Response to Statement by the Russian Federation

As delivered by Ambassador Daniel B. Baer to the Permanent Council,
Vienna, May 15, 2014

I’m sorry that our distinguished colleague, the Russian Ambassador, has left, because I wanted to answer some of the issues that he raised, but I trust that his delegation will convey them to him.

This is not a comprehensive response, but allow me to make four brief points. First, among his false allegations, the Russian Ambassador talked about “U.S. mercenaries” being active in Ukraine. This is categorically false. We have been able to trace this rumor to a series of Kremlin-sponsored websites that put out a photograph that is indeed either of police or private security contractors. The Internet is a wonderful thing, and eventually people can find out where photographs come from; so it didn’t take long for somebody to produce the original photograph, which was actually taken in New Orleans, Louisiana, and had been doctored to remove the fast-food signs and make it look like it might be in the street in an unnamed place. But the allegations that there are somehow “U.S. mercenaries” operating in Ukraine are false.

Second, he raised the photographs of the troops massed on the Ukrainian border of the Russian Federation. Russia has produced a number of “counter-photographs” that it presented this week. I have full confidence in the photos that we have shared with colleagues. However, I would note that the Russian Federation has an advantage, because while all we can do is produce photographs, the Russian Federation has the ability to invite us in for inspections — us collectively. We can’t invite ourselves, but the Russian Federation doesn’t need photographs to make its case; they can do the real thing, they can invite people onto their territory. So if there really is nothing to see there, then Russia should invite widespread and comprehensive inspections. I will say that for them to bring this up on the same day that they announce huge military exercises which, I’m sure they will say, are “coincidentally timed” with key moments in Ukraine, further stretches the boundaries of our trust and evidences the degree to which the Russian Federation would like to think we all are fools. It’s just preposterous to suggest that that is a coincidence, and it is again offensive that the Russian Federation would expect any of us to believe that.

In terms of public statements, I share the view of my UK colleague. I’ve said it before, it would not be not that hard: a simple statement from President Putin saying, “I condemn the taking of buildings by armed groups, this kind of taking of municipal buildings is not a legitimate way to express any kind of anger or grievance. I recognize the opportunity that lies before the Ukrainian people on May 25 to begin a multi-step process, a democratic process, of reconciling differences.” That’s two sentences.  We haven’t heard either of those two sentences. And every time we have heard something good from Russia, it has been followed by actions that turn it into another lie. President Putin said he thought the May 11 referendum should be postponed, then Kremlin-organized social media campaigned — they went wild over the weekend — urging people to go out and “vote”. They even facilitated “voting” in Moscow! How are we expected to trust this individual or this government?

Finally, the question about the Geneva agreement. We should recall that the Geneva Statement, while it was about addressing a problem that we see manifested in Ukraine, is really about addressing a problem that was caused by Russia. In many ways the Geneva Statement was another opportunity for Russia to take an off-ramp, to avoid more sanctions, to avoid more costs. It required action from Ukraine, and it required action from the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. Ukraine has taken a number of steps which I won’t enumerate again. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission snapped into action within 24 hours, sending people out to the East to facilitate these actions. Many of us have supported the Special Monitoring Mission with financial contributions, which Russia has not done. We have all contributed to making that off-ramp for Russia possible. Russia has not taken those steps.

The President of the United States, the Secretary of State, [High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union] Catherine Ashton, and a number of other leaders of member States of the EU have made clear statements of support for all of the steps that are outlined in the Geneva agreement. Russia has not. So I understand why Ambassador Kelin is frustrated. He has an impossible job. He has to come in here and try to convince us that the unjustifiable is justified, that the criminal is legal, that what is wrong is right — it’s an impossible job. We can have sympathy for him for that impossible job, but the fact remains that there are still concrete, constructive steps that the Russian Federation can take, and should take, steps that would support a real, constructive way forward. None of us can change that reality, no matter how much Russia may lie about it.