Kerry pledges American support to Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday pledged sustained American support to Ukraine and offered assurances that the United States stands by the former Soviet republic in its territorial disputes with Russia and as it embarks on an ambitious program of reform.

Kerry met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev to discuss progress on judicial, legislative, economic and anti-corruption efforts, and on agreements to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine with Russian-backed separatists. In 2014, Moscow annexed the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Kerry visited neighboring Georgia, where he signed an agreement to boost U.S. military cooperation and sent a not-so-subtle message to Russia ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Poland.

U.S. officials say Ukraine has completed most of its obligations under the peace agreement — reached last year in Minsk, the capital of Belarus — that relate to providing the east with greater autonomy. But the officials complain that Russia and its proxies have not done their part on security matters, such as ensuring a cease-fire, withdrawing heavy weapons, providing full access to monitors and restoring Ukrainian control to border crossings.

“Ukraine is making a good faith effort to implement Minsk, there is no doubt in my mind about this,” Kerry told reporters at a news conference with Poroshenko. “It is committed to do more as the security conditions allow.”

Unless Russia follows through, he said, “Minsk is doomed to fail.”

Poroshenko stressed Ukraine’s demands for the security.

“There cannot be effective progress without comprehensive and sustainable security,” he said. “We insist on decisive implementation.”

Putting in place the Minsk agreement was one of several topics discussed in a telephone call on Wednesday between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kerry said that Putin said he wanted to move forward.

“We are hopeful that in the days ahead that we will, in fact, be able to translate those expressions into real actions that will make a difference,” Kerry said, repeating that if and when Moscow moves forward it will see a proportional reduction in sanctions that the U.S. and the European Union have imposed on it.

“If Russia chooses the path of de-escalation and full implementation of Minsk, the international community, all of us, will welcome it,” he said. “If Russia does not move in the directions of embracing that possibility and de-escalating, then the sanctions will remain in place.”

In the call, Putin argued that Kiev needs to follow the Minsk deal by launching a dialogue with rebels, granting a special status to rebel regions and preparing local elections there. Obama urged Putin “to take steps to end the significant uptick in fighting in eastern Ukraine and stressed the urgency of moving forward with full implementation of the Minsk agreements,” according to the White House.

Kerry announced that the U.S. will provide an additional nearly $23 million in humanitarian aid to help people displaced or otherwise affected by the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The new money, to be given to the U.N. and other relief agencies, brings the total amount of U.S. humanitarian assistance to Ukraine to more than $135 million since the start of the crisis in 2014.

Kerry also lauded Ukraine’s efforts at judicial, legislative and economic moves, as well as a new anti-corruption program.

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