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Kerry sees trend of governments trampling rights

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 03:15 a.m. HST, Feb 01, 2014

MUNICH, Germany » While acknowledging "unsavory elements" among Ukraine's street protesters, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday said the former Soviet state should be free to align with Europe if it wishes and not feel coerced by more powerful neighbors like Russia.

"Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine," Kerry told the Munich Security Conference. "While there are unsavory elements in the streets in any chaotic situation, the vast majority of Ukrainians want to live freely in a safe, prosperous country."

Kerry was meeting later Saturday with members of the Ukrainian opposition.

"They are fighting for the right to associate with partners who will help them realize their aspirations -- and they have decided that means their futures do not have to lie with one country alone -- and certainly not coerced," he said. "The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight."

The crisis in Ukraine began after President Victor Yanukovych backed out of an agreement to deepen ties with the European Union in favor of getting closer to Russia. Protests quickly came to encompass a wide array of discontent over corruption, heavy-handed police and other grievances.

In Kerry's audience at the conference was a wide range of U.S., European and other diplomats, lawmakers, military officers, think tank and academic specialists and former government officials such as Henry Kissinger.

Without directly criticizing Russia, which has accused the West of fanning the flames of unrest in Ukraine, Kerry said, "Russia and other countries" should not view the European integration of their neighbors as a process that hurts them.

"In fact, the lesson of the last half-century is that we can accomplish much more when the United States, Russia, and Europe work together. But make no mistake: We will continue to speak out when our interests or values are undercut by any country in the region," Kerry said.

Kerry cast his remarks about Ukraine in the broader context of a "disturbing trend" toward despotism among governments in central and eastern Europe.

"The aspirations of citizens are once again being trampled beneath corrupt, oligarchic interests -- interests that use money to stifle political opposition and dissent, to buy politicians and media outlets, and to weaken judicial independence and the rights of non-governmental organizations," he said.

Addressing the conference before Kerry took the stage, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov slammed Western support for Ukraine's opposition, suggesting it was leading to the escalation of violence.

"Why don't we hear condemnations of those who seize and hold government buildings, burn, torch the police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?" Lavrov asked.

Kerry made his remarks alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who did not directly mention Ukraine but echoed Kerry's call for a "trans-Atlantic renaissance," or redoubling of efforts to improve all manner of cooperation between the United States and its European allies in NATO.

A subtle but significant sub-theme of Hagel's speech was his assertion that he and Kerry are intent on giving relatively more weight to diplomacy in U.S. foreign affairs and less to the military.

This is a reference to what some have called Washington's militarization of foreign policy in the years following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the two American wars that followed.

Hagel said this means advancing a "renewed and enhanced era of partnership" with allies, including those in Europe who were troubled by what they saw as unwise and even arrogant U.S. use of force in Iraq. It also means working mostly behind the scenes in troubled areas of the globe, including in Africa, to help unstable countries defend their lands without direct U.S. military intervention.

"The United States will engage European allies to collaborate more closely, especially in helping build the capabilities of other global partners," Hagel said.

Europeans also have come to question the depth of America's defense commitment in light of the Obama administration's promised but limited shift toward the Pacific.

Hagel offered assurances that the administration is determined to strengthen its ties to Europe and not retreat from the continent.

To underscore that commitment, Hagel spent parts of two days in Poland prior to arriving in Munich on Friday. In Warsaw he met with top government officials and assured them that the U.S. will stand behind its fellow NATO member states.

Kerry, in his remarks, also mentioned briefly the Obama administration's frustration with a slowdown in the Syrian government's fulfillment of its commitment to remove all of its chemical weapons in order to permit their destruction.

"Together, we must all keep the pressure on Assad to stop making excuses and fulfill Syria's promises, obligations and UN deadlines," he said, referring to President Bashar Assad.

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palani wrote:
Kerry cast his remarks about Ukraine in the broader context of a "disturbing trend" toward despotism among governments in central and eastern Europe.

True, but despite his position as an administration insider, the Secretary of State seems oblivious to our own country's "disturbing trend toward despotism".

on February 1,2014 | 03:46AM
typroctor wrote:
Very good Palani. We are losing our rights and privacy little by little. It's the story of the frog in a pot of water, not realizing the water was getting warmer and warmer.
on February 1,2014 | 05:09AM
pohaku2 wrote:
Like what? Give examples.
on February 1,2014 | 07:16AM
eoe wrote:
Exactly. If tyranny and oppression are a scale of 1 to 100 with 100 being Joseph Stalin's Russia, America is hovering at about a 4 or 5, pretty much in line with the rest of the western democracies. But if you watch Fox news, you believe we are a 95. What a joke.
on February 1,2014 | 07:45AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
eoe-Fox News is not #1 by being a joke.
on February 1,2014 | 11:05AM
SteveToo wrote:
snooping in on text messages, eMail, and phone calls.
on February 1,2014 | 08:21AM
palani wrote:
Add using the IRS and DOJ to target political "enemies" and circumventing the constitution with executive fiats to the list apparently unknown to the sycophants and lemmings.
on February 1,2014 | 05:07PM
serious wrote:
Let's start with you want to get an airline ticket--gotta show ID--want to vote--go right ahead. But when I saw the headline, I though Kerry was talking about HIS country--AND WHY THE HECK SHOULD OUR COUTRY BE MEDDLING IN OTHER COUNTRIES BUSINESS??????
on February 1,2014 | 11:05AM
stevedryden wrote:
Kerry doesn't have to look far, as the US has become a Fascist state run by corporations. Regular folks have no rights or voice now - and we are far removed from democracy, The American Dream has faded into the past now along with other popular fairytales. ....
on February 1,2014 | 05:55AM
palani wrote:
Fascism is national socialism (Nationalsozialismus), so your characterization is not too far off the mark.
on February 1,2014 | 05:11PM
Mike174 wrote:
Ha! And I thought the article was about the USA...Should be.
on February 1,2014 | 05:58AM
eoe wrote:
Really why, I didn't notice protesters being gunned down in the streets here but probably I am just brainwashed.
on February 1,2014 | 07:46AM
serious wrote:
Mike, I agree, our President says it's safe to attend the Olympics in Russia---the State Department says NO, and the Defense Department is sending destroyers to protect US citizens. We need ADULT SUPERVISION!!!
on February 1,2014 | 11:08AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Maybe he should look at himself and the administration he is a part of before criticizing others. When others do this they are called a hypocrite. Its dangerous to have a hypocrite in such a powerful political position.
on February 1,2014 | 07:25AM
entrkn wrote:
"The aspirations of citizens are once again being trampled beneath corrupt, oligarchic interests -- interests that use money to stifle political opposition and dissent, to buy politicians and media outlets, and to weaken judicial independence and the rights of non-governmental organizations," Kerry said. Was he talking about the Ukraine or the United States?
on February 1,2014 | 09:27AM
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