National Security Advisor, Ambassador John Bolton’s Press Conference
Ukrainian Crisis Media Center (UCMC)
August 24, 2018, 1400 Kyiv Time
Ambassador Bolton’s Opening Statement:
Well, thank you very much, it’s a great pleasure to be here on Independence Day. We thought it was important that the United States be represented again this year by someone from Washington, and, purely by coincidence, yesterday I was in Geneva, meeting with my Russian counterpart, Nikolay Patrushev, and so it was quite convenient to be able to come from that meeting in Geneva to be here in Kyiv.
And it was a great experience, I thought the independence celebration was very meaningful — as I said to a number of Ukrainian officials, it’s not every year that you get to celebrate two independence days, so that was my luck this year, July the 4th and August the 24th.
The president and I, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the National Security Advisor, a number of other Ukrainian officials, during the course of the morning and then after the ceremony, had a chance to discuss the full range of issues involving regional security and Ukraine.
Talking about the meeting in Helsinki between President Trump and President Putin and the subsequent discussions that we’ve had with Patrushev, as I mentioned, and others, and looking forward to further discussions on a number of key issues, I underlined what President Trump said in Helsinki to President Putin, that it was the position of the United States that we did not recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea. Most of you probably know that that was reaffirmed by a public declaration from the State Department a few weeks ago. Our view and our policy remain as they have been. And I think the dangers of leaving the circumstances as they are today in Donbas and Crimea were underlined tragically yesterday with the attack on Ukrainian forces that left four dead and seven wounded, and so I just want to express the condolences of the United States to the people and government of Ukraine for that particular tragedy. It underlines why we need the Minsk process to work, and we need to get this resolved as soon as possible.
With that why don’t I pause and I’d be happy to answer questions.
Question from Ruslan of the Ukrainian service of Voice of America
Journalist: Thank you so much, Ruslan Deinychenko, Ukrainian service of Voice of America. Mr. Bolton, Russian government officials always publicly deny that their troops are in Donbas, and they say, ‘Where is the evidence? Can you prove it?” First of all, if, I wonder if your intelligence can prove it, and if you have evidence, and second, how can you discuss with Russian government officials withdrawing of Russian troops if they, if they are not there, if they deny. Thank you so much.
Ambassador Bolton: Well, you can have discussions with other countries on issues that they deny exist actually very easily. We do it all the time. And you can treat it as a hypothetical about how to resolve the problem. The very fact that the Russian side has been engaged in extensive conversation about the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force in the Donbas is at least an implicit recognition by Russia itself that there’s a problem that they’re a part of. But, you know, it’s also interesting — in Syria recently, as I think Secretary Pompeo mentioned in testimony before Congress some weeks back, there was a risk posed to American forces there, American forces involved in eliminating the ISIS territorial caliphate, and an American position was threatened by foreign troops, and they were warned away several times, they didn’t move away, so we attacked their position with air power and killed several hundred of them. And it turned out that they were all former volunteers from the Donbas. Just imagine that, that they turned up in Syria.
Question from News One
Journalist: Mr. Bolton, Nasdiia Petrunyok of News One, it was very great to see you at the celebration of our Independence Day, and after that you had some meetings with the President and Prime Minister of Ukraine. So my question lies in the sphere of our communication with NATO and perspectives [prospects] of Ukraine in the association because we have got a lot of restrictions for Ukraine to become a partner of NATO or a member of NATO. Generally, do we have some steps forward in this process?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, look, NATO has been considering Ukraine’s role for quite some time. The Bush administration – it was after I left the Bush administration – but the Bush administration in April of 2008 proposed putting Ukraine and some other countries on the fast track to NATO membership. That was not agreed to by some of our European colleagues, unfortunately, but now, I think, in this administration in particular, there’s active consideration given to Ukraine’s interest. A number of steps have been taken. A lot depends on Ukraine and fulfilling the requirements necessary to meet all of the military and political tests to be a NATO member, but I would say there’s progress, and this is an important partnership. Certainly from a bilateral point of view, the United States and Ukraine have a very close relationship, and I think what NATO has demonstrated over its entire history is that it has been a stabilizing, defensive force in Europe that has prevented aggression and contributed to peace and security in the North Atlantic area. Recognizing that NATO is a defensive alliance, and always has been, these are important aspects that we’re considering as Ukraine continues to make progress and continues to express its interest, so I’d say progress is being made; there’s still more to accomplish.
Question from Bloomberg
Journalist: Thank you very much, my name is Daryna Krasnolutska and I cover news for Bloomberg here. I have actually two questions for you. One is, what assurance did you bring to Ukraine that the U.S. will stand by its sanctions against Russia, and did you have a chance to discuss Russian meddling into the elections? Obviously you have the experience of that, and did you discuss with Ukrainian authorities whether you will provide any help here as elections loom here, and the other question is did you discuss –
Ambassador Bolton: Well, that’s three, that’s two so far. Let’s —
Journalist: Sorry, one is about Ukraine, the other is about your yesterday’s meeting with Patrushev?
Ambassador Bolton: Let’s hold Patrushev for a minute before I forget the first two. In terms of U.S. sanctions against Russia, in fact, the sanctions remain in force and will remain in force until there’s the required change in Russian behavior. In fact, we have brought new sanctions into effect just within the past several weeks, one in connection with, actually, sanctions imposed on North Korea against illicit trade or certain business transactions with North Korea, sanctions against one Russian institution. We’ve imposed sanctions against Russian individuals and institutions in connection with the attack in Salisbury, England, against the Skripals with illegal chemical weapons. Under the statute of the trigger of those sanctions, we are now obliged to conduct the 90-day review to see if, in this case, the perpetrator, in this case Russia, discontinues chemical weapons program and satisfies international inspectors that it’s done so. Russia may do that. But in the event that it doesn’t, we’re looking at what we’re required to do, what our obligations are, and what the scope of that decision may be. We’re at a little bit less than 90 days right now. The point is, is that these sanctions are triggered by American law and regulation, and we put them in place accordingly.
In terms of interference in the elections, the 2018 elections this November in the United States, the 2019 elections here in Ukraine — President Poroshenko and I, and his colleagues and I discussed this issue; we talked about it in several different meetings. I described some of the things that we have said to the Russians about why they shouldn’t engage in election meddling in the United States and certainly by inference in Ukraine and elsewhere. We discussed publicly in Washington some of the steps that we’re taking to prevent meddling by Russia and other countries — China, Iran, North Korea — in America’s elections this November. And President Poroshenko and I agreed that we would look at steps that the United States and Ukraine could take to look at the election meddling here. We can do that through normal law enforcement channels and through other mechanisms. It is a threat that a number of countries in the West have seen; we’ve made it clear what our position is, and so we’re prepared to work with the Government of Ukraine to prevent such meddling here. And then your third question was?
Journalist: Thank you very much. About your yesterday’s meeting with Patrushev? Did you by any chance discuss Mueller’s probe?
Ambassador Bolton: Did we discuss?
Journalist: Mueller’s probe? The prosecutors against Russia? Robert Mueller?
Ambassador Bolton: Well, what we talked about there specifically, on the various indictments that have been returned against Russian citizens, 12 of them being GRU agents in the most recent indictment, was what this meant for U.S.-Russian relations. You know, in the United States, I’m an alumnus of the U.S. Department of Justice, so I know very well what the requirements are for federal prosecutors to seek an indictment from a grand jury for a violation of criminal law. They have to be ready to say that they believe it’s substantially more likely than not that they can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as to every element of each criminal offense charge. It’s an extraordinarily high standard, so when an indictment is brought, it’s not like in some countries where it’s just a casual sort of thing, it’s a very, very difficult standard to meet. So, our view is that these indictments are serious, and they reflect substantial evidence about Russian meddling in the past. Now these investigations are continuing, and we’ve had – we’ve made clear, I think, in a number of public forums what we’re doing, with respect to prior Russian meddling, but even more important are the points that we’ve made repeatedly, the President’s made, I’ve made them, Secretary Pompeo has made them, other officials in the U.S. government have made them – we do not accept Russian meddling in our election, and we’re doing what we can to prevent it. And that means not simply defensive methods, but other steps to protect the integrity of our elections so the American people can have faith in our constitutional process.
Question from Current Time
Journalist: Thank you very much. Volodymyr Runets, Current Time TV. Mr. Bolton, during the NATO Summit in Brussels, President Trump was very clear about Nord Stream II and he made these made statements. Today, Premier Hroysman says that you two obviously have been discussing this issue. What will the United States, and probably Ukraine do, to prevent this project from being implemented. Thank you.
Ambassador Bolton: Well, I would say the Prime Minister and I had a very interesting discussion on the subject of energy and its – the role it plays in Ukraine and what we can do looking forward. I think one of the points that President Trump has emphasized when he speaks about his concerns regarding Nord Stream II is not just the economic significance of Europe – western, central, and eastern, all of Europe – it’s not just the economic significance of being heavily dependent on Russia for the supply natural gas and petroleum, but the strategic significance of it, as well. That obviously when you’re tied, effectively, to a monopoly supplier of critically needed energy like natural gas, there are more than economic costs that can be imposed. So, that’s one of the concerns that President Trump has about Nord Stream II. Why Europe would voluntarily tie itself even more to Russian energy supplies.
So, one alternative there for Ukraine, and for other countries, is to look for other sources of natural gas. And I told the Prime Minister when Prime Minister Conte of Italy visited President Trump recently in the White House, they talked about what we thought – it was advantageous for Italy to bring the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline into Italy. It will be supplied by natural gas from Azerbaijan. There are other potential sources of natural gas as well. From the major gas fields found in the eastern Mediterranean off Israel, from America’s capacity to export liquefied natural gas, and a variety of other possible sources, including right here in Ukraine, which does produce natural gas roughly equivalent, as I understand it, to the annual household consumption of natural gas. You know, there could be American or other international energy companies that might find it attractive to explore and drill here in Ukraine. So obviously, that’s a possibility and it’s just important from a policy point of view for a Ukrainian government to look at these alternative sources so that they’re not dependent on Russia. Not dependent particularly if Nord Stream II goes through and the pipeline that Russia now uses through Ukraine leaves Ukraine and others at risk that the Russians will not supply adequate gas, or even if they commit to do that, and they don’t live up to their commitments.
Question from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL): Mr. Bolton, hi, my name is Popova, Radio Liberty. I would like to ask you what do you think about the idea of exchanging territories between Kosovo and Serbia, and how process goes?
Ambassador Bolton: Yeah, well. The issue of finally bringing stability to the Balkans is a very important issue. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, there have been a lot of lingering tensions. A lot of risks. But there’s also been progress recently. I think the agreement between Greece and the country we will now call Northern Macedonia solves a significant question: the name of what that country would be. A thing known as FYROM – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – was never an ideal solution. It may sound like the resolution of something like a name is a small point, but obviously it was one that held those two governments up for a considerable period of time and I think both of them are to be congratulated for finding a resolution and now bring stability and certainty to that part of the region. And that sort of stability is always an inducement to foreign investment, which helps the economy grow and helps the average person.
So, there are other conflicts. But probably the remaining dispute between Serbia and Kosovo is one of the most significant outstanding. A lot of people have tried to mediate it. Those efforts have failed, but I think there are new signs that both governments are quietly maybe willing to negotiate on this. And our policy, the U.S. policy, is that if the two parties can work it out between themselves and reach agreement, we don’t exclude territorial adjustments. It’s really not for us to say. It’s obviously a difficult issue. If it weren’t, it would have been resolved a long time ago. So we would, we would not stand in the way. And I don’t think anybody in Europe would stand in the way if the two parties to the dispute reached a mutually satisfactory settlement. And I think that they’re both to be congratulated for the early, tentative discussions that they’ve had. And we’re ready from a distance or up close, to help out. We don’t think we are going to solve it for them. We think they’ve got to solve it for themselves. I think this is one that falls in the category what the former Secretary of State James Baker once said, referring to the Middle East, he said we can’t want peace more than the parties themselves. But if Kosovo and Serbia reach an agreement that is satisfactory to both of them then we would unquestionably support it.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Thank you Mr. Bolton.
Ambassador Bolton: Okay, thank you very much.