Tillerson upbraids Russia over Ukraine
U.S. wants better ties but can’t abide Crimea invasion, he stresses
VIENNA — The gulf between the United States and Russia showed no signs of narrowing Thursday as top diplomats from the two countries faced off over a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force in Ukraine.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowed that there would be no easing of sanctions on Russia or warming of relations until Moscow stopped supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine and abandoned its “apparent annexation” of Crimea in 2014.
“We can have differences in other areas, but when one country invades another, that is a difference that is hard to look past or to reconcile,” Tillerson said at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, a group created during the Cold War to encourage dialogue between East and West.
“And we’ve made this clear to Russia from the very beginning, that we must address Ukraine,” he said. “It stands as the single most difficult obstacle to us renormalizing a relationship with Russia, which we badly would like to do.”
The 57-member OSCE is one of the few regional organizations in which both the United States and Russia are members. U.S. officials had hoped it would provide a venue to discuss modifications to a Russian proposal for a U.N. peacekeeping force in eastern Ukraine. Since 2014, more than 10,000 people have died in the war between Ukraine’s government and Russian-backed separatists.
The United States and its allies want peacekeepers to have a broad mission to protect about 600 OSCE monitors currently on the ground and investigate cease-fire violations throughout eastern Ukraine. They worry that a more limited mission of just protecting the monitors, as Russia has proposed, would effectively lock in territorial gains by the Russian-speaking separatists, who want to break away from Ukraine.
In his speech to the OSCE, Tillerson said civilian deaths and cease-fire violations had risen dramatically over the past year.
“We should be clear about the source of this violence,” Tillerson said. “Russia is arming, leading, training and fighting alongside antigovernment forces.”
“We will never accept Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea,” Tillerson also said. “Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lambasted the United States and NATO, accusing them of undermining security in Eastern Europe.
“The building of NATO’S potential on the eastern flank, the course toward the unconditional expansion of the alliance, the deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Europe, significantly undermines the principles of indivisibility and security,” Lavrov said.