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Obama admits Russia unlikely to leave Crimea

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-26

US President Barack Obama acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that Russia is unlikely to surrender control of Crimea, conceding that Western condemnations have had little effect on President Vladimir Putin.

Obama reiterated that the international community would never recognise Russia’s takeover of Crimea. But he and European leaders, gathering in the Netherlands for a two-day nuclear summit, have said a military response against Moscow was unlikely.

The leaders focused much of their attention on keeping Russia from expanding elsewhere in Ukraine, even if that means enacting broad sanctions that have negative implications for their own economies.

“Some particular sanctions would hurt some countries more than others,” Obama said during a joint news conference with the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte. “But all of us recognise that we have to stand up for a core principle that lies at the heart of the international order.”

The president spoke a day after the US and its partners in the Group of Seven (G-7) economic forum declared that they were indefinitely suspending cooperation with Russia, thereby discontinuing the Group of Eight or G-8. The leaders also said they were prepared to impose sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy, including its energy and defence industries.

Obama leadership tested

Russia’s brazen incursion into Ukraine has proved a fierce challenge to Obama’s leadership on the world stage. He arrived in the Netherlands, the first stop on a weeklong trip abroad, facing withering criticism from Republicans who say the president underestimated Putin or misjudged the Russian leader’s intentions.

Among those critics is Obama’s former presidential rival Mitt Romney. The GOP politician declared during the 2012 campaign that Russia was America’s top geopolitical foe, an assertion Obama dismissed as a relic of Cold War-era thinking.

Obama took aim at Romney’s assertion again on Tuesday, using the opportunity to derisively cast Russia as little more than a “regional power” that threatens its allies, but not the US.

“Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbours not out of strength, but out of weakness,” Obama said.

The pointed comment appeared to take aim at what Western officials see as Putin’s insecurity over Russia’s standing in the world.

'PUTIN REACTED IN ANGER'

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to Jimmy Carter, said that he believed Putin felt undermined following the revolution which ousted his ally, Viktor Yanukovich.

“He reacted in great anger because he felt that the Ukrainian decision essentially to become an increasingly more democratic Western state undermined his grand concept, his great quest in terms of the future – namely, a Eurasian union,” he told FRANCE 24 on Tuesday.

“Putin also acted very deliberately, in such a way that he could protect himself by deniability. His soldiers were dressed like thugs [...] but that made it possible for him – if push came to shove – to disown them, to say they don't represent Russia, and to quickly withdraw them," he said.

Ukraine withdraws from Crimea

In a sign of how difficult it would be to roll back Russia’s advances, Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea piled onto buses and began their journey to Ukrainian territory on Tuesday following a withdrawal order from the central government in Kiev.

The embarrassing exit sparked fresh criticism among the public and politicians disappointed with the government in Kiev, which is largely perceived in the capital to have badly mismanaged the crisis.

“People aren’t necessarily saying it wasn’t the right decision to not fight the Russians given their numerical superiority,” FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reported from Kiev, “but it was the way it was handled; the slowness of the decision to pull out; the confusion of how; the lack of information given – even to military families – and the fact that all of this has resulted in quite a large number of Ukrainian military personnel defecting to the Russian side.”

'STERN CRITICISM OVER CRIMEA PULLOUT'

In The Hague, the situation in the region dominated the two-day Nuclear Security Summit.

Western nations used the talks to project a united front in their dispute with Russia, in the hope that diplomatic and political isolation might prevent Putin from launching further incursions into eastern and southern Ukraine.

Russia has amassed thousands of troops on its border near those regions, raising anxieties in Washington, as well as in other former Soviet territories.

Former national security advisor Brzezinski told FRANCE 24 that he hoped Obama was “privately conveying to the Russians” the penalties of any further incursions.

“I hope he’s conveying the more explicit concern that if they try to apply some [further] form of military pressure either on Ukraine or on Moldova, the consequences on Russian relations with the international community – specifically the United States - will be much more serious; potentially damaging long-term Russian interests,” he said.

Sticking to sanctions

Obama sought to reassure the international community that NATO would come to the defence of any member of the 28-nation alliance.

“When it comes to a potential military response that is defined by NATO membership” he said. “That’s what NATO’s about.” The West’s preferred method for preventing an escalation of the conflict continued to be economic sanctions, both on individuals close to Putin and the Russian economy.

Obama appeared to have made progress in convincing European leaders that the costs of implementing such sanctions outweighed the risks to their own economies. Europe has deep economic ties with Russia and the continent’s leaders have worried that sanctions on Moscow could boomerang and hurt their own economies.

Later Tuesday, Obama met with Prince Mohamed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, to address Arab anxieties over the Syrian civil war and US nuclear talks with Iran. He also met jointly with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, bringing together two of America’s Asian allies, who have been quarrelling over rekindled memories of Japan’s aggression in World War II.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Date created : 2014-03-25

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