President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin he is suspending U.S. preparations for the G8 meeting of industrial nations in Russia in June and “expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The White House says Obama delivered that message in a 90-minute telephone call Saturday afternoon.
“The U.S. calls on Russia to de-escalate tensions by withdrawing its forces back to bases in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine,” according to the White House statement.
Obama called on Putin to conduct “direct engagement” with the newly formed government of Ukraine over Russia’s concerns about the treatment of ethnic Russians.
“The Ukrainian government has made clear its commitment to protect the rights of all Ukrainians and to abide by Ukraine’s international commitments, and we will continue to urge them to do so,” the statement said.
Obama warned that violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty “would negatively impact Russia’s standing in the international community,” and that the U.S. “will suspend upcoming participation in preparatory meetings for the G-8,” the statement said.
Russia says Putin emphasized that real threats exist to the life and health of Russian citizens and that Russia has the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking people who live in that part of Ukraine.
Putin is scheduled to host the Group of Eight economic summit in June in Sochi, the site of the recently completed Winter Olympics. The U.S. is in discussions about the summit with European partners and it is difficult to see how some of those leaders would attend the summit if Russia has forces in Crimea, according to the administration officials. They were not authorized to discuss the situation by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Obama canceled a bilateral meeting with Putin last year after Russia granted asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, though Obama still attended a separate international meeting in Russia.
The administration's warning that trade talks could be halted came as Russian officials were in Washington for economic discussions with Obama advisers.
For the U.S., levying punishments on Russia is complicated by the myriad issues on which the White House needs Moscow's help. Among them: ending the bloodshed in Syria, negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran and transporting U.S. military troops and equipment out of Afghanistan through Russian supply routes.
At the White House Friday, a somber Obama decried the situation in Ukraine and warned about deeper outside intervention.
"Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic Games, that would invite the condemnation of nations around the world," he said. "The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine."
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