WASHINGTON, DC -- Vladimir Putin is lying when he denies not having Russian troops in Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday.
Kerry was succinct when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked at a Senate hearing if "you agree with me that when the Russians say there are no Russian troops in Ukraine they're lying?"
"Yes," said Kerry.
"Why" Graham then asked.
"You're asking me?" responded Kerry as he nearly broke into a laugh.
Kerry suggested that he couldn't read Putin's mind but saw the deceit as part of an extensive Russian propaganda campaign in a "tricky, tenuous, even grim" situation in Ukraine.
Graham, a foreign policy hawk, largely focused on his own suspicions of Iran, with whom the U.S. is negotiating over its controversial nuclear program.
He got Kerry to agree that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad was a "puppet" of Iran.
"Pretty much," Kerry said.
He also concurred that Iran was fomenting unrest in Yemen but would not speak publicly about Graham's contention that Iran was "activity trying to build" an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM.
On ISIS, Kerry parted ways with Graham, who says he does not believe the group is being meaningfully checked in Syria.
"I don't agree," Kerry said.
Kerry's appearance was the first of two before Senate panels Tuesday and in part reflected a push for more dollars to deal with a flurry of predicaments worldwide.
It does no good, he said, to give Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko standing ovations, as Congress did in September, but not then "stand up and deliver" with substantially more aid.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) clearly agreed, bashed Russia for violating a recent ceasefire agreement and, once again, "promising but not delivering."
"This was an invasion of a sovereign country by Russia and they continue to seize territory," said Durbin, who wondered what the United States' "Plan B" might be.
Kerry said there was such a plan but strongly intimated it would be an escalation of financial sanctions, which he argues have badly hurt the Russian economy, if not deterred Putin.
As for actual, potentially lethal military assistance, Kerry said that matter was still under consideration by President Obama.
"We need to move, and move quickly," said Durbin, clearly signaling that the Senate's No. 2 Democrat thinks the strategy of Obama, his close friend, has come up short.