President Obama gave a short statement on the events in Ukraine on Friday, warning Russia that there would be “costs” if it continues to meddle in the country’s affairs.
“We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside Ukraine,” Obama said.
In recent days, unidentified armed men (believed by many to be Russian forces) have seized key areas in Ukraine’s Crimea, leading the country to accuse Russia of an “armed invasion.”
“Any violation of Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing,” Obama said in his speech.
While Obama was sending a clear, public signal to Moscow with his comments, he also said his administration was in daily contact with Russian leaders. He made clear that Ukrainians should be allowed to decide their own course.
“There will be costs for any intervention in Ukraine,” he said, in a clear warning to Russia.
Obama did not make clear what those “costs” would be, although direct military action is highly unlikely. Senior administration officials speaking to CNN have said the U.S. may possibly sit out the upcoming G-8 summit in Russia, while others have speculated the U.S. could bring Ukraine into the fold of NATO.
Ian Bremmer, a geopolitical expert and president of the Eurasia Group, characterised it this way:
“What we are seeing is Vladimir Putin’s commitment and absolute belief that Ukraine is a part of Russia and he’s not going to let it go,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer following Obama’s speech.
Obama’s speech from the White House comes after ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych spoke to the press earlier today from the southern Russian port city of Rostov-on-Don, where he called for a reorganization of the government, new presidential elections, and a new constitution.
As BI’s Michael Kelley reported, he highlighted the truce signed on February 19, which would have kept him in power and was subsequently rejected by protesters. After a day of bloodshed, Yanukovych fled and parliament stripped him of his position.
A new government was approved yesterday, but neither Yanukovych nor Russia recognise it. “I believe that the Ukrainian parliament is not legitimate,” he said.
Despite the tough talk from the Obama administration, Ian Bremmer believes there is a “near-zero” chance of any direct military conflict between the U.S. and Russia.
Instead, Bremmer told BI’s Michael Kelley and Henry Blodget on Thursday, a portion of Ukraine might secede and align with Russia, while the rest of the country will remain intact (and aligned with Europe). There might be local violence and verbal skirmishes along the way, but no military action between the U.S. and Russia. If Russia decides to invade Ukraine, Bremmer says, the U.S. will likely condemn the behaviour but do nothing.
Here’s the transcript of Obama’s speech, via Circa:
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody.
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 stabilise 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.
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