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Kerry Cites ‘Constructive Moves’ by Russia on Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in London, Dec. 16, 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says “Russia has made constructive moves” on the Ukraine crisis that could open the path to resolving the conflict and easing or lifting international economic sanctions.

While holding a series of meetings on world issues, Kerry said improvements in the eastern Ukraine cease-fire, progress on negotiating a line of control -- and what he called “the withdrawal of certain people” -- are signs of “constructive choices” that could be “helpful.”

He said the moves could help lead to a process to deescalate the situation, in which Russia is supporting separatist fighters.

Economic pressure

Kerry in part credited the economic sanctions the United States, the European Union and other countries have imposed on Russia for leading to the apparent change in President Vladimir Putin’s policies.

“The sanctions were clearly intended to invite President Putin to make a different set of choices. Now, these sanctions could have been lifted months ago," said Kerry. "The sanctions can be lifted in a matter of weeks or days, depending on the choices that President Putin takes."

Russian ruble against U.S. dollar, Dec. 16, 2013 - Dec. 16, 2014
Russian ruble against U.S. dollar, Dec. 16, 2013 - Dec. 16, 2014

Kerry also noted the sharp fall in the value of the Russian ruble, and the drop in the price of oil, a key Russian export, as adding to the economic pressure on Russia.

At the Royal United Services Institute, Malcolm Chalmers expressed a similar view in a VOA interview.

“That fall in the price of oil, combined with economic sanctions, is now putting the Russian regime in an economic situation which is just not sustainable. That is not to say that his regime will crumble very rapidly. But it is going to be harder and harder for them to maintain high levels of spending on the military, or indeed high levels of subsidy for Crimea or eastern Ukraine. So they are in some real difficulty,” said Chalmers.

Multiple issues

Ukraine is just one of the issues Kerry has been working on during his three-country European trip. He also is trying to avert a crisis over an Arab effort, supported by some European countries, to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution to set a deadline for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

Kerry said he understands the frustrations caused by the lack of progress toward a settlement, and a series of recent attacks and confrontations. He said steps have to be carefully calibrated, though, so as not to make the situation worse, particularly with Israel in the midst of an election campaign.

“The key is to try to find out whether or not there are other options, other ways, other courses, could something be done that helps to respect the process that Israelis are about to undergo, simultaneously respecting the needs of the region to deescalate the tensions and avoid confrontation,” said Kerry.

Kerry said “the status quo is unsustainable for both parties and for the region.”

He met with Israeli leaders on Monday, and he was meeting Tuesday with Palestinian and other Arab officials, in an effort to find a way forward.