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Considering diplomatic options to punish Moscow: Obama

March 04, 2014 12:51 IST

United States President Barack Obama has said Russia was on the "wrong side of history" and its invasion in Ukraine was an attack on sovereignty of a nation, warning that he was considering economic and diplomatic options to punish Moscow if it didn't reverse course quickly.

Obama asserted that America's interest was in seeing the Ukrainian people be able to determine their own destiny. "My interest is seeing the Ukrainian people be able to determine their own destiny," Obama told White House reporters in a joint press availability with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Russia has strong historic ties to the Ukraine...There are strong commercial ties between those two countries. And so all of those interests I think can be recognised. But what cannot be done is for Russia, with impunity, to put its soldiers on the ground and violate basic principles that are recognised around the world," he said.

Asserting that the US and its global partners were supportive of the interim Ukrainian government, Obama said, "The strong condemnation that it has received from countries around the world indicates the degree to which Russia is on the wrong side of history on this."

Secretary of State John Kerry will be travelling to Kiev to indicate the US support for the Ukrainian people, to offer very specific and concrete packages of economic aid --  because one of the things the US concerned about is stabilising the economy even in the midst of this crisis, he said."What we are also indicating to the Russians is that if, in fact, they continue on the current trajectory that they're on, that we are examining a whole series of steps -- economic, diplomatic -- that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia's economy and its status," he said.

"We've already suspended preparations for the G8 summit. I think you can expect that there would be further follow-up on that. We are taking a look a whole range of issues that John Kerry mentioned on Monday," Obama said.

Obama said that he spent the weekend talking to leaders across Europe. "I think the world is largely united in recognising that the steps Russia has taken are a violation of Ukraine's

sovereignty, Ukraine's territorial integrity; that they're a violation of international law; they're a violation of previous agreements that Russia has made with respect to how it treats and respects its neighbours," he said.

"And, as a consequence, we got strong statements from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, from the G7, condemning the actions that Russia has taken. We are going to continue these diplomatic efforts during the course of this week," he added.

"The question for the Russian government generally is if their concern is the rights of all Ukrainians are respected, if, in fact, their primary concern, as they've stated, is that Russian speakers and Russian nationals are not in any way harmed or abused or discriminated against, then we should be able to set up international monitors," he said.

"And an international effort that mediates between various parties, that is able to broker a deal that is satisfactory to the Ukrainian people -- not to the United States, not to Russia, but to the Ukrainian people -- and we should be able to deescalate the situation," Obama said.

The US, he said, has been very specific with the Russians about how that might be done under the auspices of either the United States or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or some other international organisation.

"So there are really two paths that Russia can take at this point. Obviously, the facts on the ground in Crimea are deeply troubling and Russia has a large army that borders Ukraine. But what is also true is that over time this will be a costly proposition for Russia.

“And now is the time for them to consider whether they can serve their interests in a way that resorts to diplomacy as opposed to force," he said.

Referring to the calls being made from the Congress about doing something, Obama said one thing they can do right away is to work with the administration to help provide a package of assistance to the Ukrainians, to the people and that government.

"When they get back in, assuming the weather clears, I would hope that would be the first order of business. Because at this stage there should be unanimity among Democrats and Republicans that when it comes to preserving the principle that no country has the right to send in troops to another country unprovoked, we should be able to come up with a unified position that stands outside of partisan politics," he said.

"And my expectation is that I'll be able to get the Congress to work with us in order to achieve that goal," Obama said.

Lalit K Jha in Washington
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