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Obama calls for Russia to end Ukraine incursion

Mar. 1, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
UKRAINE-UNREST-POLITICS-EU-RUSSIA
A pro-Russian supporter waves a Russian flag Saturday in front of pro-Russian armed men in military fatigues blocking the base of the Ukrainian frontier guards, in Balaklava, a small city not far from Sevastopol. The North Atlantic Council will meet about the crisis in Ukraine tomorrow. (Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images)
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President Obama has told Russian President Vladimir Putin that his military forces need to return to their military bases in the Ukraine, according to the White House.

The two leaders held a 90-minute phone call today, during which Obama expressed his deep concern about Russia’s “clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty,” according to a readout of the conversation provided by the White House.

“The United States calls on Russia to de-escalate tensions by withdrawing its forces back to bases in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine,” the readout says. “We have consistently said that we recognize Russia’s deep historic and cultural ties to Ukraine and the need to protect the rights of ethnic Russian and minority populations within Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has made clear its commitment to protect the rights of all Ukrainians and to abide by Ukraine’s international commitments, and we will continue to urge them to do so.”

The Kremlin issued its own readout of the phone call Saturday, which says Putin drew Obama’s attention to “provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists” in Ukraine, who have the support of the country’s new government.

“The Russian president spoke of a real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots who are currently on Ukrainian territory,” the Kremlin readout says. “Vladimir Putin stressed that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.”

The North Atlantic Council will hold a meeting tomorrow about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tweeted today. The meeting will be followed by a NATO-Ukraine Commission.

Also today, Russian lawmakers approved Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request to move troops to Ukraine, while the Ukrainian acting president Oleksandr Turchynov put his country’s military on higher alert, according to media reports. Russian troops began occupying the Crimea region of Ukraine on Friday and pro-Russian protests were held today in the Russian-speaking eastern parts of the country.

“The stakes are significant for both the U.S. and Russia, as well as for Europe and NATO,” retired Adm. James Stavridis, former NATO supreme allied commander, said in an email today to Military Times.

In a commentary published Saturday in Foreign Policy, Stavridis argued that NATO should take a number of steps in response to Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, including putting NATO’s 25,000-troop Response Force on a higher state of alert.

“Many will consider any level of NATO involvement provocative and potentially inflammatory,” Stavridis wrote. “Unfortunately, the stakes are high and the Russians are moving. Sitting idle, without at least looking at options, is a mistake for NATO and would itself constitute a signal to Putin — one that he would welcome.”

Speaking from the White House on Friday, Obama said the U.S. government is “deeply concerned” about reports of Russian military movement inside Ukraine.

“The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” Obama said.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called on Obama to spell out exactly what those costs will be.

“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,” McCain said in a statement issued today. “There is a range of serious options at our disposal at this time without the use of military force. I call on President Obama to rally our European and NATO allies to make clear what costs Russia will face for its aggression and to impose those consequences without further delay.”

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