Obama: U.S. Is ‘Deeply Concerned’ About Russia’s Actions in Ukraine

The president is speaking out Friday on the evolving situation in Ukraine.

President Obama warned Russia in a White House speech on Friday.
National Journal
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Brian Resnick, Matt Vasilogambros and Marina Koren
Feb. 28, 2014, 12:08 p.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama said the United States was “deeply con­cerned” with Rus­si­an mil­it­ary move­ments in­side Ukrain­i­an bor­ders on Fri­day, say­ing there will “be costs” for mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion in a sov­er­eign na­tion.

“The Ukrain­i­an people de­serve the op­por­tun­ity to de­term­ine their own fu­ture.” Obama said the U.S. has “urged” an end to vi­ol­ence, along with the E.U. He also men­tioned his call earli­er this week with Rus­sia’s Vladi­mir Putin, say­ing that he has “made clear” that Rus­sia “can be part of an in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity’s ef­fort to sup­port the sta­bil­ity and suc­cess of a united Ukraine go­ing for­ward, which is not only in the in­terests of the people of Ukraine and the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity, but also in Rus­sia’s in­terests.”

“There will be costs to any mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine,” Obama said Fri­day. “The events of the past sev­er­al months re­mind us of how dif­fi­cult demo­cracy can be in a coun­try with deep di­vi­sions. But the Ukrain­i­an people have also re­minded us that hu­man be­ings have a uni­ver­sal right to de­term­ine their own fu­ture.”

Obama said that the U.S. would con­tin­ue its talks with the Rus­si­an and Ukrain­i­an gov­ern­ments, spe­cific­ally cit­ing phone calls from Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden. But the pres­id­ent did not de­tail any spe­cif­ic ac­tions for the United States to take.

Pres­id­en­tial elec­tions will be held in Ukraine in the spring.

The polit­ic­al situ­ation in Ukraine has been un­stable for sev­er­al months dur­ing anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions call­ing for closer ties to the West. However, ten­sions reached a new level after ri­ot po­lice fired on pro­test­ers, killing dozens. Op­pos­i­tion forces seized the cap­it­al, and sent Ukraine Pres­id­ent Vikt­or Ya­nukovych flee­ing from the coun­try. In his ab­sence, the Ukrain­i­an op­pos­i­tion has ap­poin­ted lead­ers to an in­ter­im gov­ern­ment.

The on­go­ing con­flict rep­res­ents a polit­ic­al di­vide among Ukrain­i­ans between those want­ing more West­ern in­flu­ence, in­clud­ing closer ties to the European Uni­on, and those who want to re­main close to Rus­sia. The United States and E.U. lead­ers have backed the new gov­ern­ment in Kiev, warn­ing Mo­scow to let the Ukrain­i­ans shape their own fu­ture.

Ten­sions spilled in­to Crimea, an autonom­ous re­gion of Ukraine, this week, where pro-Rus­si­an pro­test­ers ral­lied out­side of the par­lia­ment build­ing. Crimea has his­tor­ic­ally served as a battle­ground for con­flict­ing polit­ic­al in­terests between Kiev and Mo­scow.

Ya­nukovych, who has been hid­ing out in Mo­scow, said in a Fri­day press con­fer­ence that he was not over­thrown, but was forced to flee be­cause he feared for his safety. He vowed to wrangle back power from the Ukrain­i­an op­pos­i­tion. The White House has said it no longer re­cog­nizes Ya­nukovych as pres­id­ent of Ukraine.

On Wed­nes­day, Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry said the U.S. plans to loan Ukraine $1 bil­lion, and is also con­sid­er­ing fur­ther dir­ect fin­an­cial as­sist­ance. This con­flict, in fact star­ted, be­cause of Ukraine’s pre­cari­ous fin­an­cial situ­ation, flirt­ing with bank­ruptcy. It was only after Ya­nukovych backed out of a fin­an­cial as­sist­ance pack­age with the E.U. did the protests break out. Ya­nukovych, in­stead, de­cided to take Rus­si­an as­sist­ance.

Today, the situ­ation es­cal­ated with a re­por­ted armed two air­port in­va­sion of a air­port in Crimea. Ukrain­i­an lead­ers say the men were Rus­si­ans, sent by Mo­scow. “Act­ing Pres­id­ent Oleksander Turchinov ac­cused Rus­sia of open ag­gres­sion and said Mo­scow was fol­low­ing a scen­ario sim­il­ar to the one be­fore it went to war with fel­low former So­viet re­pub­lic Geor­gia in 2008,” Re­u­ters re­ports.

Al­though the cir­cum­stances be­hind the sup­posed in­va­sion of Crimea are dif­fer­ent, Rus­sia has in the last sev­er­al years ac­ted sim­il­arly. In 2008, Rus­si­an forces in­vaded a sep­ar­at­ist re­gion Geor­gia called South Os­se­tia, claim­ing to pro­tect eth­nic Rus­si­ans. Then Geor­gi­an Pres­id­ent Mikheil Saakashvili called it a “well-planned in­va­sion” at the time. After Rus­si­an troops left the area, the nine-day war ended with hun­dreds dead and thou­sands wounded. The U.S. — an ally of Geor­gia — along with the E.U., helped ne­go­ti­ate the cease­fire.

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this story mis­stated the cir­cum­stances of the re­por­ted in­va­sion in Crimea Fri­day.


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