By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia to end its separatist actions in eastern Ukraine or face tough new economic sanctions.
In congressional testimony, Kerry said the United States and its allies are willing to impose severe new sanctions on Russia against key economic sectors like energy, banking and mining. President Obama has signed an executive order to implement these measures if Russia does not stop exerting pressure and aggression against eastern Ukraine, he said.
“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,” Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 8.
“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,” Kerry added.
Kerry said Russian agents have been the catalysts behind substantial chaos in the previous 48 hours in which pro-Russian demonstrators seized government buildings in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Lugansk and other cities in the region. Since then Ukrainian Interior Ministry forces have retaken many of the seized buildings and driven out the pro-Russian demonstrators in Kharkiv and in Donetsk, according to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
Kerry told senators he is meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Ukrainian officials and the European Union in Europe during the week of April 20. Kerry spoke with Lavrov by telephone April 7, and “he made clear that any further Russian effort to destabilize Ukraine will incur further costs for Russia,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Finding a diplomatic resolution to the crisis and reducing tensions has been the Obama administration’s primary objective, Kerry added.
“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,” Kerry told senators.
The United States imposed sanctions March 20 that targeted 20 individuals inside and outside the Russian government and a private Russian bank, Bank Rossiya, because of their involvement in or direct support of the Crimean crisis. That round of penalties followed the first sanctions levied March 17 against 11 high-ranking Russian and Crimean officials.
The Senate committee reviewed U.S. foreign policies broadly during a hearing to review the annual 2015 State Department budget request. The department is seeking $50.1 billion for the department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and overseas contingency operations, a funding level equal to its 2014 budget. Kerry also addressed senators’ questions about policies on Syria, the Palestinian-Israeli talks, and Iran’s nuclear weapons development program.