Kerry Warns Russia On Ukraine As Death Toll Nears 6,000

GENEVA, Switzerland -- Secretary of State John Kerry said cease-fire violations have continued in Ukraine and renewed warnings of additional sanctions against Russia on Monday, as the death toll from more than 10 months of fighting was set to pass 6,000.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, shakes hand with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before a meeting on Monday in Geneva.

After meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov here, Mr. Kerry said he was hopeful Russia and the separatists it backs in eastern Ukraine will immediately begin to fully implement the truce negotiated last month.

Mr. Kerry warned that Russia will face additional economic sanctions if cease-fire violations continue and if international monitors aren’t given free access in Ukraine.

He also raised concerns about the Russia-backed separatists’ control of Debaltseve—seized after the cease-fire took effect two weeks ago—and continued fighting near the vulnerable, government-held port of Mariupol.

“There’s been a kind of cherry-picking, a piecemeal selectivity, to the application” of the agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus, Mr. Kerry said.

“As we all know shooting, shelling has still been going on. There is not yet a full cease-fire.” Mr. Kerry said Lavrov told him that Russia is “intent on seeing to it that the accord, that the agreements are in fact implemented.”

Lavrov said “tangible results” had been seen.

“The cease-fire has been consolidated, heavy weapons are being withdrawn,” he said.

He described the meeting as nonconfrontational, the Interfax news agency reported.

He said he asked Mr. Kerry “to use his influence, the influence of Washington on Kiev, so that the Ukrainian side fully implements” the deal.

Lavrov also accused Kiev of wanting to “find a pretext to delay or put off fulfilling the other elements of the agreement,” referring to the political concessions to separatists that are mandated in the deal.

He reiterated Moscow’s stance that efforts to provide weapons to Ukraine—under consideration in Washington—would disrupt the peace process.

In its latest report, the U.N.’s human rights office in Geneva said nearly 6,000 people had been killed in eastern Ukraine from mid-April 2014 to Feb. 28.

Because reports covering the Donetsk airport and Debaltseve—both areas of heavy fighting last month—have yet to be completed, the death toll “has almost certainly exceeded 6,000,” it said.

“All aspects of people’s lives are being negatively affected, and the situation is increasingly untenable for the local inhabitants,” U.N. High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.

“Many have been trapped in conflict zones, forced to shelter in basements, with hardly any drinking water, food, heating, electricity or basic medical supplies.”

Kerry and Lavrov met Monday in a luxury hotel alongside Lake Geneva ahead of a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council, holding discussions on Ukraine, the Iran nuclear negotiations and Syria.

They also briefly met in between their speeches to the council.

Since the new cease-fire was signed Feb. 12, the U.S. has called on Moscow to honor its commitments and pull back weapons and troops from conflict zones.

“Our hope is, indeed, that this will prove to be a road to further de-escalation rather than a road to disappointment, potential deception, and further violence,” Mr. Kerry said.

“But that’s going to have to play out, obviously, over the course of the next few days. So I’m very hopeful that it will, in fact, be the start of a change which would be an improvement for everybody.”

Mr. Kerry also reiterated the Obama administration’s call for a transparent and credible investigation into the death of prominent Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov.

Officials traveling with Mr. Kerry said they would let the investigation play out before judging its outcome.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would oversee the investigation personally.

Kerry and Lavrov exchanged a stiff handshake before they entered the bilateral meeting Monday morning.

Neither smiled as they posed for photos, though Lavrov smiled briefly afterward.

The face-to-face meeting was the first since Mr. Kerry used testimony before Congress last week to accuse Russian officials of lying about their involvement in Ukraine.

Officials traveling with Mr. Kerry said Mr. Kerry was referencing public statements and media reports.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday dismissed Mr. Kerry’s accusation as false and “beyond the bounds of diplomatic ethics.”

Kerry and Lavrov last met on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in early February.

Source: The Wall Street Journal