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John Kerry said he hoped Putin would ‘stay on track with climate’ hours before Russia attacked Ukraine

John Kerry. (Stefani Reynolds/Abaca Press/TNS)
February 24, 2022

Days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops to enter Ukraine to “protect” two separatist regions of the country — and hours before Russia began its brutal attack on Ukraine — U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry said he was concerned Russia’s military moves would distract it from combatting climate change.

In a Wednesday interview with BBC Arabic, Kerry said he was worried about Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s borders and the people who would be put at risk by Russia’s military actions but also by the “massive emissions consequences to the war.”

Kerry said Russia’s military actions would cause nations to lose focus on countering the effects of climate change.

“You’re going to lose people’s focus, you’re going to lose big country attention because they will be diverted and I think it could have a damaging impact,” Kerry said.

“Hopefully President Putin would realize that in the Northern part of his country, they used to live on 66 percent of the nation that was over frozen land,” Kerry added. “Now it’s thawing, and his infrastructure is at risk. And the people of Russia are at risk. And so I hope President Putin will help us to stay on track with respect to what we need to do for the climate.”

Kerry’s Wednesday remarks were not the first time he’s raised concern that Russian military actions in Ukraine would distract from the focus of his particular diplomatic mission, dealing with climate change.

During a visit to Cairo, Egypt on Monday, Kerry told Reuters, “I am concerned in terms of the climate efforts that a war is the last thing you need with respect to a united effort to try to deal with the climate challenge.”

“Obviously we hope that we can compartmentalize, but it’s just made that much more difficult without any question,” Kerry added.

Kerry’s comments to Reuters came on the same day Putin signed a document signifying Russia’s recognition of the sovereignty of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR or DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR or LPR), two areas in eastern Ukraine that have been held by Russian-backed separatists. Shortly after recognizing the DNR and LNR as sovereign, and therefore separate from Ukraine, Putin ordered Russian troops already gathered on Ukraine’s border to cross over under the pretense of protecting the separatist areas from a Ukrainian attack.

Kerry offered his second round of comments about the distraction the Ukraine conflict would bring to the world’s climate focus on Wednesday, just hours before Putin announced Russia would take even further military actions, moving beyond the occupied DNR and LNR regions and attacking other portions of Ukraine held by the Ukrainian government.