Thank you, Madam President. The human stakes of what is happening in Ukraine are extremely high. The lives of innocent civilians are at risk, yet we are being bombarded by Russian disinformation and propaganda while the Ukrainians are being confronted by incitement and violence. Russian media and government spokespersons are spreading fiction, so we must, tonight, focus on facts.
You have heard these last weeks Russia disclaim any intention of occupying or invading. You have heard it publicly, and we have heard it privately. Unfortunately, the fact is that the armed seizure of buildings in six eastern Ukrainian towns yesterday and several more today mirrors the tactics Russian forces used in the early stages of the Crimea invasion. Then, too, officials from the Russian federation spoke early on in the crisis and disclaimed any intention of occupying or invading. In the earlier Crimean case, highly organized, well-equipped, and professional forces wearing Russian military uniforms and military gear without identifying insignia moved in first to take control of Crimean government and security facilities before being later replaced by regular Russian military forces. Then, too, Russia said it was acting to protect minorities’ rights. But the whole world now knows that they weren’t. As the OSCE has reported, the minorities at risk in Crimea are Tatars and Ukrainians.
You have heard that there are no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. But the fact is that many of the armed units that we’ve seen were outfitted in bullet-proof vests, camouflage uniforms with insignia removed. These armed units, some wearing black and orange St. George’s ribbons associated with Russian Victory Day celebrations, raised Russian and separatist flags over seized buildings and have called for referendums and union with Russia. We know who is behind this. Indeed, the only entity in the area capable of these coordinated, professional military actions is Russia.
The synchronized surgical seizure of buildings yesterday occurred in towns along the main highway, followed by armed roadblocks – almost as if a coordinated barrier was being formed between Kyiv and the major eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
And you don’t have to take my word for it, or even those of the Ukrainian government. You need only witness yourself the videos of professional military shepherding thugs into a building in Kramatorsk, the photographs showing the so-called concerned citizens taking over Sloviansk equipped exactly like the elite troops that took Crimea, or the video of a military operation in Krasny Liman by armed men with the same equipment.
You have heard laments about “instability” as if instability is organic. But the fact is that this is the saddest kind of instability – it is completely man-made. This “instability” was written and choreographed in and by Russia.
We continue efforts to deescalate the situation in Ukraine and find a diplomatic path forward, which is why Secretary Kerry will participate in the Geneva talks on April 17, which will include Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. But if those are to be successful, Russia will have to explain why its forces continue to mass on the Ukrainian border – at least 40,000 forces - and it will have to come with constructive ideas on how to deescalate and resolve the armed attacks on buildings in eastern Ukraine.
The United States stands with Ukraine and the fundamental principle that the future of Ukraine must be decided by the Ukrainian people. We also stand with international law and norms and the fundamental principle that borders are not suggestions. On Monday, we will conclude the $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine. This will benefit all the Ukrainian people, including minorities. Next week, Vice President Biden will visit Ukraine. We strongly support concluding the agreement between Ukraine and the IMF so the international community can bolster Ukraine’s economy. And, we will support in every way we can Ukraine’s elections at the end of May so that Ukraine can advance its political transition and look to a peaceful future.
Thank you, Madam President.
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