U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone Monday about the escalating crisis in Ukraine, the White House and Kremlin both said. Readouts from both sides characterized the call as tense.
The Kremlin said Putin told Obama to "use the American side's capabilities" to prevent the use of "force and bloodshed" — which has become increasingly likely in the face of pro-Russian forces battling government troops in the eastern part of Ukraine.
In turn, the White House said Obama urged Putin to "use his influence" to convince pro-Russian separatists to lay down their arms. The White House said Obama expressed his "grave concern" about the Russian government's apparent support of the "armed, pro-Russian separatists," a charge Putin denied.
Tensions heightened on Monday, as the U.S. said CIA Director John Brennan visited Kiev and a Russian war plane "buzzed" a U.S. warship in the Black Sea. The White House said Putin initiated the ensuing phone call between the leaders.
The Obama administration has spent the last few days ratcheting up its rhetoric and promising more "costs" for Russia if it continues displaying aggression towards Ukraine. Obama promised to inflict more "costs" on Russia during the phone call Monday, the White House said. Washington has also warned Putin's actions seem eerily reminiscent of the situation last month in Crimea before Russian troops entered that region.
The White House has openly accused Russia of supporting the "provocateurs" in Ukraine, and on Saturday, blamed the Russian government for "inciting violence and sabotage" in the country's eastern regions. According to the Kremlin's readout of their call, in response to Obama's concern over Russia's "supposed meddling," Putin said his suspicions Moscow is in any way involved in the pro-Russian protests wracking Ukraine are based on inaccuracies.
On Monday, the pro-Russian separatists ignored an ultimatum to vacate occupied government buildings in nearly 10 Ukrainian cities. Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov on Monday called for the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops in the eastern part of the country.
Here's the White House's full readout of the call:
At Moscow’s request, President Obama spoke with Russian President Putin today about the situation in Ukraine. The President expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilize the government of Ukraine. The President emphasized that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized. The President reiterated the importance of Russia withdrawing its troops from Ukraine’s border in order to defuse tensions. President Obama noted that despite the rhetoric from Russian officials, the government of Ukraine has acted with remarkable restraint, and he praised the Ukrainian government’s efforts to unify the country by holding free and fair presidential elections on May 25, pursuing inclusive constitutional reform and proposing concrete steps toward the decentralization of power. The President noted Russia’s growing political and economic isolation as a result of its actions in Ukraine and made clear that the costs Russia already has incurred will increase if those actions persist. The President noted the upcoming contact group meeting in Geneva and said that while he continues to believe that a diplomatic solution is still possible, it cannot succeed in an environment of Russian military intimidation on Ukraine’s borders, armed provocation within Ukraine, and escalatory rhetoric by Kremlin officials.
And here's the Kremlin's readout of the call:
The leaders discussed various aspects of the crisis situation in Ukraine, first and foremost in the southeastern regions engaged in a protest movement against the policies of the current authorities in Kiev.
The Russian side stressed that the protests in Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkov, Slavyansk and other cities in southeastern Ukraine are the result of the Kiev authorities’ unwillingness and inability to take into account the interests of the Russian and Russian-speaking population. Vladimir Putin called upon Barack Obama to use the American side’s capabilities to prevent the use of force and bloodshed as much as possible.
In response to the President of the United States’ expressed concern about Russia’s supposed meddling in southeastern Ukraine, the President of Russia noted that such speculations are based on inaccurate information. The current Ukrainian authorities must think first and foremost about truly involving all the main political forces and regions in a transparent process for developing a new constitution that guarantees the main rights and freedoms for citizens, the nation’s federal structure and its non-aligned status.
The two sides agreed to continue efforts to seek diplomatic cooperation in the context of the Ukrainian situation ahead of the four-party meeting (EU, Russia, US, Ukraine) scheduled in Geneva on April 17.
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