By Justin Sink - 03/25/14 12:16 PM EDT
President Obama said Tuesday that the United States was concerned that Russia's incursion into Ukraine might not stop in Crimea.
Obama said sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe are meant to prevent Russia from taking additional steps. He promised tougher sanctions would be authorized if Russian President Vladimir Putin sought more Ukrainian land.
Obama pushed back at the notion that Moscow had once again grown into the U.S.'s greatest geopolitical foe.
Obama dismissed Russia as a “regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors — not out of strength, but out of weakness.”
He noted that the U.S. extorted “considerable influence on our neighbors,” but said that “we generally don't have to invade them” to have a strong cooperative relationship.
He also declared Russia “far more isolated in this instance” than it had been “for most of the 20th century.”
“Russia's actions are a problem,” Obama said. “They don't pose the number one national security threat to the United States. I continue to be much more concerned, when it comes to our security, about the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”
The president's remarks came amid a wave of criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill who have accused Obama of misreading Putin. Republicans have noted that Obama ridiculed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney for a "Cold War mindset" when he identified Russia as America's biggest geopolitical threat during the campaign.
But Obama said Tuesday he wasn't concerned about Putin's motivations.
“I'm less interested in motivation and more interested in the facts and the principles that not only the United States but the entire international community are looking to uphold,” Obama said.
Obama said it was now up to Russia “to act responsibly and show itself to be once again willing to abide by international rules and international norms.”
The president expressed concern over the Russian troop buildup across the border from Ukraine, calling it an “attempt at intimidation.”
“But Russia has a right, legally, to have its troops on its own soil,” Obama said.
On Monday, the U.S. and other major economic powers announced that they were canceling a Group of Eight summit planned for this summer in Sochi, deciding to meet instead without Russia in Brussels. In addition to effectively suspending Russia's membership from the group, the major powers vowed they would impose coordinated sanctions against crucial sectors of the Russian economy if the situation escalated.
“Although it could cause some disruptions to each of our economies or certain industries, what I've been encouraged by is the firmness and the willingness on the part of all countries to look at ways in which they can participate in this process,” Obama said.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said while Europe's economy was more tightly integrated with Russia, they nevertheless stood ready to impose deep sanctions in response to further aggression.
“We will make sure that we will design these sanctions in such a way that they will have maximum impact on the Russian economy and not on the European, the Canadian, the Japanese or the American economy,” Rutte said.
Obama said maintaining pressure on Russia “depends on making sure that the international community stays unified” in arguing Russia’s takeover of Crimea was “an illegal action on the part of Russia."