President Barack Obama said Wednesday that Russia can expect further sanctions if it steps up support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"What I have said consistently is that each time Russia takes these kinds of steps that are designed to destabilize Ukraine and violate their sovereignty, that there are going to be consequences," he said in an interview with CBS.
The president spoke about the crisis in Ukraine, which he blamed squarely on Moscow, on the eve of a meeting in Geneva in which Russia, Ukraine, the United States, and the European Union will try to defuse the standoff.
U.S. officials say they are prepared to impose a new round of sanctions on Russia if the talks fail to ease tensions.
Obama said Russia has been hurt by sanctions already levied in connection with Crimea's separation from Ukraine in March, which the United States and its allies said was the result of Russian intervention.
Obama signed an executive order
in late March granting him the authority to expand sanctions on Russian oligarchs, wealthy businessmen and government officials, and on large sectors of the economy.
"Mr. Putin's decisions are not just bad for Ukraine. Over the long term, they're going to be bad for Russia," he said.
Obama said he thinks Russia is not interested in any military confrontation with the United States, which has superior military forces.
"They're not interested in military confrontation with us; we don't need a war," Obama said. "What we do need is a recognition that countries like Ukraine can have relationships with the whole range of their neighbors."
It is not up to Russia, the United States or anyone else to make decisions for Ukraine, he added.
He said Putin is operating from a position of weakness and that's why he has resorted to outlandish rhetoric and propaganda.
Not only have Russians gone into Crimea and annexed it illegally, they have supported, at minimum, "non-state militias" in southern and eastern Ukraine, Obama said.
CBS Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett, who interviewed Obama after an appearance by the president at an Oakdale, Pa., community college, said he asked Obama whether there is a line Putin could cross that would prompt U.S. military action.
Garrett said Obama was vague, but noted that NATO countries in the region would be defended. Though it has sought membership in the past, Ukraine is not a NATO member.
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