Putin Calls Obama, Hints at Move to 'Protect' Sliver of Moldova
Russian President Vladimir Putin called up President Obama on Friday as tens of thousands of Russian troops pressed along the Ukraine border and Washington feared a fresh invasion as a response to the White House's initial sanctions.
The Kremlin said the call was about the two leaders "exchanging views on the crisis in Ukraine."
"Vladimir Putin drew Barack Obama’s attention to continued rampage of extremists who are committing acts of intimidation towards peaceful residents, government authorities and law enforcement agencies in various regions and in Kiev with impunity," Putin's office said in a statement. "In light of this, the President of Russia suggested examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilize the situation. The two presidents agreed that specific parameters for this joint work will be discussed by the Russian and US foreign ministers in the near future."
Putin also complained about a "blockade" to Transnistria, a breakaway sliver of Moldova along the border of Ukraine populated with Russian and Ukrainian speakers, "which significantly complicate[s] the living conditions for the region’s residents, impeding their movement and normal trade and economic activities."
"He stressed that Russia stands for the fair and comprehensive settlement of the Transnistria conflict and hopes for effective work in the existing 5+2 negotiation format," the Kremlin added.
In a separate release, the Kremlin said Putin's national security council met to "begin the process of withdrawing from a number of bilateral Russian-Ukrainian agreements," particularly dealing with the Black Sea fleet, and "there was an exchange of views on strengthening Russia’s position in the Arctic region." That foreshadowed a potential next chapter of conflict between Washington and Moscow.
The White House version of the call was naturally different, stating that Putin called "to discuss the U.S. proposal for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, which Secretary Kerry had again presented to Foreign Minister Lavrov at the meeting at the Hague earlier this week, and which we developed following U.S. consultations with our Ukrainian and European partners."
"President Obama suggested that Russia put a concrete response in writing and the presidents agreed that Kerry and Lavrov would meet to discuss next steps," continued the White House readout. "President Obama noted that the Ukrainian government continues to take a restrained and de-escalatory approach to the crisis and is moving ahead with constitutional reform and democratic elections, and urged Russia to support this process and avoid further provocations, including the buildup of forces on its border with Ukraine."
The administration statement said Obama "underscored to President Putin that the United States continues to support a diplomatic path in close consultation with the Government of Ukraine and in support of the Ukrainian people with the aim of de-escalation of the crisis."
"President Obama made clear that this remains possible only if Russia pulls back its troops and does not take any steps to further violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. President Obama reiterated that the United States has strongly opposed the actions that Russia has already taken to violate Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Euromaidan PR, the official voice of the movement that ousted Viktor Yanukovych, tweeted disdain about the statement. "White House summary of
#Putin's call to #Obama doesn't even mention #Crimea! 'Crisis in Ukraine'? 'Next steps'? First leave Crimea!"
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters Friday that Putin assured him "that he had no intention to make any military move" into southern and eastern Ukraine. "I should also tell you that, at the same time, President Putin also expressed his concern about some extreme radical elements and any such movement along the borderlines," Ban added.
"I have been really trying to urge both parties to de-escalate the situation. Emotions were running high, as you will agree, and tensions have been very highly charged. Therefore, my immediate priority was to urge them, urge the leaders of both [countries] to engage in direct dialogue," he said. "I also urged the leaders of the Ukraine authorities to address all domestic concerns which they may have, which may also create concerns to the Russian side; therefore, a mutual effort would be very important at this time. But he assured me that he would have no such intention."
Ban has apparently been so unconcerned of further Russian invasion that he spent the previous two days in Greenland studying climate change. "While I really admire the wisdom of people of Greenland, who are living harmoniously with nature, but their livelihood is seriously threatened because of the melting glaciers and extreme weather patterns and sea level rise are now starting from that area," the UN leader said. "So I really wanted to send a strong warning to world leaders, standing on the Arctic ice."
Reuters quoted U.S. sources estimating the Russian troop buildup hit 40,000, including developed supply lines and a breadth of forces -- including the unmarked troops that occupied Crimea.
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters on board Air Force One en route to Riyadh on Friday that there was "nothing new in terms of the troops on the border."
"We of course continue to be very concerned about the Russian deployments on the border that go well beyond any military exercise that they would need to do as part of their standard practice," Rhodes said. "So it’s something we’re watching very closely."
Putin's call came after this week's G-7 meeting at the Nuclear Security Summit, where the G-8 decided to operate without Russia and take further moves against Moscow if additional Ukrainian territory is invaded.