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@THISHOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

John Kerry News Conference in Ukraine; Barack Obama Talks Ukraine Situation.

Aired March 4, 2014 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KERRY SECRETARY OF STATE: But what they stood for so greatly, I say, with full conviction, will never be stolen by bullets or by invasions. It cannot be silenced by thugs from rooftops. It is universal. It is unmistakable. It is called freedom.

So today, in another part of this country, we are in a new phase of the struggle for freedom. The United States reaffirms our commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity by international law. We condemn the Russian Federation's acts of aggression. And we have, throughout this moment, evidence of a great transformation taking place. And in that transformation, we will stand with the people of Ukraine. Today, Ukrainians are demanding a government with the consent of the people.

I have to say that we all greatly admire the restraint the transitional government has shown as it makes this transition. They have shown restraint despite an invasion of Ukrainian homeland and that Russian government that has chosen aggression and intimidation as a first report. The contrast really could not be clearer, determined Ukrainians demonstrating strength through unity and the Russian government out of excuses, hooding its hand behind falsehoods, intimidation and provocations. In the hearts of Ukrainians, in the eyes of the world, there is nothing strong about what Russia is doing.

So it is time to set the record straight, the Russian government would have you believe it was the opposition who failed to implement the February 21st agreement that called for a peaceful transition, ignoring the reality that it was Yanukovich, when history came calling, when his country was in need, when this city was the place where the action was, where the leaders of the nation were gathered in order to decide the future, he broke his obligation to sign that agreement and he fled into the night with his possessions, destroying papers behind him. He abandoned his people and eventually this country.

The Russian government would have you believe that the Ukraine government is illegitimate or led by extremists ignoring the reality that the Rada, representing the people of Ukraine, the elected representatives of the people of Ukraine, they overwhelmingly approve the new government even with members of Yanukovich's party deserting him and voting overwhelmingly in order to approve this new government. It was thanks in part to Yanukovich's own party that the future of Ukraine changed. And today, the Rada is the most representative institution in Ukraine. The Russian government would also have you believe that the calm and friendly streets, one of which I walked down, but many of which I just drove through, that somehow these streets of Kiev are actually dangerous, ignoring the reality that there has been no surge in crime, no surge in looting, no political retribution here. The Russian government would have you believe there have been mass defections of Ukrainians for Russia or that there have been mass attacks of churches in Eastern Ukraine. That hasn't happened either. They would have you believe that ethnic Russians and Russian bases are threatened. They would have you believe that Kiev is trying to destabilize Crimea or that Russian actions are legal or legitimate because Crimean leaders invited intervention. And as everybody knows, the soldiers in Crimea, at the instruction of their government, have stood their ground but never fired a shot, never issued one provocation, have been surrounded by an invading group of troops much. And that scene, an individual who got 3 percent of the vote installed as the so-called leader by the Russians. They would have you believe that Kiev is trying to destabilize Crimea or that somehow Russian leaders invited intervention. Not a single piece of credible evidence supports any one of these claims, none.

The larger point is really this. It is diplomacy and respect for sovereignty, not unilateral force that can best solve disputes like this in the 21st century. President Obama and I want to make it clear to Russia and to everybody in the world, we are not seeking confrontation. There is a better way for Russia to pursue its legitimate interests in Ukraine. If you were legitimately worried about some of your citizens, then go to the government, talk to them about it, go to the U.S., raise the issue in the Security Council, go to the OSCE, raise one of the human rights organizations. There are countless outlets that an organized, structured, decent world has struggled to put together to resolve these differences so we don't see a nation unilaterally invade another nation.

There is another way for Russia to pursue its legitimate interests in Ukraine. Russia can choose to comply with international law and honor its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act under the United Nations Charter. If it wants to help protect ethnic Russians, as it purports to, and if they were threatened, we would support effort to protect them, as would, I am told, the government of Ukraine. But if they want to do that, Russia could work with the legitimate government of Ukraine, which it has pledged to do. It cannot only permit but must encourage international monitors to deploy throughout Ukraine. These are the people that actually identify legitimate threats. And we are asking, together with the government of Ukraine, together with European community, for large numbers of observers to come in here and monitor the situation and be the arbiters of truth versus fiction. Russia, if it wanted to help de-escalate this situation, could return its troops to the barracks, live by the 1997 base agreement and de- escalate, rather than expand their invasion.

Now, we would prefer that. I come here today at the instruction of President Obama to make it absolutely clear the United States of America would prefer to see this de-escalated, managed through the structures of legal institutions, international institutions. We have worked many years in order to be able to deal with this kind of crisis. If Russia does not choose to de-escalate, if it is not willing to work directly with the government of Ukraine, as we hope they will be, then our partners will have absolutely no choice but to join us to continue to expand upon steps we have taken in recent days in order to isolate Russia politically, diplomatically and economically. I would emphasize to the leaders of Russia, this is not something we are seeking to do. This is something Russia's choices may force us to do.

So far, we have suspended participation in the preparations for the Sochi G-8 summit. We have suspended military contacts. We have suspended bilateral economic dialogue. We are prepared to take further steps if Russia does not return its forces to the barracks and engage in a legitimate policy of de-escalation. At the same time, the United States and its partners, our partners, will support Ukraine. We will support it as it takes these difficult steps to deal with its economy.

And I appreciate the meeting that I just had with the acting president and the prime minister and other leaders as we discussed how to strengthen the economy and move rapidly towards free, fair, open elections that can take place very shortly. We are working closely, and we will continue to work closely with the IMF team and with international partners in order to develop an assistance package to help Ukraine restore financial stability in the short-run and to be able to grow its economy in the long-run. I'm pleased to say that this package includes an immediate $1 billion in a loan guarantee to support Ukraine's economy. We are currently working with the Treasury Department of the United States and with others to lay out a broader, more comprehensive plan. We will provide the best expertise available to help Ukraine's economy and financial institutions repair themselves and to work towards these free, fair, fast, inclusive elections. We are also working with the interim government to help combat corruption and to recover stolen assets. We are helping Ukraine to cope with Russia's politically motivated trade practices, whether it is manipulating the energy supply or banning the best chocolates made in Ukraine.

The fact is, this is the 21st century. We should not see nations step backwards to behave in 19th or 20th-century fashion. There are ways to resolve these differences. Great nations choose to do that appropriately. The fact is that we believe that there are a set of options available to Russia and to all of us that could move us down a road with appropriate diplomacy, appropriate diplomatic engagement. We invite Russia to come to that table. We particularly invite Russia to engage directly with the government of Ukraine because I am confident they are prepared to help work through these issues in a thoughtful way.

I am very proud to be here in Ukraine. Like so many Americans and other people around the world, we watch with extraordinary awe the power of individuals unarmed, except with ideas, people with beliefs, principles, values, who have reached for freedom, equality, opportunity. There is nothing more important in this world. That is what drives change in so many parts of the world today. It is partly why the world is in such a state of transformation in so many different places at the same time. We are all connected. We all understand what other people are doing and the choices they have and the lives they get to lead. All over the world, young people are saying, we do not want to be deprived of those opportunities. That's what this is about. It is about all those that value democracy and who support the opportunity for this country to join legions of others who want to practice it.

The United States will stand by the Ukrainian people as they build the strong, sovereign, and democratic country they deserve and that their countrymen and women just so recently gave their lives in extraordinary courageous acts in order to ensure for the future. We must all step up and answer their call.

I am happy to answer some questions.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Andrea Mitchell, NBC.

Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, you have been saying the people will be isolated by his actions, yet today, he seemed defiant, speaking for an hour, taking questions and said, among other things, that Russia deserves the right to take any action. He described the guns here as an unconstitutional coop. He really denied there were troops in Crimea, occupying Crimea. He said that the United States interfered, saying the U.S.

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: He really denied there were troops in Crimea?

MITCHELL: Yes, he did. He also claimed and said that the United States was acting as though it was conducting an experiment across the ocean. And he showed no sign of being ready to step down or step down or de-escalate the presence in Crimea. There have been shots fired today. There was a presence reported of Russian ships along the isthmus between Ukraine and Crimea. With all of that, how has the U.S. pressure worked?

Also, while you were here, you met with many leaders. You did not meet with Yulia Tymoshenko. Is she viewed by the United States as part of the solution or part of the problem?

KERRY: Let me answer the last part of the question first. Not at all. I thought I actually might bump into her, but I didn't. I had meetings with the current group that represent the parties that have come together. Most likely, those with whom I have been in touch and working with. I've met with a number of them in Munich previously. So we continued that conversation.

But with respect to President Putin's comments, you know, I have spoken as directly to President Putin today as I can to invite him to engage in a legitimate and appropriate dialogue, particularly with the current government of Ukraine, knowing that there is an election in 90 days and the people of Ukraine will have an opportunity to ratify their future leadership. The fact is, in the eastern part of the country, Russia recently tried to get a couple of city councils to actually pass something asking for Russians to come in. Lo and behold, those councils did the opposite. They said, we don't want Russia to come in. We want our independence.

I think it is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further. Russia has talked about Russian-speaking minority citizens that are under siege. They are not. In fact, this government has acted remarkably responsibly, by urging total calm and not wanting any provocation, by avoiding even their troops, who have a legal right to resist the invasion of other troops, but has ordered them not to engage to give a pretext of anybody being in danger. Here in the streets today, I didn't see anybody who feels threatened, except for the potential of an invasion by Russia. So I would hope that President Putin, who -- you know, if --

(END LIVE FEED)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to shift gears right now and go to President Obama, who is at an event in Washington right now. He is also speaking about the Ukraine. So let's listen to the president.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- through international mechanisms. We are prepared to make sure the rights of all Ukrainians are upheld. In fact, in the conversations we have had with the government in Kiev, they have been more than willing to work with the international community and Russia to provide such assurances. So the fact that we are still seeing soldiers out of their barracks in Crimea is an indication that what's happening there is not based on actual concern for the nationals or Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, but is based on Russian seeking, through force, to exert influence on a neighboring country. That is not how international law is supposed to operate.

I would also note just the way that some of this has been reported, that this is a suggestion somehow that the Russian actions have been clever strategically. I actually think that this has not been a sign of strength but rather is a reflection that countries near Russia have deep concerns about this kind of medaling. If anything, it will push many countries further away from Russia.

There is the ability for the Ukraine to be a friend of the West and a friend of Russia's as long as none of us are inside of Ukraine trying to meddle with decisions that properly belong to the Ukrainian people. And that's the principle that John Kerry is going to be speaking to during his visit.

I'll be making additional calls today to some of our key foreign partners, and I suspect I'll be doing that all week and in through the weekend. But as I indicated yesterday, you know, the course of history is for people who want to be free to make their own decisions about their own futures. And the international community, I think, is unified in believing that it is not the role of an outside force where there's been no evidence of serious violence, where there has been no rationale under international law to intervene and people trying to determine their own destiny. So we stand on the side of history that I think more and more people around the world deeply believe in, the principle that a sovereign people, an independent people, are able to make their own decisions about their own lives.

And, you know, Mr. Putin can throw a lot of words out there. But the facts on the ground indicate that right now he's not abiding by that principle. There is still the opportunity for Russia to do so, working with the international community, to help stabilize the situation. And we have sent a clear message that we are prepared to work with anybody if their genuine interest is making sure that Ukraine is able to govern itself. And as I indicated before, and something I think has not been emphasized enough, they are currently scheduled to have elections in May. And everybody in the international community should be invested in making sure that the economic deterioration that's happening in the Ukraine stops, but also that these elections proceed in a fair and free way in which all Ukrainians, including Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, are able to express their choice of who should lead them. And if we have a strong, robust, legitimate election, then there shouldn't be any question as to whether the Ukrainian people govern themselves without the kinds of outside interference that we see Russia exerting.

All right? Thank you very much, everybody.

(END LIVE FEED)

BERMAN: All right. That was President Obama in Washington, D.C. He was speaking about the situation in Ukraine right now.

Just a few minutes before that, we were listening to Secretary of State John Kerry, in Kiev, talking about the crisis in Ukraine. Their message, very much the same, even though the tone a little bit different. President Obama, I think, a little bit more measured than Secretary of State John Kerry. But the message seemed to be that what the Russians are saying is very different than the reality on the ground. Secretary of State John Kerry said it most starkly. He said the Russians are hiding behind falsehood, intimidation and provocation. The Russians are saying that they're there on a humanitarian mission to defend Russian speakers and ethnic Russians in the Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry said there is not a single piece of credible evidence that supports these claims.

I'm joined by Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent; also General Spider Marks, a CNN military analyst.

Christiane, your impressions of these two statements we just heard from America's two most-prominent foreign policy leaders?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Direct rebuttal of what President Putin said today and over the last week. Direct rebuttal. As you said, they have absolutely negated any of the stuff that Putin has been saying as justification for all of this, using the words that you just said, direct falsehoods by President Putin and the Russians. Putin said today, in his press conference, that our Western partners, why are they doing this in the Ukraine. Quote, "I have a feeling in America some people sit in some lab doing experiments like on rats without knowing the consequences. Why do they need to do this? Nobody has an explanation." Well, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama just gave the explanation. They stand on the side of the legitimate aspirations of the Ukrainian people, the restraint shown by the interim legitimate government and the violation of international law that the Russians have shown.

BERMAN: And both the president and the secretary made the point that Russia has a way to speak its grievances if it does happen. Take them to the United Nations, take them to the various international bodies, put in international monitors in the Ukraine.

And while they are talking about this, Spider, there is still this situation on the ground in Crimea. We have been looking at pictures over the last 24, 48 hours of troops, these Russian troops, we assume, these people in green uniforms. Vladimir Putin denies they're Russian. Everybody else on planet earth thinks they're Russian right now. We saw shots fired in the air right now. It seems to me, as calm as it's been, relatively speaking, we are one miscalculation away from it spiraling out of control.

JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: John, that's a very good point. Any time any good soldier acts to provide a warning shot, which is how these were described, you've already had a breakdown of discipline. Any time anybody is willing to take a weapon off, say, and put a finger on a trigger, all it is a matter of adjusting your aim and now you have an international incident that gets well beyond where we are right now.

So truly, these troops on the ground are conventional forces. I would imagine they're not Special Operations forces. They're as well-be trained as they can be, which means they're at a certain level of readiness. But it is a real tinder box. Anybody can push and anybody can pull at any moment. And with the fire power that exists right there in Crimea, you could have a problem that gets well beyond where we are right now.

BERMAN: Christiane, we have a minute before we have to take a break. I want give you the last word.

It seems to me what we have had happen today, to this point, is to have all the principles speak out loud, really for the first time since this crisis escalated. You have been through a lot of these situations. Admittedly, this may be the most dire since the Cold War. What's the next step, in your experience?

AMANPOUR: To what Spider just said, Secretary Kerry insisted that Putin immediately send these troops back to barracks, immediately send them back to barracks, so there is none of this miscalculation. The Ukrainians presumably will stay restrained, because not only do they have nothing to gain by getting involved, because they cannot fight and win against the Russian forces. They're going to have to keep doing that. But Secretary Kerry outlined a diplomatic off-ramp for the Russians. You know, talk to your Ukrainian counterparts, discuss this, or to the U.N., or all the other international monitors. He's calling for the Russians to allow, and Ukrainians, a huge monitoring force in to separate fact from fiction. Otherwise, he said, the United States and its allies will continue its diplomatic, economic and political isolation of Russia. That's where we are right now.

BERMAN: Will the Russians take that diplomatic off-ramp? CNN will be covering this throughout the day. Again, the developments happening minute by minute here so stay with CNN all day.

Thanks for watching @ THIS HOUR.

"LEGAL VIEW" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right after this.

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