(AP) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday decried what he calls a "disturbing trend" of governments in central and eastern Europe including in Ukraine trampling the ambitions of ordinary people.
"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.
Speaking at an international security conference at which the crisis in Ukraine was a prominent topic, Kerry said, "We see a disturbing trend in too many parts of Central and Eastern Europe, and the Balkans."
Kerry said the crisis in Ukraine is about ordinary people fighting for the right to associate with the European Union. And he said Ukrainians have decided their futures don't have to lie with one country an allusion to Russia.
"Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine. While there are unsavory elements in any chaotic situation, the vast majority of Ukrainians want to live freely in a safe, prosperous country," Kerry said.
Addressing the conference before Kerry took the stage, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov slammed Western support of 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 was scheduled to meet later Saturday in Munich with Ukrainian opposition members.
The crisis began after President Victor Yanukovych backed out of an agreement to deepen ties with the EU in favor of getting closer to Russia. Protests quickly came to encompass a wide array of discontent over corruption and other grievances.
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.