US Secretary of State John Kerry has visited Russia for the third time in less than a year. In an interview with TASS First Deputy Director General Mikhail Gusman John Kerry has clarified the future of the relations between Russia and the United States.
- Mr. Secretary, welcome to Moscow. It’s very good to see you here. It’s your third visit to Russia in less than a year. And before that there was a long pause. Are we getting back to normal in our dialogue?
- Well, we’d like to get back to it. We’re making progress. I think that Foreign Minister Lavrov – Sergey Lavrov and I have had a very productive relationship and we’ve been able to separate differences and work together in a very effective way. President Putin has been very gracious to spend time with me when I’ve come here and to work at trying to find a solution to very complicated issues. I think it’s safe to say that the United States-Russia joint effort on the ceasefire has had an impact. It’s been very positive. And that’s the way we can build back to a much stronger, more effective relationship.
- Presidents Putin and Obama have been working closely to resolve our latest challenges. Open the secret, what message do you have in your pocket that you should bring from President Obama to President Putin?
- Don’t you think it’s better I give it to President Putin first? (Laughter.) No, we’re obviously very anxious to work more effectively. There are irritants in our relationship on both sides which I think both sides would like to see us be able to address. But most importantly, we all in the world face the challenge of violent extremism. And the United States, as you know, moved immediately when Daesh began to move through Syria and Iraq. We put together a 66-nation coalition. We’re actually very pleased that Russia is concerned about that extremism and wants to fight against Daesh and other extremists.
So the key here is to find clarity in our definitions, make sure we’re really working effectively together without hidden agenda in a way that can rapidly destroy Daesh, push back against the violent extremism, restore peace and stability to the region. And there’s some big choices, frankly, that President Putin and Russia needs to make with respect to how we do that. And we will talk about many of those issues.
We will talk about Ukraine and the need for the full implementation of the Minsk agreement in order to, again, achieve peace and stability. And it is very important for the separatists to reduce the violence. It’s very difficult for any government of President Poroshenko to take difficult political steps when he’s being fired on, when his troops are being killed, and when his country – part of his country is being disrupted.
So if we can make progress there, I’m absolutely confident we can build the relationship between the United States and Russia, between the world and Russia, on a much more rapid course. And that will benefit the people of Russia. The people of Russia deserve to see these issues addressed in a responsible way so that ultimately, sanctions can be lifted and the people of Russia can see their economy grow, their lives get better, their incomes grow. That’s our goal and we’d like to see that happen.
- Today the entire world’s attention is on the Brussels tragedy. Unfortunately, both Russia and the U.S. know very well what it’s like to be targets of terrorist attacks. What can our nations do to meet this terrible new challenge of the 21st century?
- Well, first of all, we express our condolences deeply to all of the victims, to all of the people of Brussels, to Belgium. This is an evil force that all of us have a responsibility to join and destroy. That’s why this meeting with President Putin is so important, because if we can move together more effectively, we could be far more efficient in our ability to find the terrorists, to eliminate the threats and the plots that exist today, and really, nothing could do more to affect what happened in Syria – in Brussels than to get the United States and Russia effectively on the same page regarding Syria and to end the fighting in Syria. If we end the war in Syria, we will end the pressure on all of the region – for the refugees, for the people, the violent extremists who are using the chaos as a means of enhancing their goals. The sooner we end the chaos, the sooner we isolate the terrorists, the sooner we restore stability and peace.
- What’s on top of your agenda for your meeting with President Putin, is it Syria?
- Well, there are a number of priorities really in this discussion. We have a broad agenda with Russia, but at the top of the agenda obviously is Syria, Ukraine, countering violent extremism, and our efforts to work together, hopefully, to be able to advance the cause of peace and stability throughout the Middle East, but elsewhere also.
I mean, Russia is threatened by what is happening in Syria. You have Chechens who are fighting on the ground in Syria, several thousands of them. And we share the concern that President Putin has about the potential return of those terrorists to the motherland. Nobody wants to see that happen. We also don’t want to see those people going to Brussels, going to Paris, going to other parts of the world and blowing people up. The world faces a crisis of historic proportions where, unlike the last century where the former Soviet Union and the United States were involved together in fighting World War II, and Russia lost 30 million people – an extraordinary contribution to fight fascism. So if we could find that same cooperative commitment here to fighting violent extremism, we could have a profound impact on history together. And I think that the ways in which we can do that should be the centerpiece of our cooperative efforts.
- When it comes to Ukraine, the key word is Minsk. Here in Moscow the feeling is that little progress could be made unless the United States puts pressure on Kiev, because the ball is on Ukraine’s side. Will Washington do that?
- Well, the truth is, Mikhail, that an honest assessment would say that the ball is in both parties’ courts. Yes, Ukraine has to deal. The government in Kyiv has to do things. But they’ve done many things. They’ve passed an amnesty law. They passed a special status law. They have engaged in difficult political decisions and the Rada has passed laws, under difficult circumstances, in order to show that they are committed.
The separatists have almost never, in the whole process, stopped the firing. Now they are continuing to fire even with heavy artillery. They have not allowed the OSCE to fully be able to monitor all the way up to the international border. They have not released hostages. So there are a list of things that the separatists need to do, and we believe Russia has an ability to be able to effect those, make them happen. And yes, we will – we are engaged with the government of Kyiv.
We have been on the ground. The Vice President talked to the president just the other day. We’ve had our personnel on the ground working with the Rada. We will continue to help the government in Kyiv comply. We need Russia to continue to make certain that the separatists also comply. I believe that if both sides do their part here, we could actually see an end to the conflict – we could see elections, we could see election modalities put in place, and we could see the sanctions ultimately lifted on Russia with the full compliance with the Minsk agreement.
- You ran for president once, and I rooted for you. So let me ask you this. What do you think of the current race? Will it change America? Who will win – Hillary or Donald? And who should Russia root for, in your opinion, and why?
- I want Russia to root for democracy, okay?
- Democracy – Democratic Party or democracy?
- I want – democracy. And I want Russia to feel that whoever is president, we have certain principles and values in our foreign policy that are consistent with every administration. Now, I am not involved in the politics now. I am out of politics. So the race will continue for the next few months. Certainly, Hillary Clinton and Trump are today’s frontrunners, but you never know what’s going to happen in politics.
- Overall, for US-Russian relations what is the biggest lesson learned? What should we try to do better in the future?
- That’s a good question, Mikhail. I appreciate that question. What I have learned as Secretary of State is how important it is to not let the conventional wisdom and not let some of the media and the pundits tell us what we should do. It’s important to have a dialogue. It’s important to engage. It’s important for the leaders to map out steps that they can take that are in the interests of their people. We believe that the Russian people will do much better if we can make peace in Ukraine and make peace in Syria, and that will do a huge amount to renew the relationship between the United States and Russia so we can work together on any number of challenges that we face. But the important thing is, is you’ve got to be willing to sit down and have the dialogue and work to find where the common ground is. We removed the chemical weapons from Syria with Russia and the United States making an agreement, and we did that despite all the other issues. Now, we have put in place a cessation of hostilities where Russia and the United States co-chair the task force to implement it. Sergey Lavrov and I talk almost every week, regularly, and we are working effectively even with differences to try to find a path forward. I think that’s in the interests of the American people and the Russian people; it’s in the interests of history and the future.
- Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
- Thank you.