Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., refused to answer a call by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to “unequivocally” rule out an invasion of eastern Ukraine — promising only that his nation is “not planning to.”
Kislyak spoke to Stephanopoulos on Sunday about the ongoing crisis on Ukraine’s eastern border, which has seen as massive build-up of Russian troops after Russia’s seizure and annexation of Crimea a few weeks ago. The ambassador appeared uncomfortable as Stephanopoulos pressed him for answers on his nation’s aggressive posturing.
“The United States is making it very clear that any diplomatic solution must include a pullback of Russian troops from Crimea,” the reporter began. “Is Russia prepared to meet that condition?”
“What kind of pullback from Crimea you are talking about?” Kislyak responded. “We are now in the territory of Russian Federation, because there are a lot of things that have happened. And one has to be very realistic about it.”
The ambassador blamed “an unconstitutional takeover of power with the use of force in Kiev” for the Russian intervention, adding that troops entered Crimea to protect ethnic Russians living there.
“How about eastern Ukraine, sir?” Stephanopoulos continued. “Can you state unequivocally that Russian troops will not push into eastern Ukraine?”
KISLYAK: Well, we have said so many times that we have no intent, no interest in crossing the border –
STEPHANOPOULOS: But does that mean you won’t do it?
KISLYAK: Well, we are not PLANNING to. We have our forces conducting the exercises in the territory of Russian Federation — I would like to remind you, the territory of the Russian Federation — that is normal exercise that we are conducting. Moreover, we have offered transparency over the issue, and there were a number of overflys done, including by our Ukrainian neighbors and friends, just for them to be sure that there was nothing happening that would be threatening to their interests.
The Russian ambassador also bristled at President Obama’s suggestion this week that Russia is a “regional power.”
“Well, if you consider Russia a regional power, look at the region that we are in,” he responded. “It’s from Europe to Asia. It’s quite a significant region in the first place.” He added he considered such characterizations “very artificial.”
Kislyak said he “hopes” a diplomatic solution to the crisis between his nation and Ukraine. “It’s something we’ve been trying to work on for quite a long period of time. We understand what can be of help to the Ukrainian people.”
“Because the biggest problem — and you need to remember this — is not between Ukraine and Russia,” he explained. “It’s between Ukrainian, uh, uh . . . temporary government and the rest of the country.”
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