Saying that the United States is “deeply concerned” by reports that Russia is taking military action in Ukraine, President Obama urged Russia not to intervene in the destabilized country, where tensions have reached new highs this week.
Obama said that he had spoken to Russia’s President Putin in recent days, to foster cooperation in coping with the situation.
But, he said, “we are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine. Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties — and a military facility in Crimea. But any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing.”
“The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine,” Obama said.
Tensions in Ukraine have built steadily this week, after the country’s ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the nation over the weekend. Even as the roiled nation affirmed a new government on Thursday, gunmen took over government buildings in the Crimean peninsula, an area where a majority of the residents are ethnic Russians.
And on Friday, “gunmen in unmarked military uniforms … took control of two airports,” as Mark reported this morning for the Two-Way. Speculation about the origin of those gunmen has been rampant and has included the possibility that they are Russian. But Russia’s military officials deny that claim.
Update at 6:40 p.m. ET: About Those ‘Costs’
Questioned about what potential costs could arise from the situation in Ukraine, a senior administration official tells NPR’s Scott Horsley that the U.S. is discussing options with its European allies.
“It is hard to see how we and other European leaders would attend the G-8 in Sochi if Russia were in Ukraine,” the official said of the meetings slated for June. “So, we are evaluating the G-8.”
Another option would be to put off plans to deepen trade and commerce ties with Russia. And the events in Ukraine are also threatening to erase the goodwill Russia might have gained by hosting the Sochi Winter Olympics.
“Any improvement in reputation they got from the Olympics will certainly go away, the official said, “and we’ve already seen the ruble falling in value.”
The official also said the U.S. has strong suspicions Russia is acting in Ukraine’s Crimea region.
“On what’s actually taking place in Russia, we are certainly seeing things inside Crimea that lead us to believe Russians are intervening,” the official said. “The president would not have been out there today if we weren’t very concerned by what we’re seeing.”
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Ukraine’s future “must be determined by the Ukrainian people,” Obama said. He urged an end to the violence that has erupted in recent weeks, calling for stability and new elections in the spring.
Citing Russia’s recent hosting of many of the world’s nations for the Winter Olympics, Obama said that any Russian military intervention would invite international condemnation.
Vice President Biden spoke to Ukraine’s new prime minister today, Obama added. The president did not take any questions after delivering his prepared remarks.
Yanukovych is currently in Russia. Earlier Friday, he said he is “eager and ready to fight for the future of Ukraine.” But he also said that Crimea should not try to secede from Ukraine in an attempt to join Russia.
President Obama spoke just before 5 p.m. Friday afternoon. His remarks followed a statement at the U.N. by Ambassador Samantha Power, who called this a “critical moment” in Crimea.
She called for Russia to stand down and let Ukraine’s citizens determine their own future. Saying that Ukraine’s new government will need help to recover, Power said that the United States “stands with the Ukrainian people.”
Update at 6 p.m. ET: White House Transcript Of Obama’s Remarks:
“Over the last several days, the United States has been responding to events as they unfold in Ukraine. Throughout this crisis, we have been very clear about one fundamental principle: The Ukrainian people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future. Together with our European allies, we have urged an end to the violence and encouraged Ukrainians to pursue a course in which they stabilize their country, forge a broad-based government and move to elections this spring.
“I also spoke several days ago with President Putin, and my administration has been in daily communication with Russian officials, and we’ve made clear that they can be part of an international community’s effort to support the stability and success of a united Ukraine going forward, which is not only in the interest of The people of Ukraine and the international community, but also in Russia’s interest.
“However, we are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine. Russia has a historic relationship with Ukraine, including cultural and economic ties, and a military facility in Crimea, but any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing, which is not in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, or Europe.
“It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian people. It would be a clear violence of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws. And just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.
“The events of the past several months remind us of how difficult democracy can be in a country with deep divisions. But the Ukrainian people have also reminded us that human beings have a universal right to determine their own future.
“Right now, the situation remains very fluid. Vice President Biden just spoke with Prime Minister — the Prime Minister of Ukraine to assure him that in this difficult moment the United States supports his government’s efforts and stands for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic future of Ukraine. I also commend the Ukrainian government’s restraint and its commitment to uphold its international obligations.
“We will continue to coordinate closely with our European allies. We will continue to communicate directly with the Russian government. And we will continue to keep all of you in the press corps and the American people informed as events develop.
“Thanks very much.”