“What is absolutely clear is that not only have Russians gone into Crimea and annexed it in illegal fashion, violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine but what they've also done is supported, at minimum, non-state militias in southern and eastern Ukraine,” said Obama in an interview aired on CBS Evening News.
Obama’s comments came as Ukraine’s military conducted an operation to retake buildings and areas seized by pro-Russian groups in the east of the country who are calling for help from Moscow and pushing for autonomy from Kiev.
Russian military forces have massed along Ukraine's border and the U.S. has accused President Vladimir Putin of trying to destabilize the interim government in Kiev.
Despite sanctions targeting Russian and Ukrainian individuals, a bank used by Putin’s inner circle and a Russian oil company in Crimea, Moscow has shown no signs of pulling back its forces.
American, Russian, Ukrainian and European Union officials will meet in Geneva on Thursday to address the crisis sparked by Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
The White House earlier Wednesday said that a new round of sanctions had been “prepared” for Russia if they did not take steps to deescalate the situation, but did not reveal what those measures entailed or what would trigger their implementation.
“What I’ve 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 and what you have already seen is the Russian economy weaker, capital fleeing out of Russia,” said Obama.
“Mr. Putin’s decisions are not just bad for Ukraine, over the long term they are going to be bad for Russia,” he added.
Obama sidestepped a question about whether Putin was “mocking” him and the U.S. military after an incident where a Russian fighter jet buzzed a Navy ship in the Black Sea.
“They are not interested in any kind of military confrontation with us, understanding that our conventional forces are significantly superior to Russia’s,” said Obama.
“We don’t need a war. What we do need is a recognition that countries like Ukraine can have relationships with a whole range of their neighbors and it is not up to anybody whether it is Russia or anybody else to make decisions for them,” he added.