WASHINGTON — President Obama had no public events on his schedule today, yet skipped a meeting of his national security team at the White House today as they huddled over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Seen leaving the meeting at the White House were Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, and CIA Director John Brennan.
Vice President Joe Biden reportedly joined the meeting via videoconference, while Obama was briefed later by National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
Obama special adviser John Podesta was seen at the West Wing in mid-afternoon, but he was apparently leading family members on a tour, according to the White House pool report.
There was no word from the White House on whether Obama would issue any statement.
State Department on Secretary of State John Kerry today contacted acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov, meaning that Obama has still not had any president-to-president contact with Ukraine since 2012.
A Ukrainian official at the United Nations said an additional 15,000 Russian troops were streaming into Crimea after President Vladimir Putin received formal approval from the upper chamber of parliament to send forces into his neighbor.
Ukrainian military sources also told media outlets that two Russian anti-submarine warships had approached the coastline near Sevastopol, violating the two countries’ agreement on the Russian naval base located there.
These moves came just hours after Obama said in the White House press briefing room Friday afternoon that “indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
Russian troops will remain deployed until the “political-social situation in the country is normalized,” the Kremlin said in a statement, according to RIA Novosti.
The troop approval from senators in the Federation Council is open-ended, letting Putin decide troop levels.
A small group of protesters began to form in front of the White House around 4 p.m. Ilona Doerfler of Kiev brandished a megaphone and urged economic sanctions and a naval blockade, according to the White House pool report. “NATO ships in the Black Sea should organize a non-invasive blockade to stop Russian ships exiting,” she said. Asked about the dangers of escalation, she replied: “It’s already escalating. It is not about the Ukraine, it’s about the integrity of promises to respect territorial sovereignty.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said today that Putin’s “imperialist aspirations are a throwback to the last century.”
“He’s violated the freedom of all Ukrainians, while betraying the Russian people and their 20-year international commitment to ‘respect the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine’. History judges perpetrators of these actions poorly, as it does those who stand idly by,” McKeon said. “Our response should demonstrate the U.S. stands by its friends against bullies. We should do everything practical to help Ukraine turn back these invaders.”
“One of the steps that the we and our allies could take would be to place a significant number of international observers on the ground in Ukraine, if requested by the Ukrainian government,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). “The presence of international observers on the ground could reduce the risk that Russia would make a false claim of provocative acts by Ukraine as an excuse for further violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, and thereby help avoid a conflict that nobody should want.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) penned a piece for Politico outlining eight steps Obama should take against Russia: call it a military invasion, dispatch Kerry and Hagel to Kiev, lead a boycott of the G-8 summit in Sochi this June, suspend any trade discussions with Moscow, put forth a UN Security Council resolution to put the Russian and Chinese vetoes on record, renew a NATO membership push for Georgia, add more Russian officials to the Magnitsky List sanctions, and delay a Senate vote on under secretary of state for arms control and international security nominee Rose Gottemoeller, “who has tried to play down and potentially kept information from Congress and our allies about Russian violations of arms-control agreements.”
“The Obama administration must publicly acknowledge that its ‘reset’ with Russia is dead. The president must now accept that the only way to deal with tyrants like Vladimir Putin is with a clear understanding that they can’t be trusted and that only decisive action will deter their provocative moves,” Rubio wrote.
“This is a critical moment in world history. The credibility of the alliances and security assurances that have preserved the international order is at stake. If Putin’s illegal actions are allowed to stand unpunished, it will usher in a dark and dangerous era in world affairs.”
The United Nations Security Council quickly pulled together an informal meeting on the invasion, but spent two hours just arguing about the format for the meeting.
“We call on the Security Council now to do everything possible to stop aggression of the Russian Federation to Ukraine. There is still a chance,” Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev said, adding that the number of Russian troops pouring into his nation “is increasing every coming hour.”
“We urge all member states of the United Nations to demonstrate solidarity with the Ukrainian nation to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country,” Sergeyev said.
In Kiev, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko urged Ukrainians to rally against the Russian invasion.
“Come to the streets, express your stance, do not let them destroy your Fatherland. Indeed, you can live anywhere, but you have an only Fatherland,” Klitschko said.
He asked Russians who live in Ukraine to contact their relatives in Russia. “May they also express their support for you and Ukraine as the country where you live,” the UDAR party leader added.
As if anticipating protests in Russia, opposition leader Alexei Navalny was placed under house arrest in Moscow on Friday with all Internet access forbidden.
UPDATE 5:15 p.m. EST: The White House issued a lengthy readout of what it says was a 90-minute phone call between Obama and Putin.
“The United States calls on Russia to de-escalate tensions by withdrawing its forces back to bases in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine,” the White House said. “…President Obama told President Putin that, if Russia has concerns about the treatment of ethnic Russian and minority populations in Ukraine, the appropriate way to address them is peacefully through direct engagement with the government of Ukraine and through the dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As a member of both organizations, Russia would be able to participate. President Obama urged an immediate effort to initiate a dialogue between Russia and the Ukrainian government, with international facilitation, as appropriate. The United States is prepared to participate.”
“…President Obama made clear that Russia’s continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia’s standing in the international community. In the coming hours and days, the United States will urgently consult with allies and partners in the UN Security Council, the North Atlantic Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and with the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum. The United States will suspend upcoming participation in preparatory meetings for the G-8. Going forward, Russia’s continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation.”
The Kremlin said in a statement that “the two presidents discussed in detail various aspects of the extraordinary situation in Ukraine.”
“In reply to Mr Obama’s concern over the possibility of the use of Russian armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin drew his attention to the provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists who are in fact being supported by the current authorities in Kiev,” the Kremlin said.
“The Russian President spoke of a real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots who are currently on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.”
UPDATE 6 p.m. EST: The White House released an official photo of Obama on the phone with Putin.