Kerry Tries to Placate Russia Over Ukraine: ‘This is Not Rocky IV’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 26, 2014 | 7:45 PM EST

Pro-Russian demonstrators wave Russian flags during a protest in front of a local government building in Simferopol, Crimea on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

( – Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to react publicly to the ousting of his Ukrainian ally, but on Wednesday he ordered military drills in the district bordering Ukraine, and Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia to be “very careful in the judgments that it makes going forward here.”

“We are not looking for confrontation, but we are making it clear that every country should respect the territorial integrity here, the sovereignty of Ukraine,” Kerry told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

As he has done several time since the Ukraine crisis began, Kerry said that the U.S. does not view the situation as a “zero-sum game” between Russia and the West.

“We’re hoping that Russia will not see this as sort of a continuation of the Cold War. We don’t see it that way. We do not believe this should be an East-West, Russia-United States – this is not Rocky IV, believe me.”

(The 1985 movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren featured an epic contest between American Rocky Balboa and a Soviet boxer.)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the exercises in the western military district, which were previously unannounced, were unrelated to the situation in Ukraine. Russia does periodically carry out snap military preparedness drills, but Russian media outlets linked the move directly to the upheaval over the border.

Since former President Viktor Yanukovich was toppled by lawmakers following a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests there have been concerns that Russia may intervene.

The situation has been especially tense in the strategically-located Crimea, which historically belonged to Russia, is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and is the only region of Ukraine with a majority ethnic Russian population. Thousands of Crimeans have been demonstrating for independence from Kiev, prompting fears that Russia could step in, citing a need to protect Russians in distress. (See related story: Pro-Russian Gunmen Seize Gov't Buildings in Crimea)

Kerry in the interview recalled that Putin in a phone conversation with President Obama on Friday had pledged to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

“I think that’s incredibly important,” Kerry said. “It would be very difficult for me to understand how Russia would reconcile its position on Libya, its position on Syria, its warnings against intervention in another country, and then not respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and the will of the people there.”

Secretary of State John Kerry and Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili take part in a U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission meeting at the State Department on Wednesday, February 26, 2014. (Photo: State Department)

And Georgia …

Meanwhile Kerry on Wednesday reassured Georgia – another former Soviet state the Kremlin has sought to keep in its fold – that the U.S. supports its bid to join NATO and integrate with Europe, and remains opposed to Russian occupation of Georgian territory.

Speaking alongside Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, he encouraged Georgia to complete the signing of an association agreement with the European Union later this year. (It was Yanukovich’s abrupt decision in November to reverse course on such an agreement between Ukraine and the E.U., in favor of closer ties with Russia, that triggered the protests leading to his downfall.)

Kerry also told Garibashvili that the U.S. continues to support decisions taken at various NATO summits since 2008 that Georgia “will become a member of NATO.”

“The United States will work to make sure that Georgia’s progress is acknowledged by all members of this year’s NATO summit,” he added.

At a NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 the U.S. favored granting both Georgia and Ukraine a membership action plan that would lead to their eventual joining of the alliance. But France and Germany led a group that shot down the proposal, largely due to Russia’s strong objections to further NATO expansion on its western flank.

Four months later, when Georgia’s government tried to rein in two pro-Moscow separatist regions, Russia sent in troops to dislodge the Georgians and later declared South Ossetia and Abkhazia to be “independent” states. The brief war cost Georgia one-fifth of its territory.

Kerry assured Garibashvili of U.S. support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“We continue to object to Russia’s occupation, militarization, and borderization of Georgian territory, and we call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of its forces and free access for humanitarian assistance.”

Kerry prefaced his comments of support for Georgia’s European and NATO aspirations by repeating the “zero sum” disclaimer.

“We don’t make that urging for the signing of an association [agreement with the E.U.] as some sort of zero-sum game between the East and West, or between us or any other party,” he told reporters.

“We simply want people to be able to exercise their freedom of choice and be able to maximize their economic opportunities.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow