The White House handed off the crisis to Vice President Joe Biden some time ago, with the last discussion released by the press office between President Obama and Yanukovych happening on March 27, 2012.
Biden called Yanukovych on Thursday to make “clear that the United States is prepared to sanction those officials responsible for the violence.”
“The Vice President urged President Yanukovych to take immediate and tangible steps to work with the opposition on a path forward that addresses the legitimate aspirations of the Ukrainian people,” the White House said. It was Biden’s ninth call to Yanukovych since November. “Almost every time the vice president was calling, it was a moment of decisive choice for President Yanukovych,” an administration official said today.
Blinken told MSNBC today, though, that Obama “has been deeply involved guiding this every single day” — or deeply involved in instructing his underlings to make it go away.
“He told us, his senior leadership team, to do everything we could to figure out a way to defuse the crisis and figure out a way forward for Ukraine. And that’s what we’ve done under his instructions. We’ve reported to him every day over the last couple of weeks on the situation in Ukraine and gotten direction from him,” Blinken said. “He spoke at length to Angela Merkel yesterday. He’ll be speaking to President Putin in the hours ahead. And we’ve had Vice President Biden deeply engaged with President Yanukovych. And we’ve also had senior leaders throughout the administration working with the opposition, working with the Europeans. This has been a very tightly and closely coordinated effort directed by the president.”
And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel finally got his Ukrainian counterpart on the phone today.
Ukrainian Minister of Defense Pavlo Lebedev “assured the secretary that the Ukrainian armed forces remain the protectors of the Ukrainian people, that their deployment inside the country has been focused on protecting defense facilities and equipment, and that his forces would not use arms against the Ukrainian people,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said this evening.
“Secretary Hagel said he was encouraged by the recent news that the Ukrainian government and the opposition leadership had reached an agreement on how to move forward without further violence. He commended the government’s decision to keep the military on the sidelines of the crisis thus far and urged continued restraint.”
A senior State Department official told reporters on background today that the U.S. was “very active diplomatically over the last two days.” Deputy Secretary Bill Burns will visit Kiev early next week.
“More broadly, I think we’ve been able to have an impact at key moments throughout this. As I said, nine calls at key moments by the vice president to Yanukovych, but also, very strong intersections at key moments by Secretary Kerry, including, you’ll remember, the night that Yanukovych moved his forces the first time against the Maidan, which was the night of Dec.10, and Secretary Kerry was the first to come out and call it a disgusting move,” the official said.
“It sort of shocked the system in the Ukraine, brought people into the Maidan and helped people, you know, end — avoid further bloodshed that night. Then, you remember when the black laws were passed, which closed on Jan. 16, which closed space for political opposition. Kerry again came out the next day and made clear that these were absolutely unacceptable and had to be repealed. One of the first public statements that this had to end, even before the street turned to violent. And then again his work with the opposition throughout this period in Munich since then, and again, today.”
John Kerry hopped on the phone today for a call with opposition leaders. Klitschko was invited to the call, but stayed out in the Maidan with protesters instead.