Obama says Russia is 'on the wrong side of history'

McClatchy Washington BureauMarch 3, 2014 

Ukraine Protests

A Russian convoy moves from Sevastopol to Sinferopol in the Crimea, Ukraine, Sunday, March 2, 2014. A convoy of hundreds of Russian troops headed toward the regional capital of Ukraine's Crimea region on Sunday, a day after Russia's forces took over the strategic Black Sea peninsula without firing a shot. The new government in Kiev has been powerless to react. Ukraine's parliament was meeting Sunday in a closed session.

DARKO VOJINOVIC — ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Barack Obama says the "strong condemnation" that Russian President Vladimir Putin has received for moving troops into Ukraine is proof that Russia "is on the wrong side of history."

Speaking before a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama said the world is "largely united" in recognizing that Russia has violated Ukraine’s sovereignty.

"What cannot be done is for Russia, with impunity, to put its soldiers on the ground and violate basic principles that are recognized around the world," Obama said.

He noted that Secretary of State John Kerry will be traveling to Ukraine and will bring with him "very specific and concrete packages of economic aid" for the country.

"And what we are also indicating to the Russians is that if, in fact, they continue on the current trajectory that they're on, that we are examining a whole series of steps -- economic, diplomatic -- that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and its status in the world," he said. He said if Putin's concern is the safety of Russians, "then we should be able to set up international monitors and an international effort that mediates between various parties."

He said Kerry would pursue setting up monitors under the auspices of an international organization.

"Over time this will be a costly proposition for Russia," Obama said. "And now is the time for them to consider whether they can serve their interests in a way that resorts to diplomacy as opposed to force."

He also called on Congress to help provide a package of assistance to Ukraine.

"At this stage there should be unanimity among Democrats and Republicans that when it comes to preserving the principle that no country has the right to send in troops to another country unprovoked, we should be able to come up with a unified position that stands outside of partisan politics," he said.

With the crisis deepening, Vice President Joe Biden called Russian Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev Monday morning to urge Russia to step down.

The White House says Biden urged Russia to pull back its forces in Crimea, support the "immediate" deployment of international monitors to Ukraine, and begin a "meaningful political dialogue" with the Ukrainian government.

The call follows a conversation Biden had Friday with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in which the White House said he reaffirmed the United States’ "strong support" for the new government and its commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The White House said Yatsenyuk emphasized to Biden that the new government would uphold its international obligations and serve "all the people of Ukraine."

Arizona Sen. John McCain on Monday criticized the Obama administration for the incursion, saying it's the "ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America's strength any more."

Speaking to AIPAC's policy conference, McCain called the introduction of Russian troops into Ukraine a "blatant act on the part of Vladimir Putin and one that must be unacceptable to the world community. It cannot stand."

McCain said there is no military option, but said "the most powerful and biggest and strongest nation in the world should have plenty of options. And those options are many, ranging from identifying these kleptocrats, these corruption people and the people that ordered this."

He called for economic sanctions and for expanding the Magnitsky Act which seeks to punish Russian officials by blocking them from entering the United States.

"We could expand it and identify those people and it'd be their last trip to Las Vegas," McCain said.

The 2012 act was named in honor of a 37-year-old Russian tax lawyer who was arrested and tortured in a Russian prison after exposing the largest tax fraud in the country’s history. It allows the U.S. to freeze the assets of any individuals responsible for participating in Magnitsky’s detention or of any others responsible for gross violations of human rights against whistleblowers.

The Russian government has criticized the act, saying the U.S. should instead focus on its poor performance in housing prisoners at Guantanamo.

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