Interview With Sergey Brilev of Rossiya 1

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Spaso House
Moscow, Russia
December 15, 2015

QUESTION: Secretary of State Kerry, thank you so much to you for finding a gap in your so busy – very busy schedule. I should stress to our viewers that we’re talking in between encounter with Lavrov and before he meets Mr. Putin with whom you may or may not come to an agreement. So let’s start with reviewing certain things this last year and a half.


QUESTION: We all remember President Obama’s speech at the UN General Assembly, where he referred to Russia a whole lot and the Islamic State as the list of present dangers. Do you think this has contributed to world peace and security?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, the President wasn’t lumping them together that way. He was talking about different challenges that we face, and at the time, the question of Ukraine was a major challenge. But we’ve traveled considerable distance since then, and I’m here in Moscow now --

QUESTION: The second time in a year.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes. And it’s a reflection of the fact that despite differences, Russia and the United States have been able to and want to work very effectively together. I will thank Sergey Lavrov personally for his considerable efforts in the Iran nuclear negotiations. He and I worked very closely together on chemical weapons in Syria. Russia was very cooperative in the recently-arrived-at agreement in Paris on climate change. We’ve continued in many ways to talk and to work, and I think what we need to do now is fix the problem of Ukraine. We don’t want this to be a problem. We are not looking for a confrontation. We would like to see a normal relationship with Russia and see a strong and powerful Russia contributing to the resolution of disputes on a global basis, because we have enough challenges. And particularly, I am here to talk with President Putin about Syria and our need to join together to stabilize Syria, try to make peace in a way that keeps it as a whole country, and also – most importantly – also destroy Daesh. Daesh is a terrorist organization, a threat to all of us. We have a common interest and we need to work together.

QUESTION: Now that you mention Ukraine – I wasn’t going to talk about it right now, but now that you mention it, you’re someone who has fought for your country under your flag in a war. I won’t be the first to say that there are no saints on either side of the Ukrainian divide. Because you’re a soldier and you know how it is, don’t you think that you, the Americans, should deal more actively with your allies in Kyiv so that they fulfill their side of the agreement?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re dealing very actively with both sides, to be honest with you. My assistant secretary of state for European affairs has been in Kyiv many times, working very closely with President Poroshenko, with the Rada, with various members of civil society in an effort to push the government in Kyiv to make sure it deals with the problems of Donbas.

QUESTION: Because we’re fast approaching the deadline, don’t you think so?

SECRETARY KERRY: We are fast approaching the deadline. But at the same time, Russia also needs to exert its considerable influence over the separatists and make sure that they are living up to the agreements of Minsk. We still don’t have the OSCE observers who are able to go in fully and observe. We still don’t have a return of hostages. We still don’t have heavy artillery that has been pulled back and retreated as it’s supposed to be. So what’s important now is to try to quickly find a meeting of the minds of precisely what steps can be taken in order to end this issue.

When I was with President Putin in New York with President Obama, President Obama looked at President Putin and said directly – he said, “Vladimir, let’s finish this. Let’s stop this conflict that’s going on about Ukraine. Help us get this settled by implementing Minsk.” So we will continue to push the government in Kyiv for certain, and they have obligations and they need to live up to their obligations.

QUESTION: Do you – do they hear you when you say this?

SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely, no question about it. And they have moved. They have done considerable things politically. They passed a very difficult law in the Rada. It was a very difficult law. It may not satisfy everybody, but it was very hard to get that passed, and I can tell you that we have people, including my assistant secretary of state, who was working in the halls of the Rada to help corral the votes to make it happen. So everybody has politics, and the politics are always difficult. We know this. But I am convinced President Putin wants to try to resolve the problem in Ukraine, and I believe Poroshenko does too. I think we need to get a short list of steps, very specific about who does what, and then go do it and get it done.

QUESTION: Before Presidents Putin and Obama met in New York, Putin made a speech at the UN General Assembly in which he asked a rhetorical question, “Do you realize what you’ve done,” referring to Libya and Iraq. Did you take notice of that speech? Can you answer that question?

SECRETARY KERRY: I think that President Obama would be the first person to say, and he has said, that he believes a mistake was made in Libya with respect to not going in to save the lives of tens of thousands of citizens who were going to be murdered and slaughtered by Qadhafi, but in not doing enough afterwards to make sure that the transition and the building of a legitimate government took place. That was a mistake. And right now – yesterday I had a big meeting in Rome with all of the concerned countries who are trying to help set up – ratify, not set up – the Libyans will choose their government. But the Libyan majority on both sides is coming together to form their own government, and we are going to support that government in hopes of calming down Libya and empowering all of us to go after the terrorists.

QUESTION: Will the Syrians elect their own governments? Have – you talked the line of Assad must go now. Is there more of understanding between Washington and Moscow regarding --

SECRETARY KERRY: No, let me explain that. It’s very important for people in Russia to understand the United States position here. We are not trying to do a regime change. We are not engaged in a color revolution. We’re not engaged in trying to interfere in another country.

QUESTION: Not any longer, shall we say?

SECRETARY KERRY: We’re trying to make peace. We’re trying to make peace. This is a revolution that started because young people in Syria wanted a future, and when they demonstrated, they were met by thugs that Assad sent to beat them up. And then what happened is the parents didn’t like the fact that their kids were beat up, so they went out and protested. And the parents were met with bullets and bombs. And so this internal revolution started, and what the United States recognizes, and I think Russia – I hope – more and more is coming to see is that we can’t stop the war. Russia can’t stop the war with Assad there because Assad attracts the foreign fighters. Assad is a magnet for terrorists, because they’re coming to fight Assad. And as long as Assad is there, because he has barrel bombed his people, because he has tortured his people, because he has gassed his people – I mean, gas hasn’t been used in warfare formally for years – for – and gas is outlawed, but Assad used it. Assad has used starvation of whole communities as a means of warfare. And so what – because of this and because you have 12 million people who have already voted with their feet by leaving Syria, going to refugee camps, being displaced in the country, these people will never follow Assad.

So if you want to stop the war in Syria, and we do, if you want to fight Daesh and stop the growth of terrorism, you have to deal with the problem of Assad. Now, that doesn’t mean you want to change every aspect of the government; we don’t. We want the institutions of government, we want Syria to stay whole, and so does Russia. So Russia and the United States are actually united with Iran through the Vienna process in the same approach to a political settlement in which Syrians can choose the future of Syria. We want the same thing.

QUESTION: Here’s a technicality: Knowing what’s on the ground for Americans and Russians in Syria – this is obvious. However, if you want to win, you need a terrestrial force which will go to your side. And that – well, it makes me come back to the Assad question, or maybe the Assad’s armed forces: Are you ready to see Assad’s armed forces as a viable part of the mission operations?

SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely, providing there is a legitimate transitional process, which the Geneva communique calls for, with a government of transition, where the opposition is part of the government and the issue of Assad will be resolved through that process and then people have confidence in that. Under those circumstances, it is possible to envision the army of Syria, together with the opposition, turning against Daesh, providing Assad is not the long-term future of Syria. But if Assad remains, you can’t get those fighters to join with the army against Syria because they’re fighting each other. It’s impossible. So no matter what Russia wants, no matter what America wants, Assad has made his own choices. He did things to his own people – not us, he did them – and he has lost the legitimacy to govern his country. And I think any citizen in Russia would well understand that.

QUESTION: Very different views of that. Secretary of State, lastly – I know you’re running out of time: Had you or had you not informed the Turks about the movement of Russian aircraft, or because the Russians had been sharing this data with you before they shot the Russian bomber down?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Russia and the United States have de-conflicted, and we have de-conflicted with respect to Syrian airspace and flights we make into the eastern part of Syria to fight Daesh. Turkish airspace is controlled by Turkey; and Syrian space by Assad, though I think Russia now has considerable input to that control. What happened with respect to the Turkish airplanes and the Russian airplanes? We don’t know the details of that. We have some indications of it from our radar, we have some sense of what happened, but I think there’s a formal process going on and exchange of information, and I don’t want to comment on the conclusions of that without the information (inaudible).

QUESTION: The Turks didn’t get your full support when they shot down the Russian plane, didn’t they?

SECRETARY KERRY: I beg your pardon?

QUESTION: Did the Turks get any – the Turks didn’t get your full support when they shot down the Russian plane, didn’t they?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think it’s fair to say that President Obama said, which is appropriate, that a country’s airspace belongs to the country and it has a right to defend it. What is not clear are the circumstances of what happened in this particular instance. And I’m – I think everybody’s waiting to see what is finalized with respect to that.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, thank you so much indeed. Thank you, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Happy to be with you.