WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — President Barack Obama is calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to move his troops back from Ukraine’s eastern border.
Speaking to CBS News, Obama warned that Russia could have “additional plans” amassing troops along the Ukraine-Russia border.
“It’s well known and well acknowledged that you’ve seen a range of troops massing along that border under the guise of military exercises,” Obama told CBS News. “But these are not what Russia would normally be doing. And, you know, it may simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine or it may be that they’ve got additional plans.”
Ukrainian officials claim that 100,000 Russian troops have amassed along the border, according to AFP.
Obama called on Putin to start talks with the new Ukrainian government.
Russia needs “to move back those troops and to begin negotiations directly with the Ukrainian government, as well as the international community.”
Obama hinted that Putin might be holding grievances “about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union.”
“There’s a strong sense of Russian nationalism and a sense that somehow the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past and that he wants to, in some fashion, reverse that or make up for that,” Obama said, adding that Putin’s path forward is not to revert back to Cold War tactics.
Obama stated that Putin “may be entirely misreading the West.”
“He’s certainly misreading American foreign policy,” Obama told CBS News. “We have no interest in encircling Russia and we have no interest in Ukraine beyond letting the Ukrainian people make their own decisions about their own lives.”
Obama added: “It is true that we reject the notion that there is a sphere of influence along the Russian border that then justifies Russia invading other countries. Certainly they’re going to have influence because of trade and tradition and language and heritage with Ukraine. Everybody acknowledges that.”
Obama did not tell CBS News what the U.S. would specifically do if Russia did push further into Ukraine, but did say that they would face more economic sanctions.
Obama is getting low marks among Americans for his handling of the crisis, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.
Majorities say they dislike Obama’s handling of the Ukraine situation (57 percent) and his interactions with Russia (54 percent).
Almost half of those polled say they support imposing tougher sanctions if Russia pushes into new regions or other countries; only 14 percent are opposed. That backs up threats from Obama and Western allies to target Russia’s economy with damaging sanctions if Putin goes further.
About a third of those surveyed said they oppose giving monetary aid to nations targeted by Russia. Only about 20 percent approve of financial support, while the biggest share is neutral. This week Congress is considering $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine sought by Obama.
The idea of lending any type of military support to Ukraine is unpopular, the poll says. Obama has said there are no plans to use military force to dislodge Russia from the Crimean Peninsula.
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