Reply to the Russian Federation: This Forum is For Hard Truths, Not Big Lies

As delivered by Ambassador Daniel B. Baer to a Joint Meeting of the Forum for Security Cooperation and the Permanent Council
Vienna, March 4, 2014

The distinguished delegate of the Russian Federation gave us much to react to. Certainly I can agree with his statement that the hypocrisy on display today is almost unprecedented. This reminds me of something my old boss used to say when we met with repressive regimes elsewhere in the world. He would turn to me and say, “I’d rather have my talking points than his.”

I’d rather have my talking points than his.

I join my German colleague in noting there was not much new information provided here, and there remain discrepancies that need to be clarified. And it is a perfectly legitimate question for the government of Ukraine, or for any of us, to ask for the clarification of those discrepancies.

The Russian Federation is pushing the line that it is purely coincidence that a military exercise of 150,000 people happened at the same time as the crisis in Ukraine and the subsequent illegal military incursion on Ukraine’s territory. In order to believe that this is just a coincidence you would have to believe that the authorities were foolish – that they couldn’t foresee the effects of mobilizing 150,000 troops in an exercise of this kind at a moment like this. I don’t believe they are so foolish. And so the perpetuation of this story – that it is just some magical coincidence these two things happened at the same time – is not only far-fetched, it’s disrespectful to all of us.

There followed a version of a fantasy which has no correspondence in any reality reported anywhere other than by the Russian government or by its own state-controlled media outlets. We have contested facts – again, I join others in saying the right way to establish facts is to get eyes and ears on the ground in the form of international monitors or observers of some sort or other. We can engage and assess contested facts. But the perpetuation of a pack of lies – this neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic narrative – the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine is saying this is a pure fabrication designed to justify a military incursion and has rejected it outright.

By pushing a fantasy, a big lie, the Russian Federation is not using this forum for what it is for. This forum should be one where we can talk about hard truths. We don’t have to agree, but we should talk about hard truths. This should not be a forum where we disrespect each other by peddling a big lie.

All of us should remain open to engagement with the Russian Federation, trying to in good faith clarify the reasons for the actions that have been taken and find a way to de-escalate them and return to a situation where the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine are respected; where Russia’s concerns about the security of its own military forces – if they are genuine concerns – are addressed; and where concerns that are raised about human rights or other conditions within Ukraine are being addressed through the various mechanisms at our disposal.

But everybody in this room should think about the outrageous insult that has just been leveled at each of us by that pack of lies peddled by the Russian Federation. We shouldn’t hold a grudge, we should remain open to engagement, but that is not what this forum is for.

Hard truths, not big lies.

Thank you.