Daily Press Briefing, July 7, 2014
Jen Psaki, Spokesperson
July 7, 2014
- Expulsion of Russian-Backed Separatists / Ceasefire
- Quad Discussions
MS. PSAKI: Ukraine, sure.
QUESTION: There were some significant developments over the weekend.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I believe the Ukrainian Government took back one town, and it looks like the separatists are steeling themselves for a defense of Donetsk, I think. What’s your understanding of the situation? Do you think that both sides are – that the government is still showing restraint and that the separatists are still not?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: What’s the U.S. position?
MS. PSAKI: Well, a few updates. As you noted, over the weekend we all saw reports that the Ukrainian Government was able to expel Russian-supported separatists from the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. The government immediately moved to begin restoring public services and to providing assistance to residents in need in those areas.
Fighting does continue in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, and the option of a cease-fire remains on the table. But it takes two to participate in a cease-fire, and President Poroshenko had that cease-fire for 10 days and didn’t see reciprocal participation or engagement from the other side. So there are still remaining steps that we have called on the Russian-backed separatists and the Russians to take. Those remain on the table.
QUESTION: You say that it’s two sides, but it would seem that all your discussion is three sides.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the Russian-backed separatists and the Russians are on the same side.
QUESTION: So they – so you equate the separatists with Russia?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m equating, but in terms of —
QUESTION: For the purposes of – for the purposes of this, you think that the – Russia saying yes to a cease-fire is the same thing as the separatists saying yes to a cease-fire?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve long felt that they have a strong influence with the actions of the Russian separatists, and there’s more they can do to influence.
QUESTION: Right. Right, but the thing is – is that they had said yes, had they not? I mean, the Russians had supported it; Putin had supported it. But you don’t think that that message – or that they did enough to rein in the separatists in fighting the Ukrainian Government, right?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Is that – so that would mean that it’s three sides to the ceasefire, because you need the separatists to go along with it, and you think that that won’t happen unless Moscow says “do it,” right?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I still – my view is two sides. We can disagree on the shape of the —
QUESTION: I’m just – whether it’s a triangle or a line, I don’t know.
MS. PSAKI: Triangle or a line, yes.
QUESTION: But in your view, the Russians still have not done what they should or what you think they should do to —
MS. PSAKI: No. They can allow the OSCE monitors to do their jobs; they can call – they can stop the flow of weapons across the border; they can call on Russian-backed separatists to lay down their arms. There’s certainly more steps they can take.
QUESTION: Okay. And have there been any conversations between the Secretary or any senior officials on this issue since Thursday?
MS. PSAKI: With senior Russian officials, or senior —
QUESTION: Ukrainian officials, anyone – just on this subject that you’re aware of.
MS. PSAKI: The Secretary has not. Of course, our team on the ground remains in close contact about these issues, and there are ongoing discussions through the Quad meetings – or Quad discussions as well.
QUESTION: But that seems to have, unless I’m mistaken, broken down, right? That – they haven’t met since last Thursday or Wednesday.
MS. PSAKI: But they can – they could meet again, certainly, if there isn’t a —
QUESTION: The Russians have been calling for another meeting of that group no later than Saturday. You’re aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: No later than next Saturday?
QUESTION: No, this past Saturday – than the 5th.
MS. PSAKI: Than last Saturday? Well, they can still convene again.
QUESTION: Right. You would like to see another meeting of the Quad soon. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: We certainly support dialogue between all of the parties, yes.
QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the —
MS. PSAKI: Let’s just —
QUESTION: — to the statement —
MS. PSAKI: We’ll go to you next.
QUESTION: President Putin’s statement about the Fourth of July and his willingness to work together, and they can resolve all the issues. Do you have any reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Our view remains that actions speak louder than words, and there are specific steps that can be taken.
QUESTION: Last week, your colleague Marie Harf doubted the sources of a UN report that talks about a sharp increase in the number of people fleeing Ukraine into Russia. Well, I’m with RT; you don’t like RT. What about other news sources, U.S. news sources? And here’s The Wall Street Journal writing about the horrors that people face and why they flee to Russia. Are all these sources exaggerating the scale of the crisis there?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s clearly a significant movement of people due to the violence caused by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, though the vast majority have not sought refugee status. That hasn’t changed. There are a few – and I think Matt asked last week what the difference is between here and Syria, and one of the differences is that there are a range of international organizations on the ground in Syria and NGOs who are calculating or validating the number of asylum seekers or refugees crossing the border.
And so this is single-source reporting strictly from the Federal Migration Service of the Russian Government, and that’s one of the reasons that we expressed doubt about the numbers or the range of numbers that were reported in this case.
QUESTION: But it seems that you are downplaying the – honestly, downplaying the scale of the crisis there. These are just – that’s the reason why I would show these pictures. These are shots of civilians blown to pieces in their homes and their backyards, in the village of – in the village in eastern Ukraine last week. And Kyiv ordered these killings, nobody else.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think —
QUESTION: What does the U.S. do to stop Kyiv from doing it —
MS. PSAKI: I think —
QUESTION: — from the village of Kondrashovka. It’s —
MS. PSAKI: Well, you finished – go ahead. I’m letting you finish your question.
QUESTION: Yes, I’m sorry. These are gruesome pictures, but it seems —
MS. PSAKI: I think to be clear, on the ground, the reports that we’ve seen and the vast majority of people who are reporting from the ground report that the Russian-backed separatists are the ones who are not only engaged in violence and efforts to take over buildings and attack people and innocent civilians. They have no place doing that in a country that’s a sovereign country like Ukraine, so that’s our issue.
QUESTION: These people died in air strikes ordered by Kyiv – not by Russia, not by the separatist.
MS. PSAKI: The Government of Ukraine is defending the country of Ukraine, and I think they have every right to do that, as does the international community.
QUESTION: Do the people – and these people have right to live, don’t they?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the people of Ukraine have the right to live in peace and security without Russian-backed separatists attacking their homes and going into buildings. And I think that’s where the root cause of this is and we shouldn’t forget that fact.
QUESTION: Jen, on the numbers. Are you now – when you say there’s been substantial movement across the border, whether or not these people are technically classified by the UN as refugees or not, are you still saying that you don’t think 110,000 is accurate? That’s the number that the UN gave last week. Do you still take issue with that number, or do you now accept that even though they’re not refugees, there are – and maybe not all classified as refugees – there are a hundred – that the numbers could be as high as 110,000?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the context of what I was trying to explain, Matt, is that there’s single-source reporting here just from the Federal Migration Services of Russia. It’s not independent international organizations and NGOs reporting, as it is in Syria and some other places, because they’re not on the ground. So we don’t have any validation of those numbers, though there’s certainly no question that there are a range – a large number of people who are crossing the border because of the violence they’re seeing on the ground.
QUESTION: So who is it that you’re saying is on the ground in Syria that are collecting these – are you talking about Turkey and —
MS. PSAKI: There are international organizations, NGOs.
QUESTION: But that would be the UN mainly, right?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who was the same person that’s saying 110,000.
MS. PSAKI: But they’re getting reporting from a single source in this case, whereas in other – in Syria, they’re getting reporting from a range of international organizations.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that the UNHCR is being credulous or they’re not looking at these numbers with enough skepticism?
MS. PSAKI: I think – I’m not trying to overstate it. That’s just the reason why we see the circumstances differently.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, when you say you acknowledge that there is substantial movement or substantial migration, whether it’s actual migration or whether it’s refugees or whatever, could that include – I mean, could that – could the number 110,000 – is that a feasible figure?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to guess at the specific numbers, Matt. I’m just expressing what our skepticism is about some of the numbers we’ve seen reported.
QUESTION: All right. And there are no NGOs, no international organizations that —
MS. PSAKI: Not that are reporting numbers on numbers of refugees on the ground to our – that we’re aware of.
QUESTION: In Russia —
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: — or in Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, exactly, in the – what’s happening on the ground on the border there.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Great. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:27 p.m.)
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