Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning that Israel might descend into apartheid-like conditions if it fails to reach a peace deal with the millions of Palestinians under its control got all the attention on Tuesday morning. But while Republican in Congress thundered from podiums demanding his resignation for undermining a relationship with a strategic ally, a far more important set of Kerry’s remarks received less attention.
Addressing a meeting of the Trilateral Commission last week, it appears that the Secretary of State’s off-the-record comments were recorded. A copy of the recording found its way into the hands of Daily Beast reporters Josh Rogin and Eli Lake, who reported among other things that Kerry revealed that the U.S. has hard evidence showing that Russia is in direct control of the anti-government protesters that have been taking over buildings and towns in eastern Ukraine.
In the private meeting, Kerry also said Russia’s actions amount to “thuggism” and behavior appropriate to a “rogue state.” His comments also reveal a deep degree of distrust between the U.S. State Department and its chief Russian point of contact, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
U.S. intelligence services have “taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow….We know exactly who’s giving those orders, we know where they are coming from,” Kerry reportedly said.
He blasted Russia’s continued claims that the protests are organic manifestations of the will of the people, saying, “This is insulting to everybody’s intelligence, let alone to our notions about how we ought to be behaving in the 21st century. It’s thuggism, it’s rogue state-ism. It’s the worst order of behavior.”
Furthermore, Kerry made it clear that he does not trust Lavrov to tell him the truth. He said Russia has utterly refused to honor its promise to implement an agreement struck in Geneva earlier this month intended to deescalate the conflict by requiring pro-Russia separatist groups to surrender the buildings they have occupied and to give up stolen weapons.
“Right now there is not a negotiation; there is a confrontation. I’m sad to report I’ve never seen such a complete, miserable, unaccountable, disgraceful walk away from a set of promises and understandings than what has taken place,” Kerry is quoted saying in the Daily Beast story. “I’ve had six conversations with Lavrov in the last weeks. The last one was Kafka-esque, it was another planet; it was just bizarre. Nobody is better at telling you that red is blue and black is white…. That’s what we are dealing with.”
Kerry said that he believes the limited sanctions already imposed on Russia have demonstrated to President Vladimir Putin that an actual Russian invasion of Ukraine would be economically disastrous.
“I’m not convinced he’s made the decision to cross the line with his troops because then it’s absolutely no question that its full force sector sanctions, energy, banking, finance, technology, arms, you name it, they are all on the table,” Kerry said.
“There’s a hardcore group around President Putin…and they are pushing him forward, and then you’ve got a group of economic people that are urging caution,” said Kerry. “Already I know that people close to him aren’t happy.”
The State Department did not immediately return a request for comment on this story.
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