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On Ukraine, Obama Tells Donors Yanukovych "Democratically Elected"

By Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press Follow Up

UNITED NATIONS, March 4 -- On Ukraine at a $32,000 a plate DSCC fundraising at the Virginia home of former US Senator Chuck Robb, Barack Obama said

"Iíll be happy to give you more details of whatís happening in Ukraine. The essence of it is, is we have a country that has been in a difficult situation for quite some time, that had a President that was closely associated with the Russians, who a large segment of the Ukrainian population did not feel was representing them well, although he had been democratically elected. You had a crisis inside of Ukraine as a consequence of his decision not to sign an agreement that would have oriented their economy a little more towards the West. That got out of control and we got involved only to prevent initially from bloodshed occurring inside the country and succeeded in doing that. But, ultimately, a deal that was brokered for a power-sharing arrangement in an election led to him fleeing and we now have a situation in which the Russians I think are engaging in a fundamental breach of international law in sending troops into the country to try to force the hands of the Ukrainian people. We may be able to deescalate over the next several days and weeks, but itís a serious situation and weíre spending a lot of time on it."

  One key phrase was, "he had been democratically elected."

   At the UN on March 3 after the third Ukraine meeting of the UN Security Council in four days, at which US Ambassador Samantha Power said OSCE monitors are heading to Kyiv tonight, Read Admiral John Kirby, the US Pentagon's Press Secretary, put out this statement:

"Although the Department of Defense finds value in the military-to-military relationship with the Russian Federation we have developed over the past few years to increase transparency, build understanding, and reduce the risk of military miscalculation we have, in light of recent events in Ukraine, put on hold all military-to-military engagements between the United States and Russia. This includes exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences.

The Defense Department is closely monitoring the situation and remains in close contact with the State Department and interagency, along with our Allies, Partners and NATO. We call on Russia to deescalate the crisis in Ukraine and for Russian forces in Crimea to return to their bases, as required under the agreements governing the Russia Black Sea Fleet.

Some media outlets are speculating on possible ship movements in the region. There has been no change to our military posture in Europe or the Mediterranean; our Navy units continue to conduct routine, previously planned operations and exercises with allies and partners in the region."

   Earlier on Monday, Russia's Vitaly Churkin came out to answer questions. Inner City Press asked him of supporting the mission to Ukraine by UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, a former Swedish foreign minster, while questioning that of Robert Serry.

  Churkin replied that he had spoken with Eliasson before he left for Kyev. It is unclear if Eliasson will get to Crimea. But some note that unlike Serry, who appears in leaked audio with former US now UN official Jeff Feltman "getting" Ban to send him to Ukraine, Eliasson strives to bridge various gaps.

  UK Ambassador Lyall Grant came out, and Inner City Press asked him if the UK is moving toward sanctions as the US says it is. He politely declined to answer this non-UN question.

From the UK Mission transcript:

Inner City Press: G8 and sanctions? Thereís a lot of talk from the US side of looking at financial sanctions on individuals in Russia and thereís talk of not only not going to this preparatory meeting for the Sochi G8 but to have Russia essentially excluded from the G8 and to go back to a G7. Whatís the UK position on that and at what point would that become something that you would be looking at?

Amb Lyall Grant: Those issues are being discussed elsewhere. I want to focus today on the UN aspects of this.

   Ukraine's Yuriy Sergeyev held a long and surreal stakeout. Inner City Press asked him to explain the dispute about how many troops Russia can have in Crimea. He said 11,000 including 2,000 marines, that Russia had reiterated this again in December and was now committing "aggression."

   France's Gerard Araud, as has become his pattern, took only two questions: one in French, the second from France 24. After four and a half years at the UN - his figure, in the Council -- he is becoming more each day like Herve Ladsous, the fourth Frenchman in a row atop UN Peacekeeping.

 The stakeouts ended with the Moldovan Permanent Representative. Inner City Press asked him about US Secretary of State John Kerry's statement that Russia is pressuring Moldova. He spoke of troops on high alert, and another autonomous region now threatening not to participate in elections.

  Inner City Press asked him about the size of the OSCE mission Samanatha Power referred to. He said he's participated in three OSCE mission; he mentioned sizes between 10 and two or three thousand. So what is being referred to here? We'll have more on this.

  Earlier in the Council chamber, Churkin unveiled a letter from Viktor Yanukovych requesting Russian help.

 US Ambassador Samantha Power snarked that it sounded like Russia is the enforcement arm of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Navi Pillay. She announced that "tonight the OSCE will begin" deploying monitors.

  But will these OSCE monitors get into Crimea? Will UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson? At the day's UN noon briefing, Inner City Press asked spokesperson Martin Nesirky what the role of Robert Serry is now.

  Nesirky said his main job is the Middle East. But then in the Security Council meeting, UN official Oscar Fernandez Taranco said that Serry is going BACK to Ukraine. Earlier, it was leaked that former US now UN official Jeff Feltman "got" Ban Ki-moon to send Serry to Ukraine. And now?

  On Sunday, the day after Saturday's inconclusive Ukraine meeting at the UN Security Council, three US Senior Administration Officials held a background press call to describe the US' next moves.

  Secretary of State John Kerry will be in Kyev on Tuesday. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland is heading to Vienna; the US wants to explore monitors from the OSCE (UN monitors were mentioned, but it's difficult to see veto-wielding Russia agreeing to them at this point).

  Senior Administration Official 2 said Russia is in an occupation position in Crimea and moving more troops in. The three were asked, doesn't this show weakness of the Obama administration, at least with respect to Russia's Vladimir Putin?

  Senior Administration Official 1 quickly brought up that Putin didn't listen on Georgia -- which was in 2008, under Republican George W. Bush (the question was from Fox News).

  All three said that Putin is not operating from a position of strength, with Senior Administration Official 2 saying that when it comes to soft power, Vladimir Putin has no game. Asked about Russian money in London, the official said the US is looking at Russian banks.

  On the 1994 Budapest Memorandum (see below), the US is moving to call a meeting under the Memo's terms and will see if Russia shows up.

  At the UN on March 1, after the Ukraine open meeting then consultations of the UN Security Council took place, Council president for March Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg came out and read a short statement.

  Inner City Press asked her if this was a mere "elements to the press," not even an agreed Press Statement. This seems to be the case. She politely answered, but not why China and the ten elected members did not speak in the open meeting.

  Inner City Press asked UK Ambassador Lyall Grant about the Budapest Memorandum -- has it already been violated, including by the Western IMF side, in terms of economic coercion? Is it just a superseded document summoned up for pragmatic reasons now?

  Lyall Grant acknowledged that some time has passed. From the UK Mission transcript:

Inner City Press: The Budapest memorandum. Thereís been a lot of talk about it. It requires the UK, Russia and France to seek immediate Security Council action if thereís a threat of force, so is this the end of your duties, or do you have a duty to defend Ukraine? And it also seems to commit the UK and others to refrain from economic coercion, so some people have been saying that on both sides, the economic coercion factor has been played. Has this memorandum been complied with since Ď94, or is it just pulled out at this time as a convenient document?

Amb Lyall Grant: Clearly, this document has become very relevant in the last few days. We believe that the first step should be a meeting of the signatories of the Budapest memorandum, as Ukraine government has suggested should take place. Proposals have been made for a meeting of the three signatories as early as Monday, but so far Russia has not agreed to that meeting.

  Lyall Grant also said his prime minister David Cameron spoke with Vladimir Putin and his foreign secretary William Hague will be in Ukraine on Sunday.

  Inner City Press asked Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson of Russia's critique of envoy Robert Serry "getting played," and of the leaked (US) audio about former US now UN official Jeffrey Feltman "getting" Ban to send Serry to Ukraine.

   Eliasson said Serry is an international civil servant, but that the UN is not mediating, he is only a go-between for now. Will that change?

  US Samantha Power came out, saying another things that President Obama is suspending participation in the preparation for the G8 in Sochi. She took only two questions; it was not possible to ask her about movement on loan guarantees, or her view of the US' duties under the Budapest Memorandum. So it goes at the UN.

  When the open meeting happened, after two hours of wrangling about format, not all 15 members of the Council -- not even all five Permanent members -- spoke. (China didn't).

  Instead, UN Deputy Secretary General Eliasson led off, saying that Ban Ki-moon would speak with Vladimir Putin. That had already taken place, but even an hour later, no read-out.

Update: after publication of this story, the UN e-mailed out Ban Ki-moon's "remarks" after he spoke with Putin. Remarks to whom? And how long was Ban's call?

  US President Barack Obama spoke with Putin for 90 minutes, citing as Samantha Power did OSCE observers -- and the International Monetary Fund (see below).

   Russia's Vitaly Churkin said that EU officials has stoked up the protests, and violated the February 21 agreement.

   France's Gerard Araud, in the midst of a scandal about a quote Javier Barden attributed to him, Morocco as France's mistress, said it was Russia which hadn't supported the February 21 agreement. Following US Samantha Power and UK Mark Lyall Grant, whose foreign secretary William Hague is headed to Ukraine, Araud was the last speaker in the open meeting. Strange and telling compromise.

  As the Council went back behind closed doors for consultations, Inner City Press asked Ukraine's Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev about "economic coercion" prohibited in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum he kept citing.
  
  Sergeyev replied that Russia tried to use economic coercion. But what about the IMF?

  Earlier on his way in Sergeyev stopped and told the press it is now a Russian "aggression" and that the UN Charter has been "brutally" violated. Video here.

 He said an appeal is being made to the US, France, UK and China, under the rubric of non-proliferation; he said there is still time, before Russian president Vladimir Putin signs the order for military moves in Crimea.

  Then the Security Council "suspended" for ten minutes; Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin emerged and said some members of the Council are trying to change the format of the meeting, that Russia agrees with the format proposed by Luxembourg, which took over today as Council president.

After UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's envoy Robert Serry spun the contents of a closed door Security Council consultation on Ukraine on which there was no agreed outcome, Ban himself did the same on Saturday.

   Ban's spokesperson announced at 1:20 am he would speak and "take a few questions" -- at 1:30 pm.  Lo and behold, after Ban's statement that there was agreement in the Security Council on Friday -- there wasn't -- was read, the first question was given to Pamela Falk of CBS.

  This is as president of the UN Correspondents Association, whose board held an hour-long Q&A with Ban in February in which Ukraine wasn't even asked out. So why now?

  In order to ask, Could Serry go to Crimea?  Hours before Serry through the spokesperson had said no. But the purpose of this UN TV theater is to get this spin "on camera" - that's the role Falk's UNCA is playing.

   Also Ban said he is going to speak with Putin soon. Will his spokesperson take question, this time with notice, on that?

   On February 28, Serry's impartiality as "UN" envoy on Ukraine was called into question, on camera, in front of the UN Security Council by Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

   A "Note to Correspondents" was put out Saturday morning by the UN Spokesperson's Office in which Serry put his spin on the Security Council consultations at which he was not present, and at which not even a Press Statement was agreed:

Note to correspondents: Statement by Mr. Robert Serry, Senior Advisor to the Secretary-General, at the end of his mission to Ukraine

Kyiv, 1 March 2014

Following the consultations in the United Nations Security Council yesterday, the Secretary-General requested me to go to Crimea as part of my fact-finding mission. I have since been in touch with the authorities of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and have come to the conclusion that a visit to Crimea today is not possible. I will therefore proceed to Geneva, where I will tomorrow brief the Secretary-General on my mission and consult with him on next steps.

In Crimea, I would have conveyed, also on behalf of the Secretary-General, a message for all to calm the situation down and to refrain from any actions that could further escalate an already-tense environment.

It became very clear from yesterdayís Council consultations that the unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine is not to be called into question. This is a time for dialogue and to engage with each other constructively.

  Recipients of previous "Notes to Correspondents" were surprised, because Serry in his "other" apparently not time intensive enough job as Ban Ki-moon's Middle East Coordinator does not characterize Security Council processes that do not result in a legal outcome.

  This comes a day after the UN's incoming spokesperson Stephane Dujarric praised a 10-tweet "analysis" of Crimean involving, predictably, the assumption of Chinese and Russian vetoes, and more problematically that Argentina and Nigeria abstained "for some reason."

  To this view, Africa and Latin America are unknowable. But is this appropriate for an incoming UN Spokesperson? For somehow whose been in charge of UN Media Accreditation?

  This UN is increasingly used by officials for their own countries. Former US now UN official Feltman "got" Ban Ki-moon to send Serry to Ukraine.  With French ambassador Gerard Araud having been quoted by Javier Bardem that Morocco is France's mistress, Herve Ladsous the fourth Frenchman in a row to head UN Peacekeeping on February 26 lavished "UN" praise on Morocco through the Magreb Arab Press. There's more to be said on this.

   The day before on February 28 after US Ambassador Samantha Power emerged from the Security Council and spoke to the press about a mediation mission to Ukraine involving Robert Serry, Russia's Vitaly Churkin raised questions about the plan.

  He noted that Serry on February 22 was quoted as supporting the process -- that is, the violation even then of the February 21 agreement.

 The subtext, still audible, was the leaked audio about former US now UN official Jeffrey Feltman "getting" Ban Ki-moon to send Serry to Ukraine. This may resonate for some time.

  Inner City Press asked Churkin of reports Russia would participate closely in the accelerating International Monetary Fund process. Churkin said Russia is open to helping, but only when more is known about what kind of government Ukraine's will be. One might think the IMF would be similarly cautious. But one might be wrong.

  Nearly simultaneous with Samantha Power at the UN, President Barack Obama spoke at the White House. As sent out, he said, "It would be a clear violence of Russiaís commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws." Seems "violation" was meant -- a Freudian slip?

  When UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant came to the stakeout, Inner City Press asked him too about the IMF, which which his foreign secretary William Hague met this week. Lyall Grant distinguished between the financial and the political mediation process. But some say they are intimately connected. From the UK Mission transcript:

Inner City Press: Your Foreign Secretary was in Washington and met, among other people, with the International Monetary Fund. Whatís the relationship between that process and either the mediation process thatís proposed, or trying to address issues in the Crimea.

Amb Lyall Grant: There are a number of challenges facing the new government in Kyiv. One of them is the economy. My Foreign Secretary, as you said, went to see the IMF in Washington, because we believe the IMF needs to take the lead in putting together a financial package to help the Ukrainian government to recover from the economic crisis that itís in and to help the Ukrainian government take the necessary tough decisions for the structural reforms that are required to put the economy back on track. So this is not directly linked to any political mediation, but it is to address one of the key challenges that the new government in Kyiv faces.

   Lithuania's Permanent Representative Raimonda Murmokaite, who as we noted yesterday had yet to do a question and answer stakeout after Council consultations during her month as Council president, finally did. Inner City Press asked her of the mediation mission cited by Samantha Power would require a Security Council resolution or other action.

  Raimonda Murmokaite said that a proposal had just been made. But moments later, Lyall Grant said he didn't think any UNSC approval was needed for Serry to go to Crimea.

   Churkin, on the other hand, said only if the Crimeans want him, no imposed mediation. That leaked audio resonates still.

   Earlier Ukraine's Ambassador to the UN Yuriy Sergeyev came to the Security Council stakeout after briefing the Council. Inner City Press asked him three rounds of questions, ranging from the International Monetary Fund to the International Criminal Court, military presence to Viktor Yanukovych's press conference earlier in the day.

   Sergeyev called the press conference "comedy," emphasizing the Yanukovych left the country (and arguing more seriously that he thereby violated the February 21 deal.)

   On the IMF, Sergeyev said the Fund's team will be "on the ground" early next week. He was asked about austerity but dodged it; he said that the key is that money doesn't "disappear" as he said that from Russia did.

  While standing at the stakeout, a supporter of the ICC tweeted at Inner City Press if Sergeyev raised it in the Council. Inner City Press asked about the ICC and the extradition request to Russia. Sergeyev said the ICC is complex and that he favors a Ukrainian process first.

   On the IMF, how fast could post Yanukovych Ukraine get US money or loan guarantees? Back on the afternoon of February 26 came this on the record statement by State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki:

"The United States is continuing to consider a range of options, including loan guarantees, to support Ukraine economically. But no decision has been made and the next step is the formation of a multi-party, technical government. Once that government is formed we will begin to take immediate steps, in coordination with multilateral and bilateral partners, that could compliment an IMF package, to support Ukraine."

  There was a lot of chatter about a $1 billion US loan guarantee, including from a roundtable by Secretary of State John Kerry held after he did an interview with Andrea Mitchell. Oh, This Town or #ThisTown. So which is it?

  On February 27, the IMF's Christine Lagarde announced that the new Ukraine has asked for an IMF program; her spokesperson Gerry Rice said an IMF team on be 'on the ground' next week.

   On February 25 the shift in Ukraine was echoed on the US Eastern seaboard. At the UN in New York, Ukraine's Yanukovych-era Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev canceled his 11 am press conference - though we can now link to this video of his "I am with you" moment with demonstrators outside the Ukrainian mission in New York.

  Two hours after his February 25 cancellation, in Washington, journalists Inner City Press knows from covering the International Monetary Fund took the short walk to the US State Department's briefing to ask about pre-conditions. Follow the money.

  Back at the UN, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson Martin Nesirky said he didn't know how long Ban's Middle East coordinator Robert Serry will stay in Ukraine. (He was still there on February 26.)

  Just how high profile there does Serry's past stint as Dutch Ambassador in Kyiv make him? What similar former ambassador might Ban Ki-moon have to offer in Thailand? Just how (un) relevant has the UN become?

   Back on Sunday morning US John Kerry spoke with Russia's Sergey Lavrov and, according to a senior State Department official, expressed hope

"that the Russian Federation will join with us, the European Union and its member states, and other concerned countries to help Ukraine turn the page and emerge from this crisis stronger... He also underscored the United States' expectation that Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic freedom of choice will be respected by all states."  

   Later @JohnKerry himself tweeted kudos to previous Secretary of State nominee Susan Rice, how well she had done on Ukraine NBC's Meet the Press. (As noted, David Gregory said one million have died in Syria, click here for that.)

  There, Rice mentioned working with the EU and the International Monetary Fund. Yes, it's the IMF that's meant by "appropriate international organization," and not the United Nations.

  What David Gregory gleaned from the leaked call to Geoff Pyatt was that Russia leaked it -- no mention of the plan, at least at that time, to use the UN to F- the EU. How much has change since then - including the UN being back on the margins.

  And so it occurs to ask: could Russia benefit from Ukraine being raised in the UN Security Council, where it has a veto, as it doesn't (but the US does) at the IMF? Could the UN oversee a deal, on which Russia says the opposition has already reneged?

  Then again, if Russia were to "pull an Abkhazia" (or South Ossetia) in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, it could be the Westerners trying to get the UN to condemn it. But in the Security Council, Russia has a veto. Again: UNrelevant.

As with the State Department's February 22 Kerry - Lavrov readout, it might be surprising to some that Sunday's does not include anything on Syria, on which the UN Security Council passed a resolution on February 22. But left unmentioned even as to Ukraine is the East / West split, particularly with regard the Crimea, Donetsk and the wider Donbass. Could Ukraine's "territorial integrity," the mantra at the UN, be in jeopardy?

  Back on Friday February 21, Presidents Obama and Putin had a phone conversation which a Senior US State Department Official called "positive" and at the US' initiative.

  The official said that Yanukovych has gone on a trip to Kharkiv in his eastern base in the country, "for some kind of meeting that's taking place out there," and recounted a rumor that the deposed interior minister has fled to Belarus.

  US State Department official William Burns will be heading to Ukraine; Vice President Joe Biden has spoken nine times with Yanukovych: twice in November, once in December, three times in January and on February 4, 18 and 20. Even Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel finally got through to his Ukraine's counterpart, Lebedev.

  Amid the self-congratulation, the United Nations was once again on the margins. The UN has made much of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's talk with Yanukovych at the Sochi Olympics, and another phone call today.

  But tellingly, the Senior US State Department Official while citing a "good offices" role for "the international community" did not mention the UN once, in opening remarks nor in response to the eight questions taken. (Two were from the New York Times, the second of which referred to Putin's call with "President Bush.")  An overly long question from Le Figaro was cut off.

 Back on February 19 when Lithuania's foreign minister Linas Linkevieius came to the UN Security Council stakeout, that country seemed to be the one to ask him about. Inner City Press asked Linkevieius about his visit to Washington; he replied among other things that there is a need for "more coordination." Video here.

  Later on February 19 a US Senior State Department Official told the press that "Russia has not been transparent about what they are doing in Ukraine," citing that Russia for example does not provide read-outs of its contacts in Ukraine.

  The US' own high level contacts have gotten more difficult: "they are not picking up the phone," the official said, adding that three European Union foreign ministers are on their way.

  Of the four questions Linkevieius took at his UN stakeout, one was on the UN's North Korea report, another on Venezuela. A Russian reporter waiting at the stakeout with his hand raised was not given a question. This is the UN.

  Moments later at the UN's February 19 noon briefing, outgoing UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky was asked about a perceived double standards in responses to Bosnia and Ukraine. (The question was echoed on February 20, comparing Ukraine with Bahrain). Nesirky said every situation is different -- of course -- and also said the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had met for 90 minutes in Sochi with President Yanukovych.

  Ironically the US Senior State Department Official on February 19 was asked about Yanukovych becoming more hardline after his visit to Sochi. From Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the view is different -- in the case of the UN, often marginal and self-serving. For example, Ban Ki-moon gave no read-out of his beginning of the year call with the president of his native South Korea.

 
Ah, transparency. Watch this site.

Footnote: On the Obama - Putin "positive" call, Inner City Press mused it would signal a 15-0 vote in the UN Security Council on the Syria humanitarian resolution about which Inner City Press asked State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf earlier on February 21, click here for that.


 

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