President Barack Obama on Thursday dodged the issue of whether Russia had invaded Ukraine, as top Republicans called for a stronger U.S. response in what appeared to be "an act of war" against the former Soviet state.
Obama used words like "uprising" and "violence" to characterize reports by NATO and Ukrainian officials that two columns of Russian tanks
and military vehicles had entered the country's southeast and fired Grad missiles at a border post. A thousand Russian troops also poured into the country.
"There is no doubt that this is not a homegrown indigenous uprising in eastern Ukraine," Obama said at a White House news conference. "The separatists are backed, trained, armed, financed by Russia.
"Throughout this process, we've seen deep Russian involvement in everything that they've done."
He charged that Russian President Vladimir Putin has "repeatedly passed by potential off-ramps to resolve this diplomatically" and that "we have not seen any meaningful action on the part of Russia to actually try to resolve this in diplomatic fashion."
The president, however, ruled out U.S. military involvement in Ukraine and cautiously foreshadowed any possible American response — saying that Moscow would incur "more costs and consequences" as a result of these recent developments.
"I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming," Obama said.
Moscow has denied accusations that its troops are operating in Ukraine, even as its forces and separatist rebels appeared to take control of the strategic town of Novoazovsk. The new southeastern front raised fears that Russia was creating a land link between Crimea and Russia.
Novoazovsk lies between the territories.
Obama told reporters that economic sanctions continued to be "effective" in hurting Russia's economy, prompting capital to flee Russia and isolating the country even further — though they have done little to persuade Putin to end Russia's intervention in Ukraine.
Obama meets with European leaders at a NATO summit in Wales next week and announced that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko would visit the White House next month.
"What we're doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia," Obama said.
But before Obama spoke, four top Republicans said the latest developments required a definitive response from the United States.
"Russia's ongoing aggression in Ukraine can only be called one thing: a cross-border military invasion," said Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham. "To claim it is anything other than that is to inhabit President Putin’s Orwellian universe."
McCain, who represents Arizona, and Graham, of South Carolina, are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"This is a moment to speak and act with clarity," they said. "If we will not or cannot defend our own values now, as well as friends who share them, the future will be dark and dangerous indeed, not just for Ukraine but for us, too."
In the House, Reps. Buck McKeon and Michael Turner called the developments "an act of war against the sovereign state of Ukraine.
"This alleged invasion follows Putin’s aggressive armament of Russian-backed separatists, located in Eastern Ukraine's disputed territory, that resulted in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and killed hundreds of civilians last month."
McKeon, of California, is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Turner, who represents Ohio, heads one of the panel's subcommittees.
"The president needs to definitively state whether or not Russia has invaded Ukraine and immediately condemn this overt escalation of an already serious conflict," the representatives said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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