Obama accuses Russian President Putin of flouting international law

McClatchy Washington BureauMarch 4, 2014 


Pro Russian soldiers guard Ukraine's infantry base in Perevalne, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 4, 2014.


President Barack Obama said Tuesday that there's universal agreement that Russia has violated international law by sending troops into neighboring Ukraine.

Obama's remarks came as Secretary of State John Kerry was speaking in Ukraine and as Obama unveiled his budget proposal. He made it clear the U.S. is watching events in Ukraine "very closely," saying he'd met with his national security team again today

He didn't answer a reporter's question of whether he agreed with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin has lost touch with reality.

Instead, he noted reports that Putin may be "pausing for a moment and reflecting on what's happened. .

"I think that we've all seen that from the perspective of the European Union, the United States, allies like Canada and Japan, and allies and friends and partners around the world, there is a strong belief that Russia's action is violating international law," Obama said. "I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations, but I don't think that's fooling anybody."

He said that although Russia has legitimate interests in what happens in Ukraine, "that does not give it the right to use force as a means of exerting influence inside of that state."

Obama said the Ukraine has said it's "more than willing to work with the international community and with Russia" to assure that no Russian speakers or Russian natives or Russian nationals are being threatened.

"There are ways of dealing with that through international mechanisms, and we're prepared to make sure that the rights of all Ukrainians are upheld," Obama said.

But he said that the fact that soldiers are out of their barracks in Crimea is an indication that what's happening "is not based on actual concern for Russian nationals or Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, but is based on Russia seeking, through force, to exert influence on a neighboring country."

And he warned that the move will "push many countries further away from Russia.

"Countries near Russia have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling," he said.

He said the U.S. is prepared to work with Russia "if their genuine interest is making sure that Ukraine is able to govern itself." He noted the country is scheduled to have elections in May.

Obama called on Congress to help pass a $1 billion loan guarantee package to Ukraine to repair its economy.

"There's something immediately Congress can do to help us, and that is to help finance that economic package that can stabilize the economy in Ukraine, help to make sure that fair and free elections take place very soon, and as a consequence, helps to deescalate the crisis," he said.


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