By Keith Laing - 03/09/14 09:57 AM EDT
White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said Sunday that it was still possible to reach a diplomatic resolution to the standoff between the U.S. and Russia over the latter’s troop building in Ukraine.
Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Blinken said Russian President Vladimir Putin can end mounting tensions over Crimea, a peninsula in Ukraine.
Russian troops have attempted to take control of Crimea, angering U.S. and European officials who argue that the peninsula is part of a sovereign nation.
Blinken said Sunday that it was still possible for the countries to reach a peaceful resolution to the situation.
“It’s not a done deal,” Blinken said. “I think the door is clearly open to resolving this diplomatically. Secretary Kerry is engaged with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov. European leaders are also engaged with Putin, as is the president.”
Blinken said the Russian leader, who has famously flouted U.S. wishes before, “has a choice to make” now in the standoff over Crimea.
“[Putin] can choose to continue to pursue this path, and that’s going to result in increasing isolation for Russia, increasing economic cost and in undermining Russia’s power and influence,” Blinken said. “Or again there’s a very clear off ramp that would involve getting international inspectors in to verify any concerns Russia may have about the treatment of ethnic minorities, getting the two countries — Russia and Ukraine — talking again and tracking toward elections on May 25.
“To the extent that Russia has concerns about the so-called legitimacy of the government, the way to resolve that is through the elections the government itself has set,” Blinken continued. “That’s the choice for Russia.”
Blinken dismissed criticism of President Obama’s handling of the Crimea situation and previous international incidents from Republicans, as well as a few Democrats, who argue that the president has been weak with aggressive foreign leaders like Putin.
“I think Putin’s seeing exactly the opposite,” Blinken said. “I think what Putin’s seeing is the president mobilizing the international community both in support of Ukraine and to insolate Russia for its actions in Ukraine, and Russia is paying a clear cost for that. Putin is not acting out of a position of strength; he’s acting out of a position of weakness.”
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Blinken said that administration officials have seen reports that Russia is threatening to halt international inspections of its nuclear weapons in response to sanctions.
“The Russians haven’t said anything to us about that directly," he said. “We haven’t seen anything change in their practices.”
Blinken also rejected a planned referendum in Crimea to become a part of Russia.
“We won’t recognize it, and most of the world won’t either,” he said.
— Kyle Balluck contributed to this report, which was updated at 10:53 a.m.