Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Russian media on Thursday that former Secretary of State John Kerry approved of Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula, believing the residents were overwhelmingly in favor of “reuniting” with Russia.
According to Lavrov, Kerry’s main criticism of Russia’s actions was to suggest holding another referendum to reinforce the legitimacy of annexation.
Russia’s RT.com summarized Lavrov’s comments to the RBK news service:
I won’t reveal a big secret if I say that John Kerry was telling me in April 2014: ‘Everything is clear. Everything happened the way the Crimean people wanted. But, for form’s sake, hold another one [referendum],” Lavrov stated.
Moscow dismissed the idea as unnecessary.
“If you already understand everything, why make people vote again?” Lavrov said, explaining the Kremlin’s reasoning.
Lavrov, who is one of the longest-serving senior Russian officials, in office since 2004, said he hopes his revelations won’t spoil his relationship with Kerry.
“I hope John will not take offense at me,” Lavrov said, adding that Kerry, in his own memoir, also spilled some of their tête-à-tête conversations. Lavrov and Kerry were on good terms during the latter’s tenure as secretary of state from 2013 to 2017 – their rapport was credited in sealing the 2013 deal on destroying Syrian chemical weapons.
RT.com speculated Kerry is “unlikely to admit he ever recognized the Crimean referendum” because the Obama administration considered the referendum “illegal” and an “illegitimate move by the Russians to annex Crimea,” as President Barack Obama put it. The U.S. and European Union imposed punitive sanctions on Russia after the referendum.
As RT acknowledged, Secretary of State Kerry was publicly critical of the Crimean referendum, calling it “contrived” and “bogus.”
“You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text,” Kerry said of Russian behavior in the region in 2014.
“Secretary Kerry reaffirmed that the United States considers the ongoing referendum illegal under Ukrainian law and restated that the United States will not recognize the outcome,” the U.S. State Department said after Kerry discussed the referendum with Lavrov.
The State Department said Kerry’s message to Lavrov was that the Crimean referendum was completely illegitimate, it would never be recognized by the international community, and Russia would pay a steep price for using it as an excuse to annex Crimea.
Kerry told Congress his warning to Lavrov was: “It can get ugly fast if the wrong choices are made, and it can get ugly in multiple directions.”
The Moscow Times somewhat tauntingly noted late Thursday morning that Kerry is currently appearing in public in Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day but “has not yet commented on Lavrov’s claims.”