Ukraine Excerpts from the Daily Press Briefing

Just before I get into your questions, I just wanted to – a very brief statement at the top to say that we strongly support President Poroshenko’s call to sign an agreement on the withdrawal of heavy weapons under 100 millimeters in caliber in eastern Ukraine, and we urge all sides to implement such an agreement immediately. We welcome Ukraine’s recent steps to ensure Mariupol’s defense and stabilize Shcholkine and we commend Ukraine’s extensive efforts to implement the Minsk agreements.

We call upon Russia and the separatists it supports to cease their aggression and implement their Minsk commitments, including a full ceasefire, unfettered access to the OSCE special monitoring mission, as well as the withdrawal of foreign troops and equipment and the establishment of Ukrainian control of the international border and the release of all hostages.

That is all after, believe it or not, how many days that we were dark here that I have to —


MR TONER: Three days. So I’ll take your questions. Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, just on the – on your opening statement —

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The call – Poroshenko’s call for the withdrawal, is that not already covered under Minsk or is this something (inaudible)?

MR TONER: It’s not. The Minsk agreement, I believe, covers larger-caliber heavy weapons over 120 millimeters, which I would add that is still the separatists and the Russians have not complied with that, but this is extending that, is my understanding, to smaller-caliber weaponry as well.

QUESTION: So it’s extending it to some —

MR TONER: It says extending it – right – extending it to —

QUESTION: Extending it to something that also is not going to be complied with.

MR TONER: Point taken.


MR TONER: Yeah. I mean, point taken. We want to see —

QUESTION: From 120 to 100?

MR TONER: We want to see – yeah. We want to see 120 to 100. Yep.

QUESTION: So you want to see everything over 100 —

MR TONER: Well, let me —

QUESTION: — over 100 caliber out —


QUESTION: — but they haven’t even gotten to the point where the 120 are out yet, right?

MR TONER: Correct. They have not – they have not fully complied with the withdrawal of those heavy weapons.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it make sense before – wouldn’t it make sense to have them comply with the smaller or the – with the initial part of it before expanding it to include something that includes – to include other weapons that aren’t covered by the existing agreements that haven’t been complied with yet?

MR TONER: Well, I think, again, this is President Poroshenko’s initiative and we obviously support it because it takes – it broadens the withdrawal of heavy weaponry, which is something we obviously support.


MR TONER: But you’re right in the sense that all sides need to at least comply with the initial Minsk agreement.

QUESTION: Have both sides – is it both sides that are still in violation of the 120 caliber?

MR TONER: I know that on the Russian separatist side that’s the case. I would have to get an update whether the Ukrainians have fully complied with that.

QUESTION: Just to clarify —

MR TONER: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: — you say 100. That’s artillery, right? You’re talking about artillery?

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: I mean, that’s not like, I mean, machine guns or anything like that.

MR TONER: My understanding is it would qualify as heavy weaponry, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. So anything that – like howitzers or whatever artillery?

MR TONER: Right, right.

QUESTION: Okay, thanks.

MR TONER: Please.

QUESTION: On Ukraine?

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: Austrian police have stopped nine U.S. soldiers at the Vienna airport with M16 assault rifles in their bags on their way to Ukraine. Do you know why they were stopped?

MR TONER: I don’t. And frankly, I don’t have much information. I just saw the press reports, so I’d refer you to DOD on that one.

QUESTION: Well, we, in fact, confirmed with the prosecutor’s office in Austria that there is, in fact, an investigation and that the report about the detention is correct. And Austrian authorities said they informed the U.S. embassy in Austria. Has the embassy informed the State Department or —

MR TONER: I’m sure we’ve been – as we normally do, we’re in touch with our embassies. I haven’t seen any follow-up on that. Obviously, these are official Americans. I’m not sure in what capacity they were traveling. I just don’t have any more details for you, but I would probably refer you – your best bet is the Department of Defense for more information.

QUESTION: But that – U.S. citizens detained, they’re active duty, so does that – that would – does that concern the State Department?

MR TONER: They’re active – I don’t even – I, again, I don’t have – I apologize, I just don’t have the details for you. Again, I would refer you to the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: If I come back tomorrow, will you have details?

MR TONER: I may, but again, you can contact the Department of Defense for more details since they’re – if they are active military, they would have that.

QUESTION: Change topics?

QUESTION: But it’s not just active military but also U.S. citizens, right, detained, and they —

MR TONER: Correct.

QUESTION: They – the authorities have informed the State Department – the embassy, which is effectively – so you would have a comment on that, wouldn’t you?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t have the details of this. I’ve seen press reports. I don’t have any more information, except for what you just me that they have informed our embassy. I just don’t have anything else to say about it.


QUESTION: As I understand, this is just in from the Treasury. The Office of Foreign Assets Control has updated sanctions against Russia. They’ve added new individuals, new companies. What events on the ground in Ukraine have warranted such an update of sanctions?

MR TONER: So this is – this was a – and I would urge you to, obviously, to talk to the Department of Treasury for in-the-weeds details, but – to ensure the efficacy of existing sanctions, the Department of Treasury designated and identified a range of individuals and entities under four executive orders related to Russia and Ukraine. But let’s – today’s action is not – there’s not new sanctions. This is designed to strengthen existing sanctions, counter attempts to circumvent our sanctions, and further align U.S. measures with those of our international partners – obviously, in Europe – and to provide additional information to assist the private sector with sanctions compliance. And just —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) related to specific events on the ground, changes, anything?

MR TONER: So what we’re – we’re actually strengthening the existing sanctions regime – again, because without these kinds of – I call them maintenance actions, the impact of these sanctions can erode over time. Sanctioned entities can find ways to work around restrictions, et cetera. So this is a fairly common practice with sanctions.

But let’s be clear: These sanctions are related to compliance with the Minsk agreements and full implementation of the Minsk agreements. So once the Minsk agreements are fully implemented, we can talk about those sanctions being rolled back.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the sanctions very briefly?

MR TONER: Yeah, please. Yeah.

QUESTION: About – it’s about the timing. My question is about the timing. Why now? I mean, new names, new companies added to the list.

MR TONER: Again, no specific date or anniversary. It’s just we do this all the time as part —

QUESTION: This comes – yes.

MR TONER: Sorry, I don’t mean to —

QUESTION: — a day after Russia’s vote at the UN Security Council. Could it be in any way related?

MR TONER: No, this is – I’m not – it’s just a way to strengthen existing sanctions. It is unrelated to any other things other than the fact that we constantly look at this, and frankly Treasury but also in working in conjunction with our sanctions people here at the State Department, to look at ways we need to strengthen these sanctions in order for them to continue to have the maximum impact.

QUESTION: What is the regularity of such updates?

MR TONER: I don’t know. I don’t have a – I don’t have that level of detail. It’s just something we do periodically. But I don’t have – I can’t say we do it every three months or six months. I just know that to understand sanctions, there’s workarounds, there’s – in order to keep them as strong as possible, you constantly need to freshen them and make sure that the gaps are filled.