KIEV, Ukraine - In a somber show of U.S. support for Ukraine's new leadership, Secretary of State John Kerry walked the streets today where more than 80 anti-government protesters were killed last month, and promised beseeching crowds that American aid is on the way.
Kerry met in Ukraine with the new government's acting president, prime minister, foreign minister and top parliamentary officials. Speaking to reporters afterward, Kerry urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to stand down and said the U.S. is looking for ways to de-escalate the mounting tensions.
"It is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further," Kerry said. "It is not appropriate to invade a country, and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve. That is not 21st-century, G-8, major nation behavior."
Kerry made a pointed distinction between the Ukrainian government and Putin's.
"The contrast really could not be clearer: determined Ukrainians demonstrating strength through unity, and the Russian government out of excuses, hiding its hand behind falsehoods, intimidation and provocations. In the hearts of Ukrainians and the eyes of the world, there is nothing strong about what Russia is doing."
He said the penalties against Russia are "not something we are seeking to do, it is something Russia is pushing us to do."
President Barack Obama, visiting a Washington, D.C., school to highlight his new budget, said his administration's push to punish Putin put the U.S. on "the side of history that, I think, more and more people around the world deeply believe in, the principle that a sovereign people, an independent people, are able to make their own decisions about their own lives. And, you know, Mr. Putin can throw a lot of words out there, but the facts on the ground indicate that right now he is not abiding by that principle."
Speaking at a fundraiser later today, Obama said it might be possible for the situation to "de-escalate in the next several days and weeks."