His diplomatic consultations in 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 it remains an open question whether the European allies would be
able to stomach the kind of crippling sanctions required to
significantly undermine Russia's economy 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 raised the possibility that Moscow might be
willing to negotiate a diplomatic outcome.
But the news was greeted warily by U.S. officials, unconvinced that
Putin really wants to cut a deal.
Obama talked to Putin just after a meeting in Riyadh with 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
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 with Putin.
They recall all too well Russia's earlier assurances to the West
that it would make no move against Ukraine's Crimea region — and
then it annexed the Black Sea peninsula.
Now, U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about Russian troops,
numbering as many as 40,000, massed on Ukraine's eastern border.
A Russian statement on the Putin-Obama phone call also said Putin
had raised concerns about Transdniestria, a tiny breakaway territory
comprised mainly of Russian-speakers in the ex-Soviet republic of
At the heart of subsequent negotiations expected between U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov is a U.S. diplomatic "off ramp".
Under this plan, international monitors would be deployed to Ukraine
to ensure the safety of ethnic Russians — the issue Moscow cited in
annexing Crimea, Russia would pull back its forces from the border,.
and there would be a direct Russia-Ukraine dialogue.
[to top of second column]
Lavrov and Kerry discussed Ukraine in a telephone call on Saturday
as well as the timing of further contact, Russia's Foreign Ministry
said. Kerry will travel from Riyadh to Paris before a
to-be-scheduled meeting with Lavrov early next week in Europe, State
Department spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters.
U.S. officials are still puzzling over Putin's intentions. During a
visit to The Hague, Obama said Russia was a "regional power" seeking
to exert influence in the region.
"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
Obama has not only to convince the Europeans of the need for strong
action but also to explain to Americans back home why what happens
in Ukraine should be of concern to the United States.
A recent CBS News poll showed 56 percent of Americans approve of
sanctions enacted thus far by the United States and the European
Union, but 65 percent do not think the United States should provide
military aid and weapons to Ukraine.
The poll also showed 57 percent did not believe the United States
had 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
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Shannon, Ireland, and
Katya Golubkova in Moscow; editing by Gareth Jones)
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