By Justin Sink and Rebecca Shabad - 02/21/14 06:10 PM EST
President Obama on Friday had a "constructive" conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the peace deal in Ukraine, the State Department said.
Obama spoke on the telephone with Putin for more than an hour, according to a senior State Department official.
"President Putin affirmed Russia wants to be a part of the implementation process,” the official said, adding that both the U.S. and Russia agreed there was a need to stabilize Ukraine’s economy.
In a subsequent statement, the White House said the leaders "exchanged views on the need to implement quickly the political agreement reached today in Kyiv, the importance of stabilizing the economic situation and undertaking necessary reforms, and the need for all sides to refrain from further violence."
Under the peace deal, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has agreed to hold elections sometime this year, accelerating a contest originally scheduled for March 2014. Yanukovych will also forfeit presidential powers obtained under recent changes to the constitution, ceding back to parliament greater authority to name government ministers, including the prime minister.
The Ukrainian government also moved to fire an interior minister blamed by opposition leaders for a bloody crackdown against demonstrators that has left dozens of people dead.
The State official said Obama and Putin pledged to stay engaged with the Europeans as they seek to end the bloodshed.
“It’s clearly an important signal that the president and President Putin were able to talk positively about implementing this agreement,” the official said. “We have to move on from there and ensure that this very, very fragile Ukrainian economy is stabilized.”
The official also praised Vice President Biden for serving as “a very important diplomatic channel” for the United States. Since violence erupted late last year, Biden has spoken to Yanukovych nine times by phone, including one call on Thursday in advance of the brokered agreement.
Obama has sought in recent days to dispel the idea that the conflict in Ukraine was a proxy for tensions between Moscow and Washington.
At a press conference in Mexico, Obama said that while Russian influence was “worth noting,” the U.S. did not see the situation as “some Cold War chessboard.”
“I don’t think there's a competition between the United States and Russia, I think this is an expression of the hopes and aspirations off the people” in Ukraine, Obama said.
Obama added that the threat of sanctions had to do “with whether or not the people of Ukraine can choose their own destiny.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney similarly objected Friday to questions characterizing the Ukrainian conflict as a tug-of-war between Russia and the West.
"I would say that it is profoundly different from the Cold War era, in that what we've seen in recent weeks and months is the express desire of the Ukrainian people for a future that they decide on their own for themselves, for their nation, and that that desire expressed by Ukrainians on the street through peaceful protests," Carney said.
Deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken on Friday said he did not believe the Ukraine agreement "would have happened without the support of Russia," and that the White House hopes opposition leaders in Ukraine "can bring along the people."
But Blinken also warned that "we're not out of the woods yet."
"It still has to be implemented," Blinken said on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
— This story was first posted at 1:40 p.m. and has been updated.