’t speak to it from that angle.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MS. PSAKI:  Of course, we support de-escalation.  But for the most part, the vast majority of escalation has been from the Russian side --

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  -- and the Russian separatists.

QUESTION:  Right.  But I’m just wondering if you think that the Ukrainian military has an obligation to try to minimize civilian casualties, as you do with the Israelis.

MS. PSAKI:  Yes we do, and they have throughout the course of the last several months.

QUESTION:  They have?  You’re – okay.  I mean, there – I think there’s a lot of people out there that would say that they haven’t and that there’s been indiscriminate firing, or at least civilian targets are being hit.  You’re – that’s not a concern of yours at the moment; is that what you’re saying?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, certainly, any civilian casualties are a concern, but what we have seen is that the Ukrainians have taken every step to minimize civilian casualties.

QUESTION:  Okay.

QUESTION:  You think they’re exercising restraint?

MS. PSAKI:  We do, and we have for the last several months throughout the course of this conflict.

QUESTION:  And when you spoke about this ongoing dialogue with Moscow – I mean, this phone call with Secretary – with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning doesn’t sound like it was a particularly happy phone call.

MS. PSAKI:  I didn’t mean necessarily the United States.  I meant that there has been an ongoing dialogue with the Europeans, with other parties who have a stake in the outcome.

QUESTION:  And the result of that dialogue has been nothing, right?  I mean, you haven’t gotten anything you want.  So I’m just wondering, what is the value of a dialogue that – it consists of one side accusing the other side of doing something, the other side saying – denying it, and then the first side saying, “Well, we don’t believe your denial,” which is exactly what happened in the conversation that Kerry had with Lavrov on Sunday or Saturday?

MS. PSAKI:  The purpose of both phone calls was not primarily on this issue.  Of course, it was discussed, but that’s not the only step we’re taking.  In addition to sanctions, we’ve also provided a range of assistance that’s continued to increase to the Ukrainians.  But certainly, we continue to feel that dialogue and diplomacy should be the first step.

QUESTION:  All right.  And then just on the INF violations, you said that you take these violations extremely seriously and you need to have your assistant secretary confirmed, that that underscores the seriousness with which the Administration takes these violations.  If the Administration takes these violations so seriously, why did it take until now for you guys to report these violations --

MS. PSAKI:  Well --

QUESTION:  -- or to make the allegation that they had been --

MS. PSAKI:  -- let me first note, just – this doesn’t answer your question, but I think it’s relevant information.  We first raised this issue with Russia last year.  That happens at Rose’s level, which is the appropriate level – at the under secretary level.

There is – decisions need to be made in these cases based on whether these issues constitute noncompliance after a careful fact-based process, which includes diplomatic work, and through an interagency consideration process.  That’s been ongoing.  As it was concluded, the information is made available to Congress.

QUESTION:  Do you have any concerns because of this that the – that more of the arms control regimes that the United States had had with the Soviet Union and then continued on with the Russian Federation are in jeopardy?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think one of the reasons the Secretary wants to have a dialogue at a high level is to have a discussion about how Russia can come back into compliance.  And --

QUESTION:  But I’m talking about with other treaties, not just specifically this one.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think --

QUESTION:  Or is there a risk that the entire regime, everything that’s been built up – that was built up beginning in the Cold War and then carrying on after 1991 – is there a risk of that collapsing?

MS. PSAKI:  At this point, we have not made a determination that Russia is in violation of the treaty or any other treaty.  We certainly are --

QUESTION:  Of any other treaty?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I mean, this wasn’t --

QUESTION:  You’re saying they’re in violation of the INF, but of any other treaty?

MS. PSAKI:  Noncompliance, yes.  But our goal is to convince Russia to return to compliance and to preserve the viability of this relationship and the efforts that have been underway for decades now.

QUESTION:  What are the consequences for violation or noncompliance?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I mean, I think our immediate focus here is, Elise, is on having this dialogue with them to return them to compliance.  It’s in everyone’s interests for – to preserve the work that’s been done over the past several decades.

QUESTION:  And are you concerned that this will be seen kind of in the totality of what’s going on with Russia right now, that between your determination of noncompliance and your consultation with NATO allies about it, that Russia will see this as part of a kind of broader escalation of the tensions, and perhaps, as Matt said, this could affect their cooperation on nonproliferation regime?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, our hope is that it certainly wouldn’t, because it’s in everyone’s interest to continue to abide by these treaty obligations.  To be clear, this has nothing to do with Ukraine.  I understand there could be that perception, and the timing is unrelated to everything having to do with Ukraine.  There’s a process that is undergone to review whether there is noncompliance, and that was completed, so here we are today.

QUESTION:  But you completed that process a while ago, though, didn’t you?  I mean, you’ve known for a while that Russia was potentially in noncompliance of the treaty, and it’s just that --

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we --

QUESTION:  -- now you finally, maybe because this congressional report was coming up or – I mean, if you could talk about the timing a little bit more, because we reported on this earlier in the year that this was hanging out there.

MS. PSAKI:  This – and we confirmed at the time --

QUESTION:  Yeah, yeah.

MS. PSAKI:  -- that this issue was first raised with Russia --

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  -- last year.

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  And the Secretary himself has raised noncompliance issues in general with Russia.

QUESTION:  Right.

MS. PSAKI:  There’s a process that’s undergone with the report every time it’s released.  I believe the report is technically due in the spring.  You have to go through the process, which includes analysis, an interagency process, a diplomatic process, and as it’s concluded, we make the information available.

QUESTION:  Did you – was part of the determination because your diplomatic outreach to Russia was proving unproductive, and at this point, given the climate with Russia, you didn’t think you were going to get any more cooperation?  Because I know you did try to solve it diplomatically before putting them in noncompliance.

MS. PSAKI:  Obviously, there are a range of factors, Elise.  I’m just not going to go into them in more detail.

I have to go in just a few minutes.

QUESTION:  Just a couple on Russia.

MS. PSAKI:  Lucas, go ahead.  And then we’ll go to --

QUESTION:  When did these violations specifically take place of these test ban treaties?

MS. PSAKI:  I can’t get into that level of detail, Lucas.