President Obama urged Russia to help deescalate the standoff in Ukraine on Tuesday, saying their military intervention had “not been a sign of strength” and raised legitimate fears in Moscow's neighbors.
“There’s a suggestion somehow that the Russian actions have been clever strategically,” said Obama in brief remarks on the international crisis. ”I actually think that this has not been a sign of strength but rather is a reflection that countries near Russia have deep concerns and suspicions about this kind of meddling, and if anything, it will push many countries further away from Russia.”
The president dismissed Russia’s suggestion that it had intervened in Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians.
“The fact that we are still seeing soldiers out of their barracks in Crimea is an indication to which what's happening there is not based on actual concern for Russian nationals or Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, but is based on Russia seeking, through force, to exert influence on a neighboring country,” said Obama. “That is not how international law is supposed to operate.”
Obama's comments came as Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday morning rejected calls from the West to pull his military forces out of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
Putin ordered the military intervention after pro-Moscow former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital of Kiev and was removed from power after months of protests.
Moscow says that it is protecting the safety of ethnic Russians in the Crimean region, but critics say Putin is trying to re-establish influence over neighboring Ukraine.
In an hour long press conference Tuesday morning, Putin reserved the right to intervene to protect Russian speaker in Ukraine while also denying that there were Russian forces on the ground.
Obama has pressed Putin to end his military intervention, warning that there would be “costs” to Moscow's actions, which he said violated international law.
“The course of history is for people to want to be free to make their own decisions about their own futures,” he continued. “And the international community I think is unified in believing that it is not the role of an outside force -- where there’s been no evidence of serious violence, where there’s been no rationale under international law -- to intervene in people trying to determine their own destiny.”
"We stand on the side of history,” Obama added.
He said he was willing to work with Russia to end the crisis and that there was still time to deescalate.
“There is still the opportunity for Russia to do so, working with the international community to help stabilize the situation,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry was in Kiev on Tuesday, and Obama said he would be “expressing our full support for the Ukrainian people.”
The president said the “significant” package would help to stabilize the country and allow the Ukrainian people to decide their own future — without pressure from Russia.
Obama said it was “important that Congress stand with us” and said they could act “immediately.” The president called on lawmakers to pass legislation to “help finance the economic package that can stabilize the economy in Ukraine and help to make sure that free and fair elections take place real soon, and as a consequence helps to de-escalate the crisis.”
Obama spoke on Ukraine shortly after unveiling his fiscal 2015 budget, but spent more time discussing the international crisis than his economic plan.
He said he had not spoken with Putin since their 90-minute Saturday phone call, but Obama said he had met with his national security team and that they were watching the situation in Ukraine “closely.”
Obama said that the international community was united in the “strong belief that Russia’s action is violating international law.”
"President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers and making a different set of interpretations but I don’t think that’s fooling anybody,” said Obama.