Putin Calls Obama to Discuss Ukraine, White House Says

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Neither American nor European officials expect Mr. Putin to easily reverse his seizure of Crimea, the largely Russian-speaking Ukrainian peninsula Moscow annexed last week after Russian troops took control there. Indeed, the Kremlin statement made no mention of Crimea, suggesting Mr. Putin considers the matter a fait accompli that is no longer up for discussion. Analysts said the Russian leader may be seeking some sort of de facto acceptance of that new status quo in exchange for not sending troops massed on the border into eastern Ukraine.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia called President Obama on Friday.CreditAlexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti Kremlin, via Associated Press
NewyorkTimes
29March 14

WASHINGTON — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia reached out to President Obama on Friday to discuss ideas about how to peacefully resolve the international standoff over Ukraine, a surprise move by Moscow to pull back from the brink of an escalated confrontation that has put Europe and much of the world on edge.

After weeks of provocative moves punctuated by a menacing buildup of troops on Ukraine’s border, Mr. Putin’s unexpected telephone call to Mr. Obama offered a hint of a possible settlement. The two leaders agreed to have their top diplomats meet to discuss concrete proposals for defusing the crisis that has generated the most serious clash between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

But it remained uncertain whether Mr. Putin was seriously interested in a resolution that would go far enough to satisfy the United States, Ukraine and Europe, or instead was seeking a diplomatic advantage at a time when he has been isolated internationally. While the White House account of the call emphasized the possible diplomatic movement, the Kremlin’s version stressed Mr. Putin’s complaints about “extremists” in Ukraine and introduced into the mix of issues on the table the fate of Transnistria, another pro-Russian breakaway province outside his borders.

Neither American nor European officials expect Mr. Putin to easily reverse his seizure of Crimea, the largely Russian-speaking Ukrainian peninsula Moscow annexed last week after Russian troops took control there. Indeed, the Kremlin statement made no mention of Crimea, suggesting Mr. Putin considers the matter a fait accompli that is no longer up for discussion. Analysts said the Russian leader may be seeking some sort of de facto acceptance of that new status quo in exchange for not sending troops massed on the border into eastern Ukraine.

Mr. Obama took the call from Mr. Putin at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after finishing a two-hour dinner with King Abdullah to discuss Iran, Syria and other security issues. Amid intelligence reports warning of a further Russian incursion into Ukraine, American officials were trying to puzzle through the situation on Friday night, unsure what Mr. Putin was up to, but deeply suspicious.

“President 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,” the White House said in a statement. “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.”

In its statement posted on its official website, the Kremlin said Mr. 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.”

“In light of this,” it added, “the president of Russia suggested examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilize the situation.”

Neither the Kremlin nor the White House said what those steps might be. The White House said Mr. Putin was responding to an American proposal that Secretary of State John Kerry presented to Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov during a meeting at The Hague earlier in the week, a proposal developed in consultation with Ukraine’s interim government and European allies.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov have been passing a “working document” back and forth that explores ways for the Russians to pull back militarily, as well as ideas for how the international community could support constitutional reform in Ukraine. Among other things, it could include guaranteeing more autonomy for certain regions, disarming the militias that have emerged and defining Ukraine’s relationship to international alliances like NATO.

In citing extremist action, Mr. Putin sought to capitalize on a tense internal showdown in Kiev. Members of an ultranationalist group, Right Sector, have surrounded the Ukrainian Parliament over the last two days, demanding the resignation of Ukraine’s acting interior minister over the shooting death of one of the group’s leaders earlier this week in western Ukraine.

The presence of masked, armed demonstrators threatening to storm the Parliament building offered the Russian government an opportunity to bolster its contention that the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovych, a Moscow ally, after pro-European street protests last month was an illegal coup carried out by right-wing extremists with Western encouragement.

In fact, the nationalist groups, largely based in western Ukraine, had formed just one segment of a broad coalition of demonstrators who occupied the streets of Kiev for months demanding Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster.

The Ukrainian Parliament voted Friday to create a special commission to investigate the death of the Right Sector leader, Oleksandr Myzychko, who was also known as Sashko Bely and was shot to death in the city of Rivne on Tuesday, apparently as law enforcement authorities tried to arrest him.

Parliament decided not to vote on a proposal calling for the resignation of the interior minister, Arsen Avakov, until the commission makes its report. Members of Right Sector said they were not satisfied with that decision, but would only picket the Parliament building and not try to go inside as some had threatened. Some of the group’s members carried clubs and axes.

Despite the weaponry, the atmosphere outside the building by Friday afternoon was relaxed, with many of the demonstrators having returned to Independence Square, the central gathering point during more than three months of civil unrest in Kiev.

While not mentioning Crimea, the Kremlin drew attention to Ukraine’s blockade of Transnistria, a breakaway, pro-Russian region of Moldova, another former Soviet republic to the south. Frozen for years in an international limbo, neither accepting Moldova’s rule nor formally part of Russia, Transnistria has relied on land access through Ukraine for crucial imports.

The Kremlin said a new blockade would “significantly complicate the living conditions for the region’s residents, impeding their movement and normal trade and economic activities,” and it urged negotiations to address the situation.

Russia has more than 1,000 troops in Transnistria, the remnants of a peacekeeping force deployed since 1992, and it has relied on overland access through Ukraine to supply them. The next talks on the conflict are scheduled for Vienna on April 10 and 11.

Some officials in the region have asked to follow Crimea and become part of Russia. Moldova has been working toward the same sweeping political and free trade agreements with the European Union that prompted Russian opposition in Ukraine.

American officials and analysts saw Mr. Putin’s reference to Transnistria as an ominous sign and possible prelude for Russian intervention, just as Moscow cited unsubstantiated threats to Russian speakers in Crimea when it ordered troops to seize the peninsula.

Mr. Putin’s willingness to negotiate suggested some confidence that he will be dealing with the West from a position of strength, having consolidated his grip on Crimea and largely dispersed the remaining Ukrainian military units that had been holed up awaiting instructions from Kiev. The Ukrainian government this week formally ordered a withdrawal.

But American officials hoped that the move reflected a growing realization that much of the world was against Mr. Putin. Although sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe so far have been limited largely to individual Russians and a Russian bank, Moscow has found little if any support for its actions, even among allies like China. Other members of the Group of 8 advanced states respond

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Allies must act together to keep Putin in check

It is vital that Britain is not seen to act unilaterally over Crimea, but in concert with our European allies

Vladimir Putin...In this photo taken Saturday, March 8, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin watches downhill ski competition of the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Roza Khutor mountain district of Sochi, Russia.
Vladimir Putin, at the Winter Paralympics in Sochi, is convinced there is a ‘Destroy Russia’ project Photo: AP

9:00PM GMT 11 Mar 2014

Russia’s campaign to gain control of Crimea will culminate on Sunday with an illegal referendum conducted at gunpoint. Once this formality is complete, a region of Ukraine with almost two million inhabitants will almost certainly fall into the Kremlin’s grasp. Peace and order in Europe rests on the notion that borders must never be redrawn by force of arms. By violating this central principle, Russia has threatened the security of every European nation.

David Cameron was right, therefore, to threaten Vladimir Putin with sanctions if he refuses to back down. Yesterday, British officials convened a meeting in London with their counterparts from nine other countries – including nations as far-flung as Japan, Turkey, America and Germany – to discuss what counter-measures are possible. We should, however, be realistic about the goal of this effort. Tragically, Crimea’s fate is probably sealed. Rather than being formally absorbed into Russia, it might copy other regions under Moscow’s “protection”, such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and choose to declare independence. Yet the reality would be clear to all but the wilfully deluded.

The aim of sanctions, in other words, would not be to save Crimea, but to deter Mr Putin from going further. His next possible target is already clear: the invasion of eastern Ukraine. Any such onslaught would almost certainly shatter the restraint of that country’s new leaders, who sensibly decided against waging a doomed battle for Crimea. They would have little choice but to resist a Russian invasion of the east, meaning that a terrible conflict would follow. There is also the threat to other neighbours of Mr Putin’s with significant Russian populations, which include members of both Nato and the European Union.

Hence the overriding importance of making Mr Putin pay for Crimea. It is true that this would put Britain in a tricky position: although we buy virtually no energy from Moscow, we possess the biggest financial centre in Europe, which is heavily reliant on Russian business. Mr Cameron says he is willing to act even if it damages the City. But other sections of our economy would be at risk, too: for example, Russia buys almost 10 per cent of our car exports.

What is vital, therefore, is that we are not seen to act unilaterally, but in concert with our European allies, whose security is equally threatened. Germany, in particular, is a key Russian trading partner and a vital market for the Kremlin’s gas exports. Angela Merkel is often hailed as the most powerful leader in Europe. This is a moment for her to show her mettle by joining a common effort to face down Mr Putin.

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29 March

Ukraine crisis: Putin and Obama discuss diplomatic plan

President Barack Obama waves to Governor of Riyadh Prince Khalid Bandar bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud and other Saudi officials next to his helicopter in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Friday, March 28, 2014Barack Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia following a trip to Europe

Russia’s Vladimir Putin has telephoned US President Barack Obama to discuss a possible diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine.

They considered a US plan for a halt to Russia’s military build-up up on the border with Ukraine, a troop withdrawal in Crimea, and moves to protect the Russian speakers in the region.

Mr Putin stressed the threat posed by “extremists” in Kiev, the Kremlin said.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea has sparked international condemnation.

In the hour-long phone call, the US president urged Mr Putin to avoid the build-up of forces on the Russian border.

“President Obama underscored to President Putin that the United States continues to support a diplomatic path… with the aim of de-escalation of the crisis,” the White House said in a statement.

“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.”

Mark Mardell reports: ”It does sound like the Russians are backing away from further conflict”

The two leaders agreed that their foreign ministers would meet soon to discuss the next steps.

The US proposal, developed in consultation with Ukraine and other European countries, includes the deployment of international monitors in Crimea to protect the rights of Russian speakers, and the return of Russian troops there to their bases.

Mr Obama received Mr Putin’s call in Saudi Arabia – the latest leg of a trip which also took the US president to Europe where the Ukraine crisis dominated discussions.

The Kremlin said in a statement that the Russian president drew Mr Obama’s attention to “the continued rampage of extremists” in Kiev and various regions of Ukraine.

It said these individuals were “committing acts of intimidation towards peaceful residents, government authorities and law enforcement agencies… with impunity”.

Mr Putin suggested examining possible steps the global community could take to help stabilise the situation, the Kremlin statement said.

He also expressed concern at an “effective blockade” of Moldova’s separatist region of Trans-Dniester, where Russia has troops.

Pro-Russian politicians there have sent a request asking to join the Russian Federation.

Nato fears Russia could use its forces in Trans-Dniester to invade the breakaway region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Head of the Russian Interior Ministry's branch in the North Caucasus Kazimir Botashev at the presentation ceremony of the top military brass in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Friday, March 28, 2014.President Putin welcomed military leaders to the Kremlin on Friday

Meanwhile in New York, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he had been assured by President Putin that the Russian leader “had no intention to make any military move” into Ukraine.

Russia’s reported troop movements near Ukraine’s eastern border – described as a “huge military build-up” by Nato – has triggered fears that Mr Putin’s interest in Ukraine is not limited to Crimea.

The BBC’s North America Editor, Mark Mardell, said Friday night’s phone call could indicate tentative progress towards a diplomatic solution – just when fears were growing in the West that Russia could be about to stage an invasion of eastern Ukraine.

The US and its allies have imposed sanctions on members of Mr Putin’s inner circle, and threatened to take action to target the Russian economy, in response to Moscow’s actions in Crimea.

Moscow formally annexed Crimea after the predominantly ethnic Russian region held a referendum which backed joining Russia.

Kiev and the West condemned the vote as “illegal”.

The move followed months of street protests, which led to the overthrow of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February.

Map of Crimea

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Links

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/29/world/europe/russianborder.html?hp

 

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