Kerry warns of new sanctions if Russia doesn't 'change course'

By Hannah Allam

Warning that "the window to change course is closing," Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday threatened new sanctions against Russia for failing to uphold its end of an agreement to ease the crisis in Ukraine.

"Russia has put its faith in distraction, deception and destabilization," Kerry said in an unscheduled appearance at the State Department. He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin's government hasn't taken "a single step in the right direction."

Kerry stopped short of announcing new sanctions, but he certainly laid out the case for them, adopting a harsh tone as he compared the Ukrainians' compliance with the Russians' noncompliance. The agreement from negotiations last week in Geneva called for all sides to refrain from violence, surrender occupied buildings and give amnesty to protesters, among other steps.

Kerry praised the interim Ukrainian leadership for taking action from Day 1, with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk halting a counterterrorism operation against pro-Russia separatists in the east, vowing in a public address to uphold the agreement and dispatching senior officials to help a European monitoring mission that's tasked with supervising and implementing the deal.

By contrast, Kerry said, the Russians have continued to obfuscate about their role in eastern Ukraine and are making "absurd" anti-Western claims to detract from their own activities. Kerry said U.S. intelligence officials told him Russia was "playing an active role in destabilizing eastern Ukraine" with personnel, money and weapons.

Kerry said the Russians have turned their distortion of events in Ukraine into a nearly full-time project, with Kremlin organs such as the Russia Today network acting as a "propaganda bullhorn" to promote Putin's "fantasy."

Kerry said Russia's efforts amount to a "full-throated" attempt to sabotage Ukraine's fragile democratic process by undermining the Geneva agreement.

"One week later it is clear that only one side – one country – is keeping its word," Kerry said.

He warned that the United States was ready to impose new sanctions, saying that if Russia continued on its current course, that would be "an expensive mistake."


by Hannah Allam
McClatchy Washington Bureau