Barack Obama told reporters today “Russia’s actions were not a sign of strength.”
Meanwhile, more Russian troops entered the Crimea region of Ukraine.
A Russian soldier aims a rocket propelled grenade launcher at a group of unarmed Ukrainian troops. (Huffington Post)
Obama also said Putin needs a different set of lawyers.
From the White House website:
There have been some reports that President Putin is 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. 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.
I think everybody recognizes that although Russia has legitimate interests in what happens in a neighboring state, that does not give it the right to use force as a means of exerting influence inside of that state. We have said that if, in fact, there is any evidence out there that Russian speakers or Russian natives or Russian nationals are in any way 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. And, in fact, in conversations that we’ve had with the government in Kyiv, they have been more than willing to work with the international community and with Russia to provide such assurances.
So the fact that we are still seeing soldiers out of their barracks in Crimea is an indication to which what’s happening there 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. That is not how international law is supposed to operate.
I would also note just the way that some of this has been reported, that there’s a suggestion somehow that the Russian actions have been clever strategically. I actually think that this has not been a sign of strength but rather is a reflection that countries near Russia have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling, and if anything, it will push many countries further away from Russia.
There is the ability for Ukraine to be a friend of the West’s and a friend of Russia’s as long as none of us are inside of Ukraine trying to meddle and intervene, certainly not militarily, with decisions that properly belong to the Ukrainian people. And that’s the principle that John Kerry is going to be speaking to during his visit. I’ll be making additional calls today to some of our key foreign partners, and I suspect I’ll be doing that all week and in through the weekend.