Interview With Bob Schieffer of CBS's Face The Nation

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Boston, MA
March 2, 2014

QUESTION: We are joined now by Secretary of State John Kerry who is in Boston this morning. Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here. The Ukrainian prime minister says this morning that Russia’s actions amount to a declaration of war and he says, "We are on the brink of disaster." Do you agree with that?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s an incredible act of aggression. It is really a stunning, willful choice by President Putin to invade another country. Russia is in violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine. Russia is in violation of its international obligations. Russia is in violation of its obligations under the UN Charter, under the Helsinki Final Act. It’s a violation of its obligations under the 1994 Budapest agreement. You just don’t, in the 21st century, behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext. So it is a very serious moment.

But it’s serious not in the context, Bob, of Russia-U.S. It’s serious in terms of sort of the modern manner with which nations are going to resolve problems. There are all kinds of other options still available to Russia. There still are. President Obama wants to emphasize to the Russians that there is a right set of choices that can still be made to address any concerns they have about Crimea, about their citizens, but you don’t choose to invade a country in order to do that.

QUESTION: The President spoke to Vladimir Putin, we’re told, for 90 minutes yesterday. The White House is describing it as the toughest phone call of his presidency. Do you think it had any impact?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re going to have to wait and see, but I think it was a very important conversation. The President was very strong. He made absolutely clear that this was unacceptable and that there will be serious repercussions if this stands. The President asked Mr. Putin, as – in fact, told Mr. Putin it was imperative to find a different path to roll back this invasion and undo this act of aggression. He pointed out the many different ways in which Russia could have chosen to act.

I mean, if you have legitimate concerns about your citizens, go to the United Nations. Ask for observers. Engage the other country’s government. There are any number of choices available to Russia. Russia chose this brazen act of aggression and moved in with its forces on a completely trumped up set of pretext, claiming that people were threatened. And the fact is that that’s not the act of somebody who is strong. That’s the act of somebody who is acting out of weakness and out of a certain kind of desperation.

We hope that Russia will turn this around. They can. Again and again, all week, President Obama and I and others have insisted that we believe there’s a way to deal with this issue. This doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. It is not Russia versus United States, Russia v. Europe. This is about the people of Ukraine. The people of Ukraine are the people who initiated what is happening there. Their President Yanukovych, supported by Russia, lost all support, all legitimacy. He fled in the night. His own supporters deserted him. They went to their parliament and they voted according to their parliamentary process.

So this is a democratic process that has placed this new government to where it is, and President Putin and Russia ought to respect that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, when you come right down to it, the President says there’s a cost. And I suppose there are certain diplomatic things you could do. You could boycott the G-8 and so on. But when you come right down to it, what can we really do here? I mean, I don’t suppose anybody thinks we’re going to declare war on Russia here and send military forces in there.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, there are very serious repercussions that could flow out of this. There are a broad array of options that are available, not just to the United States but to our allies. I spent yesterday afternoon on the phone with many of my counterparts. I talked to ten of the foreign ministers of those countries most engaged – the G-8 plus some others. And all of them, every single one of them, are prepared to go to the hilt in order to isolate Russia with respect to this invasion. They’re prepared to put sanctions in place. They’re prepared to isolate Russia economically. The ruble is already going down. Russia has major economic challenges. I can’t imagine that an occupation of another country is something that appeals to people who are trying to reach out to the world. And particularly if it involves violence, I think they’re going to be inviting major difficulties for the long term.

The people of Ukraine will not sit still for this. They know how to fight. They’ve demonstrated remarkable bravery, Bob. I mean, you think about Yanukovych positioning his snipers on the rooftops of Kyiv. And notwithstanding people falling to the right and to the left, these marchers kept on marching and they demanded their freedom. They demanded their opportunity to have their voices heard without a kleptocracy and a tyranny governing them.

I think Russia needs to think very carefully about the choice that it’s making. And there are visa bans, there are asset freezes, there is isolation with respect to trade and investment. American businesses may well want to start thinking twice about whether they want to do business with a country that behaves like this. These are serious implications. And I know from my conversations yesterday, every one of our allies and friends are determined to stay united and to make clear there is a price attached to this kind of behavior.

QUESTION: Are we actually prepared, Mr. Secretary, to boycott the G-8 meeting there?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, absolutely prepared to if this – if we can’t resolve it otherwise. But the preference of the President, myself, the entire Administration is to resolve this. We’re not trying to make this a battle between East and West. We don’t want a return to the Cold War. Nobody wants this kind of action. There are many ways to resolve this problem. As President Obama urged President Putin yesterday, this is the moment to engage directly with the Government of Ukraine. This can be resolved. We’re prepared to mediate, to help. We’re prepared to provide economic assistance of a major sort. We want the Congress to join us in providing that assistance. We hope that this can be resolved according to the standards of the 21st century, and frankly, according to the standards of the G-8. If Russia wants to be a G-8 country, it needs to behave like a G-8 country. And I guarantee you that everybody is determined that if this cannot be resolved in a reasonable, modern, 21st century manner, there are going to be repercussions.

QUESTION: All right. Well, Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for joining us this morning.