White House press secretary Jay Carney said that U.S.-Russia relations were “not in a good place right now” after the Kremlin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region, but defended President Obama's handling of Moscow.
Carney insisted that Obama had been “clear-eyed” in his handling of Russia, despite the two nations clashing on a number of issues, from Syria to Ukraine.
“I don’t think there’s any question that relations between Russia and the U.S. are not in a good place right now,” Carney told reporters Wednesday.
U.S.-Russian relations hit new lows following Russian President Vladimir Putin's takeover of Crimea.
Putin claims that he is defending the safety of the area’s Russian-ethnic majority, but the White House has called the move an illegal power grab. The Russian leader signed a treaty Tuesday to annex Crimea following a Sunday popular referendum that backed secession from Ukraine.
Obama has said that the U.S. will not accept the referendum and has called on Putin to sit down for talks with the Ukrainian government, draw down military forces controlling Crimea, and allow international monitors.
The U.S. and the European Union have approved sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian individuals behind the Crimea move, but critics say those measures are ineffectual and will not make Putin back down.
Carney said Obama throughout his presidency “has been focused on making progress where the interests of the U.S. and Russia coincide.”
He added, though, that the president had been “very blunt and vocal" when the two nations disagreed.
“The intensify of the disagreements has increased, to be sure,” said Carney, citing Syria, where Russia has backed embattled President Bashar Assad during the three-year civil war.
“This is a higher order of disagreement,” he said of the current controversy over Crimea, which Carney said was a violation of international law and of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Carney said Putin could still de-escalate the conflict by allowing monitors and sitting down for talks with the interim Ukrainian government in Kiev.