John Kerry issues warnings to Russia on Ukraine

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry warned Sunday that Russia risked eviction from the Group of Eight industrialized nations and that assets of Russian businesses could be frozen if the Kremlin did not reverse its military occupation of Crimea.

Kerry plans to visit Kiev on Tuesday in a gesture of support for the new Ukrainian government. He had been scheduled to travel to an international meeting on Lebanon but will instead leave Washington on Monday for Ukraine, his first trip there as secretary of state.

Kerry will meet with senior Ukrainian leaders and talk with the Parliament and civil society leaders, a senior US official said. He will discuss ways to support Ukraine politically.


On Sunday, Kerry warned that if Russia continued its military campaign in Ukraine, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, “is not going to have a Sochi G-8,” a reference to the meeting of the industrialized nations that Putin is scheduled to host in June. “He may not even remain in the G-8 if this continues.”

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“He may find himself with asset freezes on Russian business,” as well as visa bans and trade and investment penalties, Kerry said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.

“American business may pull back,’’ he said. “There may be a further tumble of the ruble. There’s a huge price to pay.”

Kerry’s comments came as the Obama administration and its Western allies try to formulate their response to Putin’s decision to deploy Russian forces in Crimea.

NATO held an emergency meeting in Brussels, and Britain’s foreign minister flew to Kiev to support its new government. The United States, France, and Britain are all considering boycotting the G-8 summit in June.


All the foreign ministers he talked to were prepared ‘‘to go to the hilt’’ to isolate Russia, Kerry said.

NATO issued a statement saying it ‘‘condemns Russia’s military escalation in Crimea’’ and demanding that Russia respect its obligations under the United Nations charter. Ukraine is not a NATO member, meaning the United States and Europe are not obligated to come to its defense, but the country has taken part in some alliance exercises.

President Obama spoke Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

Obama has previously described the move as a “breach of international law.” But administration officials have been slow to enumerate what specific actions the United States and its partners are prepared to take.

While there appears to be little the Western partners can do during the next several weeks to reverse the Russian intervention, the US response appears to be aimed at discouraging a further Russian push into eastern Ukraine or additional Russia pressure on Georgia and Moldova, two former republics that, like Ukraine, have sought economic integration with the West.


The Moldovan prime minister has meetings scheduled in Washington on Monday, and Georgia’s prime minister met there with US officials last week.

As for Crimea, the West is not contemplating military action, relying instead on diplomatic and economic measures to isolate Russia and raise the costs of its intervention.

“This is an act of aggression,” Kerry said of Russia’s moves in the last few days. “It’s really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century.

“Russia has major investment and trade needs and desires,” Kerry added. “There could even be, ultimately, asset freezes, visa bans. There could be certainly disruption of any of the normal trade routine.’’

“Putin starts with a major advantage,” Nicholas Burns, the former US ambassador to NATO, said in a conference call organized Sunday by the Atlantic Council. “He has been very strategic and very decisive, and the Western countries are scrambling to catch up.”

He said the West’s response should be diplomatic, not military. “The option has to be to try to outmaneuver Putin in what will likely turn out to be a very lengthy struggle over Ukraine,” said Burns, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Compounding US concern, Western officials said, are Kremlin efforts to mask its intentions.

Kerry spoke several times last week with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and said he was told the snap military “exercise” Moscow announced had nothing to do with events in Ukraine.

But Russia began moving in reinforcements to the Sevastopol naval base Thursday and Friday, mostly by sea from Novorossiysk and Anapa.