President Obama delivered a stern message to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, accusing him of failing to live up to his promises to intervene to protect the crash site of the downed Malaysian jetliner in eastern Ukraine and stop the fighting by the Russian-backed separatists to allow for a credible international investigation.
“Now is the time for Rusisa and Putin to pivot away from the strategy he been taking and get serious" about resolving the conflict in Ukraine, Obama said in a statement Monday morning in the White House Rose Garden.
He also issued a vaguely worded threat.
"My preference has and continues to be finding a diplomatic solution with regard to Ukraine," he said. “If Russia continues to back these separatists ... then Russia will only further isolate itself with the international community” and increase its costs within the international community.
Obama's statement came after a weekend in which his administration grappled with the fallout over the downed Malaysian jetliner with reports that Russian-backed separatists were tampering with evidence and removing bodies along the 10-mile crash site in eastern Ukraine.
Obama said such tampering has “no place in the community of nations” and said given Russia's direct influence over the separatists, Putin has the “responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation.”
On Sunday Secretary of State John Kerry complained bitterly about the limited access the separatists provided to international investigators and fingered Putin for failing to live up to his promises to ensure that a credible and thorough investigation into the incident took place.
“What's happening is really grotesque and is contrary to everything that President Putin and Russia said they would do,” Kerry told NBC's David Gregory on “Meet the Press” Sunday. “There are reports of drunken separatist soldiers unceremoniously piling bodies into trucks, removing both bodies as well as evidence from the site.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Intelligence Committee, was blunt. In an interview on CNN, she said Putin needed to "man up" and admit to any Russian involvement in the Malaysia Airlines crash, which she said she hoped was a mistake. She also said relations with Russia had returned to Cold-War levels.
While he said Israel has the right to protect itself, he underscored the importance of the U.S. and the international community working to bring about a ceasefire and an end to the hostilities.
“The work will not be easy,” he said. “Obviously, there are enormous passions in involved in this. ... Nevertheless, we don't want to see any more civilians getting killed.
Kerry is headed to Egypt on Monday to try to broker a resolution to the violence.
Despite the global unrest and deepening violence in Ukraine, polls show Americans would like to avoid direct engagement overseas.
A Politico poll released Monday showed just 17 percent of those surveyed said they wanted the U.S. to do more to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine while 31 percent said the current policy is the right one and 34 percent said the U.S. should be less involved.
The poll was completed before the downing of the Malaysian passenger jet last week.
The poll also showed that voters give Republicans a 7-point edge on who to trust with the nation's foreign policy, choosing the GOP over the Democrats 39 percent to 32 percent, respectively. Twenty-eight percent said they were unsure which party to trust, the survey found.