Obama Condemns Russian Incursion Into Ukraine

Accuses Russia of violating Ukrainian sovereignty and breaching international law

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on February 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The Obama administration condemned in stark terms Russia’s aggressive assault on Ukrainian territory Saturday, after President Vladimir Putin led the Russian parliament to unanimously approve the deployment of military troops to the Ukraine.

As Russian forces began preparing to roll into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, President Barack Obama spoke for 90 minutes with the Russian president to voice his “deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law.” He called on Russia to withdraw its forces from Crimea immediately and resolve its differences with Ukraine’s interim government peacefully through mediated talks. “The United States condemns Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory,” The White House said in a statement.

(PHOTOS: Crisis in Crimea: Unrest in Russian Stronghold)

The White House added that the U.S. would suspend its participation in preparatory meetings for the G-8 summit to be held in Russia in June, and warned of “greater political and economic isolation” if it continued to pursue military action in Ukraine.

The Kremlin said Putin had drawn attention during the telephone call to the “provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists who are in fact being supported by the current authorities in Kiev” and stressed the “real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots who are currently on Ukrainian territory.” It said it reserved the right to protect its interests in the face of the “further spread of violence to eastern Ukraine and Crimea.”

Senior members in the Obama administration held an emergency meeting at the White House Saturday afternoon. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were seen leaving the White House on Saturday. President Barack Obama was not present at the meeting, but Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry joined by secure video conference. 

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Saturday for direct dialogue between all parties, and saying in the face of Russian aggression that the sovereignty of Ukraine must be preserved. “The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the full respect for and preservation of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” his spokesperson said as Russia approved a unilateral troop deployment in Crimea. 

The United Nations Security Council also convened for the second time in two days to discuss the crisis. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power condemned Russia’s move and called for international monitors to de-escalate the crisis. “Russia’s actions in Ukraine violate the sovereignty of Ukraine,” she said. “It is time for the Russian intervention in Ukraine to end,” she added, applauding the “remarkable restraint” of the new Ukrainian government.

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, called on Kiev to “sideline the radicals,” referring to the nationalist elements of the opposition that have taken control of government. The U.N. Security Council was unable to consider any formal resolutions on the crisis, as permanent member Russia would be able to veto any such action.

Ukraine opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was set to meet with Putin even as Russian troops barreled into Crimea seizing control of military bases and key government buildings. Tymoshenko was released from prison after the deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s flight from Kiev.

John McCain (R-AZ), known as a hawkish voice in Congress, called for immediate action. “Every moment that the United States and our allies fail to respond sends the signal to President Putin that he can be even more ambitious and aggressive in his military intervention in Ukraine.”