QUESTION: Secretary Nuland, welcome to the program.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Thank you, Christiane, it’s terrific to be here with you today.
QUESTION: Let me first ask you about the importance of the evidence that Ukraine says, and has shown CNN, that Russia is fully and directly involved on the ground with special forces in eastern Ukraine.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Well, I think we’ve made absolutely clear that we are very concerned about the Russian hand behind the destabilizing things that we’re seeing in eastern Ukraine. The President’s made that clear, as has Secretary Kerry, and you’ve shown some of the photographic evidence, including the bearded man, who was clearly a GRU agent in Georgia and who appears again in eastern Ukraine.
QUESTION: That’s Russian special forces, we understand. Also intelligence operatives, we’re told—
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: —are active in eastern Ukraine. So tell me now, then, what is the status of this deal that was signed in Geneva on Thursday, and does not appear to be being implemented?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Well, as you know, Christiane, on Thursday, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the EU agreed that it was absolutely essential and urgent that these separatists who are occupying buildings and are setting up checkpoints need to stand down now, need to participate in negotiations, and that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe would be assigned to work with the Ukrainians to try to negotiate them out of these buildings. So OSCE teams, very senior-level teams, have been in some of the hottest towns in Donetsk and in Slovyansk, trying to work on this kind of de-escalation. There have been a couple of small towns where buildings have been evacuated successfully by the Ukrainians in the last couple of days, but we have not seen the kind of major de-escalation that we’re looking for, nor have we seen serious Russian efforts to help the OSCE, or to speak out against the separatists since Geneva.
QUESTION: So the Russian foreign minister, as you heard me say, blames the United States, saying that you have to control your clients, as they call it—the Kyiv government—and they’re saying that there are buildings still occupied by forces in Kyiv as well. What can you tell me about that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Well, first of all, since the Geneva agreement was inked on Thursday, the Ukrainian government has stepped out very smartly to try to implement the provisions that are within its power. For example, the agreement calls for amnesty to be granted to anyone who voluntarily left buildings or abandoned checkpoints. The Ukrainian government immediately—the next day—put into the parliament, a very, very broad amnesty bill that would meet that requirement. It has also sent senior-level representatives out to the east to work with the OSCE—something that the OSCE also wants Russia to do, which it has so far not agreed to do. And in Kyiv itself, some of the barricades around the Maidan have come down, but you can’t compare the situation in Kyiv, where now everything that is still being held by protestors is being held with licenses and with the agreement of the government of Ukraine, with the agreement of the Rada, or with regular leases from the owners of the buildings. You can’t compare that to what’s happening in eastern Ukraine, where you have armed separatists wearing balaclavas, carrying very heavy munitions, holding government buildings, refusing to allow monitors in, refusing to allow journalists in—kidnapping journalists, in fact—I think you saw, Christiane, that there were four or five journalists kidnapped in Slovyansk, and one is still being held today—this is not a comparable situation.
QUESTION: If that’s the case, then, give me an idea of who’s actually calling the shots on the Russian side. Obviously President Putin is the president, but it was Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, who inked the deal, and at the same time, just about, you heard President Putin talking about “New Russia,” alluding to an ancient and old word Novorossiya, claimed a lot of those eastern Ukrainian towns, talking about the authority to invade if he had to, and basically, as we’ve just seen, not implementing the provisions of the deal on the ground. Is there a gap between Sergey Lavrov and President Putin? Are you talking actually with the person who’s calling the shots?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Well, as you know, Christiane, President Obama has spoken to President Putin a number of times over the last three weeks, on basically a weekly basis, to try to encourage de-escalation, to try to say to him that there is a better way, that Russia has a choice; but also to make clear that if it continues to destabilize Ukraine and deny Ukrainians the choice to make decisions about their own future, that there will be more costs for Russia: more isolation, and more sanctions. But more broadly, we continue to be concerned that you cannot dress yourself like a firefighter and behave like an arsonist.
QUESTION: So when you talk to Sergey Lavrov, do you think you’re getting an agreement? This one was practically unraveled before it even was signed…?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Well, as the Secretary said to Foreign Minister Lavrov on the phone today, it is still within Russia’s power to demonstrate that it meant what it said last Thursday. It can assign a senior Russian to go out with the OSCE teams, to make clear to the separatists that they do not have Moscow’s support, to help negotiate them out of these buildings—and if Moscow will do that, then the Ukrainian side will be in a better position to meet its obligations under the agreement, which also include a broad national dialogue about constitutional reforms, other steps to address some of these grievances politically, rather than through arms. But we’ve yet to see Russia put that kind of commitment into stabilizing the east, and that’s what we’re looking for.
QUESTION: You know, the Russians have blamed the United States fully, laying it all at your door. And they particularly point to you, and they recall when you were handing out food in the Maidan when all of this started—when the unrest started, and the protests started—and then, I spoke to a member of parliament—also a member of President Putin’s party—and this is what he said about you and the United States.
QUESTION: So I don’t know whether you heard that, Victoria, but Nikonov, the member of Parliament, saying that you had spoken for about five billion dollars for democracy, and they see that as a code word for “regime change.”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: I didn’t hear Mister Nikonov speaking. The United States has invested some five billion dollars in Ukraine since 1991 when it became an independent state again after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And that money has been spent on supporting the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to have a strong, democratic government that represents their interests. But we certainly didn’t spend any money supporting the Maidan; that was a spontaneous movement, which is a far cry from what we are concerned Russia is up to now in eastern Ukraine. And with regard to the day on the Maidan when I was present, that visit happened the night after the Ukrainian special forces under then-President Yanukovych moved against peaceful demonstrators, and began pushing and shoving them off the Maidan, and it was a very scary and dangerous night. They ultimately had to pull back when more peaceful protestors came and surrounded them, and the next day, when I went to visit Maidan, I didn’t think I could go down empty-handed, given what everybody had been through. So as a sign, a gesture of peace, I brought sandwiches to both the Maidan protestors, and to the Berkut soldiers.
QUESTION: Let’s get past the sandwiches, because I want to ask because you were also, famously, caught on tape basically berating the Europeans with some well-chosen words. Do you think there is a gap still between Europe and the United States, especially on efforts to deter President Putin. Where will sanctions go, and will they be targeted enough to make a difference?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Christiane, we have been working in lockstep with our European partners. We have now done two rounds of sanctions, they have now done two rounds of sanctions. The President had very good consultations when he was in Europe about three weeks ago with key leaders. He has been on the phone with key leaders in Europe on a weekly basis to ensure we’re all seeing the situation the same way. And we are all committed to trying to de-escalate this diplomatically, that’s why you saw EU High Representative Cathy Ashton there with us in Geneva trying to de-escalate the situation. But we are also together in having to impose costs on Russia if it doesn’t participate in allowing Ukraine to move forward and make its own choices about its own future.
QUESTION: Vice President Joe Biden is there. Previously, the CIA Director, Brennan, was there. What is it that you can do to help the Kyiv government just survive? It has been widely-considered that in so-called anti-terrorist efforts, or its attempt to impose its authority in the east [inaudible], and everybody has said that if there was any major confrontation, the Ukrainians would not be able to hold their own militarily against Russia. What is it that the United States has to do, and can Kyiv—this interim government—survive until their election?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Christiane, this interim government was brought in to do two things, primarily, for the Ukrainian people. And on both fronts, they are doing very well. The first was to try to negotiate a deal with the IMF, where they would institute real reform and try to turn the page on the age of corruption that had been rampant in Ukraine. And they have now successfully inked a deal with the IMF, they’ve also passed a vast amount of reform legislation, including to tackle corruption. They were also brought in to take Ukraine to free and fair elections, and those elections—presidential elections—are scheduled for May 25. There are some 20 candidates registered in those elections, representing all parts of the spectrum. But now, obviously, with this destabilization in the east, they also have to ensure that the country is peaceful enough for those elections to go forward. And that is why we went to Geneva, and that is why we are pressing so hard on the Russians to help, and that is why we are encouraging the government in Kyiv. And they’ve done a good job with this as well—to reach out to the east, to make clear that grievances can be addressed politically, that the rights of ethnic Russians, Russian-speakers, will be protected, that the Kyiv government is ready to de-centralize far more power out to the east, allow them to budget on their own, allow them to elect their own leaders—so they are doing a good job. But there is a small group of separatists who are supported from the outside who are trying to steal the choice of the Ukrainian people about their own future, and that is what we are trying to help them prevent. And that’s why Vice President Biden’s trip is important, to give them the moral, political, the economic, the diplomatic support that they need.
QUESTION: And on that note, Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State, thank you very much for joining us.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NULAND: Thank you, Christiane.