QUESTION: As the number of casualties in the east of Ukraine is rising, does the U.S. still support Kyiv’s action against the east?
MS. HARF: Kyiv’s actions of the – which actions are you referring to?
QUESTION: The anti-terrorist operation against the protestors in the east.
MS. HARF: Well, what we’ve said is that – we have clearly said the Ukrainian Government has showed great restraint in the face of overwhelming challenges, but that they also have a responsibility to maintain law and order for their own people – I think that’s probably as much as I want to say on that – and that the onus really is on the Russian Government to pull back, to pull their folks out of eastern Ukraine, and to take de-escalatory steps as we move towards the elections which need to happen on the 25th.
QUESTION: But what Kyiv is doing now, does it qualify as restraint?
MS. HARF: Well, absolutely, Kyiv has shown enormous restraint. And if you’re referring to what happened on Friday in Odesa, obviously, I put out a statement about that on Friday.
The United States today mourns with all Ukrainians the heartbreaking loss of life in Odesa. Today the international community must stand together in support of the Ukrainian people as they cope with this tragedy.
The violence and mayhem that led to so many senseless deaths and injuries is unacceptable. We call on all sides to work together to restore calm and law and order, and we call on the Ukrainian authorities to launch a full investigation and to bring all those responsible to justice.
The events in Odesa that led to the deadly fire in the Trade Union Building dramatically underscore the need for an immediate de-escalation of tensions in Ukraine. The violence and efforts to destabilize the country must end. We again call for the immediate implementation of the commitments made in Geneva on April 17. The United States stands ready to support this implementation.[in other words, old news, both sides do it, the Russians are responsible for the pro-Russians getting burned to death]
But any loss of life is horrible, and we understand that there will be an investigation. The prime minister has actually taken punitive action against some of the police folks who led the police forces in Odesa after this horrific incident.
So – but again, that started because pro-Russian forces and separatists started basically mob action attacking protestors. So going forward we think that restraint is important, but so is keeping law and order.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t matter how many people die; those people brought it upon themselves, it’s their fault. Is it what you are saying?
MS. HARF: No, I’m not saying that at all. In no way am I saying that. I’m saying that the fact pattern of what happens here matters. What I also said is that I – we applauded Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s steps that he took (a) to start an independent and thorough, credible investigation; and also to fire, I think, the police chief there that didn’t take steps to protect these innocent civilians regardless of who they supported. But the fact pattern of how this started and who started the escalation, who started the mob violence matters if we’re talking about how to prevent it in the future.
QUESTION: Marie, can I just ask you on that specifically? The foreign ministry in Russia, in Moscow has come out today and said that there are towns in eastern Ukraine which have been encircled by Ukrainian troops, and they – which are apparently facing a humanitarian disaster due to shortages of medicine and food. And they’re also listing what they call a massive – mass-scale rights violations by what they say are ultra-nationalists in Ukraine. Could you comment on those reports, please?
MS. HARF: Well, I think this is just the latest in the Russian version of events not matching up with what we see on the ground. The Ukrainian Government has taken enormous steps to protect their people, to provide what they need to their people. [emphasis added] We provided a bunch of assistance as well to the Ukrainian Government to provide for their people during this very trying time.
It’s the Russian forces and the pro-Russian forces who crossed a border into another country [emphasis added; note that Russian troops did not cross a border to enter Crimea] who’ve been attempting to undermine that country’s sovereignty. They’re the ones who are committing these kinds of violations we’ve seen. Look, any report of violations – even under the former President Yanukovych, we saw many – we take them all seriously. But what we’ve seen is the Ukrainians repeatedly standing up for their own people and the Russians really doing the opposite.
QUESTION: So you dispute that there’s humanitarian shortages, aid shortages in these towns and —
MS. HARF: I can check and see if there are. I just am not sure that the fact pattern laid out there about the reason is accurate. I’m happy to check, though.
QUESTION: One more, one more. Yes. When you say “pro-Russian” – yes, these people are pro-Russian, they feel strong ties with Russia. But how do you connect —
MS. HARF: Supported, sent by the Russian Government [emphasis added; there is no evidence that any but possibly a handful of Russian soldiers are in Eastern Ukraine, and these may have arrived on their own, without the permission of their government].
QUESTION: — them with Moscow? Yes, but how do you connect them? What’s —
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. A lot of them have weapons that are only available to Russian security forces. Many of them, when you interview them on camera, say they’re there because the Russian security forces have sent them. It’s just like what President Putin said when he first —
QUESTION: What interviews are you referring to?
MS. HARF: — denied that there were forces in Crimea, and then three weeks later he said, “Just kidding,” there were.
QUESTION: But there is a base there, that – the troops had been there for a long time.
MS. HARF: No, beyond the base – beyond the base, the other folks as well that attempted and then annexed Crimea. So again, there are all of these pro-Russian separatists who the Russian Government has an enormous amount of control over, and should press them to de-escalate. They should press them to come out of the buildings. They should press them to pull back. And they should, by the way, pull their troops back from the border as well. There’s not a lot of credence when they say these aren’t their folks when everything they’ve done shows otherwise.
Let’s be clear. The Russian actions in Crimea are illegal and need to be reversed. However, they are not all that different from what was done in our name in Bahrain. The difference was that the troops sent in to protect the US base were Saudi. We used force against Panama to protect the Canal and the troops that guard it. Great Powers do these things to protect their imperial interests.
But why have we not condemned neo-Nazi elements in the Kiev government? Why is our State Department coddling these people? The high road would be to condition aid to Ukraine on suppressing the neo-Nazi faction. We have chosen the low road, one paved with double standards and hypocrisy.