Kerry Takes Offer of Aid to Ukraine and Pushes Back at Russian Claims



Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Kiev is a symbolic and tangible illustration of American support as the White House tries to counteract Russian pressure on the new Ukrainian authorities.Credit            Kevin Lamarque/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images       

KIEV, Ukraine — In a demonstration of support for Ukraine’s fledgling government and a new swipe at Russia, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Kiev on Tuesday with an offer of $1 billion in an American loan guarantee and pledges of technical assistance.

Trudging through a damp mist, Mr. Kerry stopped first for an emotional visit to improvised memorials where protesters were gunned down last month as they voiced opposition to what was then Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin government.

Mr. Kerry placed a lighted candle at one of the shrines, which were draped with flowers and photographs of some of the victims; met with religious leaders; and listened to Ukrainians who beseeched him for help.

“We hope Russian troops will leave Crimea, and we also hope for your assistance,” a Ukrainian woman told Mr. Kerry as he walked along Instytutska Street.

“We are trying very hard,” Mr. Kerry responded. “We hope Russia will respect the election that you have.”

But there was no indication that Russia was prepared to reverse its intervention in Crimea, and Mr. Kerry later warned that Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, might be preparing to expand the scope of his country’s military operation into eastern Ukraine.

Credit Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Kerry Condemns Russian Action in Crimea

Speaking in Kiev on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry also defended Ukraine’s fledgling government.

“It is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference at the American Embassy here.

He took issue with Mr. Putin’s version of events, which justified Moscow’s military action in Crimea, an autonomous republic of Ukraine, by saying it was to defend the region’s Russian population.

“It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve,” Mr. Kerry said. “That is not 21st-century, G-8, major-nation behavior.”

The centerpiece of the American aid package is the $1 billion loan guarantee. It is intended to cushion Ukrainian households as the new government undertakes wrenching economic changes that are expected to be demanded by the International Monetary Fund, and as it contends with the reduction of energy subsidies from Russia, which has challenged the new government’s legitimacy.

The United States will also send technical experts to help Ukraine’s national bank and Finance Ministry, provide advice on fighting corruption, and train election monitors to help establish the legitimacy of Ukraine’s coming election.

American officials are offering help in recovering so-called stolen assets, an allusion to the billions of dollars reported to have been spirited out of Ukraine by former President Viktor F. Yanukovych and powerful businessmen.

The United States will also provide technical advice so that Ukraine might lodge complaints with the World Trade Organization should Russia try to use trade as a political weapon.

Economic sanctions to punish Russia for its military intervention in Crimea are likely within days, according to a senior State Department official traveling with Mr. Kerry.

“I think there will be movement on sanctions very likely later in this week,” said the State Department official, who could not be identified under the agency’s protocol for briefing reporters on Mr. Kerry’s trip.

The barricades that protesters erected during their struggle against Mr. Yanukovych, who fled last month, were still visible during Mr. Kerry’s visit to the shrines. More than 80 protesters were shot to death by the police as an uprising spiraled out of control in mid-February and the Yanukovych government authorized deadly force.

As he gazed at the shrines, Mr. Kerry asked what Ukrainians thought about Mr. Putin’s assertion that he had to intervene in Crimea because the Russian-speaking people there were in danger. “We don’t have any threat,” a woman shot back. “They are making it up.”

Credit Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

Obama Warns Russia on Ukraine

President Obama said any intervention militarily in Ukraine would be “deeply destabilizing.

Mr. Kerry later observed, “Here in the streets today I didn’t see anybody who feels threatened, except for the potential of an invasion by Russia.” He expressed hope that Mr. Putin “would step back and listen carefully that we would like to see this de-escalated.”

He added, “We are not looking for some major confrontation.”

After his visit to the shrines, Mr. Kerry also met Ukraine’s interim leaders, including acting Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, acting President Oleksandr V. Turchynov and leaders of the Ukrainian Parliament.

The Obama administration has been pursuing a multiple-track strategy of providing assistance to Ukraine, increasing the economic pressure on Russia and offering what it called an offramp by suggesting that international monitors might be sent to ensure that the rights of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population were protected while Russian troops returned to their barracks.

The American-backed loan guarantee is contingent on backing from Congress, but there has been growing support among lawmakers for firm action.

Referring to Ukraine’s coming negotiations with the I.M.F., Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in a statement that the loan guarantee was “aimed at protecting the most vulnerable Ukrainian houses from the impact of the needed economic adjustment.”

But the guarantee was also intended to help Ukraine cope with Russian pressure. Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled natural gas company, said Tuesday that it would cancel a discount for natural gas supplies to Ukraine, as of April 1. Russia offered the discount in December after Mr. Yanukovych decided to strengthen ties with Moscow instead of the European Union.

A State Department official who was traveling with Mr. Kerry said, “We are going to work with Congress on providing a $1 billion loan guarantee aimed at helping insulate Ukraine from the effects of reduced energy subsidies based on what transpired in Russia.”

Russia could try to counter such economic efforts by raising gas prices to Ukraine even further. If that happened, the United States might be funneling aid to Ukraine that would end up in Russian banks.

”The Russians are major holders of Ukrainian debt,” the senior American official acknowledged. “So in any scenario in which Ukraine is getting financial assistance, some of the money very likely is going to end up in the hands of Russian institutions. I think there is probably no way of avoiding that.”

There were no signs that the moves by the United States and its partners had prompted a rethinking on Moscow’s part.

The State Department official said that Russia was solidifying its control over Crimea and that there was a “continued inflow of Russian troops” there. The Russian force in Ukraine has now grown to 16,000, according to Ukrainian officials. And the senior American officials said there were reports that Russian helicopters had approached Ukrainian airspace, and that Ukrainian jets had moved to intercept them.

In addition, a key element of the American plan to reverse the Russian intervention — sending international monitors — seems to have no particular appeal for the Kremlin. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is sending an initial group of 10 monitors to Ukraine. The United States and other Western nations would like to see that number increased so that monitors could widen their visits to include not only eastern Ukraine but eventually Crimea while Russian troops return to their barracks. But Russia has not supported such a move.

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