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John Kerry's response to Ukraine invasion: 'I hope President Putin will help us to stay on track with respect to what we need to do for the climate'

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Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

John Kerry cautioned Wednesday that Russia's war on Ukraine will distract the international community from one of the Biden administration's top national security priorities: climate change.

The former secretary of state and current U.S. special envoy for climate was discussing Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine during an interview on BBC Arabic when he said the war will have "massive emissions consequences" for the entire world.

"I'm very concerned about, I'm concerned about Ukraine because of the people of Ukraine and because of the principles that are at risk, in terms of international law and trying to change boundaries of international law by force. I thought we lived in a world that had said no to that kind of activity. And I hope diplomacy will win," Kerry said.

"But massive emissions consequences to the war but equally importantly, 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," he continued. "So, you know hopefully President Putin would realize that in the Northern part of his country, they used to live on 66% of the nation that was over frozen land.

"Now it's thawing, and his infrastructure is at risk. And the people of Russia are at risk," he added. "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 comments echo comments he made in an interview Sunday, when he told GZERO Media's Ian Bremmer that a Russian invasion of Ukraine will have a "monumental impact on the ability and willingness of people to do what's necessary" to fight climate change.

"Ukraine, one way or the other — we're going to resolve it, ultimately, over X number of years. But the climate crisis remains existential, just as it was before the Ukraine crisis came up," Kerry said, before the invasion began.

Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its sovereign neighbor Ukraine Thursday with ground, air, and naval forces in the largest military campaign by one state against another in Europe since World War II.

Ukrainian cities have been attacked with shelling and airstrikes. Civilians have either attempted to flee or made makeshift bomb shelters in subway systems. Reports indicate there are hundreds of casualties, although the exact numbers of injured or dead remain unknown in this chaotic, ongoing war.

Russia's Defense Ministry claimed Thursday that the Russian army destroyed 74 Ukrainian military facilities, including 11 airbases, just hours after launching the invasion.

Ukraine said Thursday morning that at least 40 soldiers and 10 civilians had been killed in the conflict.

In the context of widespread suffering in Ukraine caused by Russian President Vladimir Putin's war, Republican lawmakers blasted Kerry's statements about climate change.

"Climate change religious zealot John Kerry is worried that the first major ground war in Europe in 80 years & #Putin’s threat of nuclear consequences is getting more attention than his climate agenda," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted.

"As Sec. of State, John Kerry did nothing to stop the invasion of Crimea, all for an unenforceable agreement to fight the air. Now that his chickens came home to roost, he’s more worried about emissions from war & distraction from the climate than the slaughter in #Ukraine," said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.).

"Putin is killing innocent Ukrainians and John Kerry is asking him to stay 'on track' for the climate? Despicable," Rep. August Pfluger (R-Fla.) remarked. "Russian energy is some of the worst for the environment. The Biden Admin climate religion has made our world less safe."

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