His diplomatic consultations at The Hague, Brussels and Rome over
the past week all resulted in a strong show of unity between the
United States and Europe that Russia must face consequences should
it move against southern or eastern Ukraine.
But whether European allies would be able to stomach the type of
crippling sanctions required to undermine the Russian economy in a
major way remained an open question, since some of their own
economies would be jolted as well.
A late-night phone call on Friday between Obama and Russian
President Vladimir Putin offered the possibility that Russia might
be willing to negotiate a diplomatic outcome.
But the news was greeted warily by U.S. officials who wondered if
Putin really wants to make a deal.
Obama talked to Putin just after meeting Saudi King Abdullah where
the civil war in Syria, another major bone of contention between the
United States and Russia, was a main topic of conversation.
U.S. officials now will "see whether Russians are serious about
diplomacy" on Ukraine, was how one senior Obama administration
official described the aftermath of the phone call.
Not lost on them was that the Russian government had assured the
West it would make no move against the Crimea region of southern
Ukraine. And then it did.
Now, with as many as 40,000 Russian troops massed on Ukraine's
border, U.S. officials are increasingly concerned.
In addition, the Russian statement on the Putin-Obama phone call
said the Russian president raised concerns about Transnistria, the
Russian-majority section of Moldova.
At the heart of subsequent negotiations expected by U.S. Secretary
of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is a
U.S. diplomatic "off-ramp".
In it, international monitors would be deployed to Ukraine to assure
ethnic Russians are safe, there would be a pull back of Russian
forces, and a direct Russia-Ukraine dialogue.
[to top of second column]
To some extent U.S. officials are still guessing at Putin's
intentions in the region. During a visit to The Hague, Obama said
Russia was a "regional power" looking to exert influence in the
"I think he's been willing to show a deeply held grievance about
what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union," Obama told
CBS News in an interview on Friday.
"I think 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, you know, reverse that or make up
Part of Obama's challenge is not just to convince the Europeans the
need for strong action but to persuade Americans at home why they
should be interested about what happens in a distant part of the
A CBS News poll taken in recent days said 56 percent of Americans
approve of sanctions enacted thus far by the United States and
European nations, but 65 percent do not think the U.S. should
provide military aid and weapons to Ukraine.
In addition, 57 percent said the United States does not have a
responsibility to do something about Ukraine.
Obama himself said he could understand why people "might decide to
look the other way," but that the "international order" must be
(Editing by Sophie Hares)
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