Obama urges Putin to pull back
© Getty Images

President Obama warned Russian President Vladimir Putin during a 90-minute phone call Saturday that Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine would diminish its standing in the international community. He added that the U.S. is suspending preparation for the upcoming Group of 8 economic summit in Sochi, the White House said.

The two leaders spoke hours after the Russian president ignored Obama’s televised warning to stay out of Ukraine following the ouster of its pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovych. Russian troops entered the Crimean peninsula on Friday, and on Saturday the upper house of parliament approved Putin’s request to authorize the use of military force.

“President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law,” the White House said in describing the call.

“The United States condemns Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory. 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.”

In its own readout of the call published Saturday, the Kremlin said Putin cited “a real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens” currently in Ukraine. Putin, the Kremlin said, drew Obama’s attention “to the provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists who are in fact being supported by the current authorities in Kiev.”

“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,” the Kremlin said.

According to the White House, Obama told Putin that if he has concerns about the safety of ethnic Russians and minority populations, he should address them peacefully through international organizations like the United Nations.

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,” the White House said. The U.S. will “urgently consult” with allies in the U.N. and other international organizations, and the White House warned in its statement that “Russia’s continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation.”

Obama also spoke separately with President Hollande of France and Prime Minister Harper of Canada on Saturday. The leaders agreed that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected, and expressed their grave concern over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, according to a White House readout.

The Kremlin said Putin talked with Hollande and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as well. 

Top U.S. national security officials met earlier Saturday to discuss “potential policy options” in response to Russia’s military intervention in the Crimean peninsula, the White House said. Obama did not attend the meeting but received a briefing from Susan Rice, the national security advisor.

Vice President Biden participated via teleconference, a second White House said.

Other participants in the high-level meeting included Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Latest on historic Korea summit | Trump says 'many people' interested in VA job | Pompeo thinks Trump likely to leave Iran deal Should Mike Pompeo be confirmed? Intel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security MORE, CIA director John Brennan, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey and James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, the Associated Press reported. Separately, Hagel spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The U.N. Security Council met on Saturday afternoon, but its options for responding were limited by the veto power that Russia can exercise as a permanent member.

In the U.S., Republican lawmakers began calling for a more forceful congressional and administration response, including possible limited sanctions and freezing assets of Russian officials or their allies in Ukraine

According to news reports, the acting leaders of the new Western-allied Ukrainian government demanded that Russia remove its forces from Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea heavily-populated by Russians. CNN reported that acting president Oleksandr Turchynov said Ukraine was prepared to mobilize its military in response.

This story was updated at 6:28 p.m.