President Barack Obama said in an interview Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “misreading American foreign policy” and the West with respect to the Ukrainian crisis, as Russia continues to amass troops along the Ukrainian border.
“He may be entirely misreading the West,” Obama said in an interview from Rome with CBS’ Scott Pelley. “He’s certainly misreading American foreign policy. We have no interest in encircling Russia and we have no interest in Ukraine beyond letting the Ukrainian people make their own decisions about their own lives.”
Obama’s interview came amid reports that Russia has built up nearly 50,000 troops along the Russia-Ukraine border, who are in position for possible operations.
Obama called on Putin to pull those forces back, but he said it’s not yet clear what Russia’s intentions are.
“It’s well known and well acknowledged that you’ve seen a range of troops massing along that border under the guise of military exercises,” he said. “But these are not what Russia would normally be doing. And, you know, it may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine or it may be that they have got additional plans.”
Obama has made Ukraine the focal point of his week-long trip through Europe. Two days ago in a speech from Brussels, he provided his most direct rebuke of Putin, dismissing his claims point by point. In the interview with Pelley, Obama suggested he believes Putin is trying to use a building sense of Russian “nationalism” to make up for the notion the West has “taken advantage” of Russia in the past. He noted that Putin has said the breakup of the Soviet Union is “tragic.”
“There’s a strong sense of Russian nationalism and a sense that somehow the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past and that he wants to, in some fashion, reverse that or make up for that,” Obama said.
Watch the full clip, via CBS:
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