Kerry: Russia Actually 'Concerned' About Pro-Russia Takeovers, 'Previously Scheduled' Military Buildup
White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed at today's briefing that the Kerry conversation with Lavrov was "the most recent conversation I'm aware of at a high level with the Russian government."
When it was noted that a lot has happened since Obama spoke to Putin last week, Carney replied, "We are, obviously, in constant consultation at a variety of levels with the Russian government and others, as it relates to the unfolding events in Ukraine."
"I think you can be assured that this is an issue that has attention at the highest level and will, as each day passes," he added.
Obama never spoke with Yanukovych as the crisis unfolded over several months, leaving that up to the vice president, who called Yanukovych nine times over a three-month period of protests.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at NATO headquarters in Brussels that he's "closely watching Russia's military exercises along the Ukrainian border, which they announced, as you know, yesterday."
"I expect Russia to be transparent about these activities. And I urge them not to take any steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to miscalculation during a very delicate time, a time of great tension," Hagel continued.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Russia "not to take any action that can escalate tension or create misunderstanding."
The White House continued to say Thursday that they didn't know where Yanukovych is -- particularly when asked whether Russia giving safe harbor to the fugitive president is a provocative action -- but he is expected to give a defiant televised statement Friday from Russia.
Local Russian media reported that Yanukovych landed in Rostov-on-Don Thursday night accompanied by Russian warplanes, then proceeded to an estate for VIPs in the southern city.
The administration continued to tread carefully around the question of whether Yanukovych is still the legitimate president.
"As I've said earlier and others, Mr. Yanukovych abdicated his responsibilities when he packed up and left the capital of his country," Carney said. "And he fled Kiev and has only been seen once, on videotape, since Saturday. You know, those actions undermined his legitimacy, and Ukraine's lawmakers in the parliament are fulfilling their obligation to the Ukrainian people by forming a government that can tackle the pressing economic and political issues facing the country until new presidential elections can be held."
But Kerry seemed to question Yanukovych's legitimacy based in part on the fact that he hadn't returned Vice President Joe Biden's phone call.
"He voluntarily departed, and he signed an agreement, and then without signing the law that was the precondition to the implementation of the rest of the agreement, he departed and took off to parts unknown and was unavailable to those of us who were trying to reach him. The vice president of the United States had a call in to him for some 12 to 14 hours, unanswered," Kerry said. "So I think it is clear that events have now overtaken whatever legitimacy he claimed."
Biden did get Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on the phone today "to welcome the formation of a new government in Ukraine."
"The Vice President emphasized that this is an important opportunity not only to bring peace, stability, and unity to Ukraine, but also to restore the faith of all of the Ukrainian people in their country’s democratic institutions as they prepare for new elections in May," the White House said in a readout of the call. "The Vice President reassured the Prime Minister that the United States will offer its full support as Ukraine undertakes the reforms necessary to return to economic health, pursue reconciliation, uphold its international obligations, and seek open and constructive relationships with all its neighbors."