Obama talks Crimea with Spanish, Kazakh leaders

President Obama spoke Monday afternoon with the leaders of Spain and Kazakhstan as the United States continues to rally international support behind its condemnation of the Russian incursion into the Crimea region of Ukraine. 

In a conversation with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Obama reiterated “grave concern over Russia’s clear violation of international law and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to a statement from the White House.

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The leaders also praised the “restraint shown by the Ukrainian government” in response to the deployment of Russian troops in Crimea, an area dominated by ethnic Russians with deep cultural, political and military ties to Moscow. Obama and Rajoy agreed that Ukraine and Russia should de-escalate the situation through a direct dialogue.

In recent days, the White House has stressed that there is an “off-ramp” available to Russian President Vladimir Putin, by which international monitors tasked with protecting the human rights of Russian nationals would replace the military presence.

"We are happy to work with the Russian government and international partners to make sure that there are monitors on the ground in Crimea and in other parts of Ukraine to make sure that ethnic Russians have their rights protected and that any violation of those rights will be reported internationally," White House press secretary Jay Carney said earlier Monday.

"That's the way to address these concerns if those are the concerns that motivated the Russian government to take action that's in clear violation of international law."

Rajoy also agreed to oppose a secession referendum slated for Sunday by which residents of Crimea would vote to leave Ukraine for Russia. Administration officials said earlier Monday that the U.S. viewed such a referendum as illegitimate and would not recognize the results.

In the president’s conversation with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the leaders agreed on “the importance of upholding principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to the White House. The pair also stressed that the Ukrainian people should be able to decide their future “without fear of foreign interference.”

Separately, Vice President Biden spoke Monday with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, with the crisis in Ukraine again dominating the agenda.

“The two leaders expressed firm support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, and consulted on steps to lead to a de-escalation of the situation and peaceful resolution,” the vice president’s office said in a statement.

Biden plans to return to the United States in time for a meeting Wednesday with President Obama and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House.