Tillerson reassures Ukraine on Russia sanctions
KIEV, Ukraine — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Ukraine’s leader on Sunday that American and European Union sanctions would remain in place against Russia until Russia reverses course in Ukraine.
Tillerson said Russia should use its influence with separatists in Ukraine’s east to fully restore an oft-violated truce, end harassment and attacks on international monitors, and pull back heavy weaponry to lines agreed upon under a two-yearold accord known as the Minsk Agreement. He said a primary goal of the United States “is to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” and that would be “required in order for the U.S. and Russia to improve our relationship.”
“It is necessary for Russia to take the first steps to de-escalate the situation in the eastern part of Ukraine,” Tillerson told reporters at a joint news conference in Kiev with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. “This is necessary for us to make any movement.”
“We do call on Russia to honor its commitments that were made under the Minsk accords and to exercise influence over the separatists in the region that they have complete control over,” he said, adding later: “The U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered these particular sanctions.”
Poroshenko thanked Tillerson for the continued U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and expressed deep appreciation for Tillerson’s “symbolic and timely visit immediately after the meetings at the G-20 in Hamburg” — the summit of the Group of 20 nations in Germany, where President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s primary diplomatic objective has been to get the sanctions lifted, and Trump questioned the value of the sanctions during his campaign for president. Poroshenko has worried that Trump’s efforts to improve relations with Russia would lead to U.S. concessions on Ukraine, even though the U.S. Senate voted 97-2 last month to toughen the Russian sanctions in part because of Russia’s continued intervention in eastern Ukraine.
Poroshenko was especially complimentary of Tillerson’s decision last week to appoint a special envoy for Ukraine negotiations, former U.S. ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker. Tillerson said Volker was appointed because the U.S. was “disappointed by the lack of progress under the Minsk process.”
Volker will oversee U.S. efforts to press Ukraine and Russia to fully comply with the Minsk Agreement, which lays out a roadmap for reducing the conflict that has claimed some 10,000 lives over the past three years. The accord was reached in early 2015 in the capital of Belarus by the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia but has yet to be implemented. Under President Barack Obama’s administration, the U.S. had taken a hands-off approach to Minsk, allowing the Europeans to take the lead.
Poroshenko, who said Volker would remain in Ukraine for the next several days, maintained that a resolution to the crisis “needs only the political will of Moscow.”
“Kiev did not plan, did not start this war,” he said. “It was planned and started in Moscow. That’s why the keys to peaceful settlement are in Moscow.”
Russia denies charges that it is actively involved in the insurgency, but has said that in order for peace to take hold, Kiev must agree to political changes that would give the east greater autonomy. The Ukrainian government contends that the violence must end before any political changes can begin.
Tillerson and other U.S. officials for some time have been pushing Ukraine to press ahead with legal changes that would curb corruption and improve governmental transparency.
Tillerson praised Ukraine’s progress in combating graft but made clear that more must be accomplished.
“Ukraine has come a long way,” he said. “We want to acknowledge that, [but] we still have more to do. This is all about securing Ukraine’s future: making the place attractive for investors, being attractive to their European neighbors.”
Tillerson on Sunday also declined to say whether Trump, during his meeting with the Russian president, accepted Putin’s denials that Russia was involved in efforts to influence the 2016 election.