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.