Obama talks tough, but pushes Ukraine concession to Putin

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama used a press conference today to tout sanctions against 11 high-ranking Russians as Moscow prepares to absorb two million Crimeans into its multinational federation.

But Obama also signaled his eagerness to bargain with Russia, by suggesting that the Ukraine government may offer a compromise acceptable to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I believe there’s still a path to resolve this situation diplomatically, in a way that addresses the interests of both Russia and Ukraine,” he said.

“That includes…engaging in dialogue with the Ukrainian government, which has indicated its openness to pursuing constitutional reform as they move forward towards elections this spring,” he said.

But Obama also insisted that Russia should pull its forces in Crimea back to their bases, and support the deployment of additional international monitors in Ukraine.

Russia is unlikely to accept either step, and is instead moving towards a formal annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation.

The crisis may escalate if Russian President Vladimir Putin sends armed forces into the eastern districts of Ukraine, in response to calls for help from ethnic Russians who comprise the majority of those districts.

That would worsen the crisis for Obama, whose poll ratings for his handling of foreign policy remain at 41 percent, according to a March poll by NBC and The Wall Street Journal.

In his press statement, Obama declared that the future of Crimea “must be decided by the Ukrainian people… international law must be upheld.”

“We’re going to stand firm in our unwavering support for Ukraine… and [Ukrainians’] right to determine their own destiny,” he said.

Obama also promised financial aid to Ukraine, but didn’t suggest military aid.

Ukraine’s isolation was spotlighted when Obama also said that the U.S would continue to defend NATO allies neighboring Russia.

Those allies exclude Ukraine, but include Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. They’re all countries controlled or occupied by the Soviet Union until the 1980s.

“We have a solemn commitment to our collective defense and we will continue to uphold this commitment,” Obama said.

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