President Obama said Thursday that Moscow was not abiding by “the spirit or the letter” of an agreement struck by foreign ministers last week in Geneva designed to deescalate unrest in Ukraine.
The president warned that the U.S. had “teed up” additional sanctions against Russia, and said Moscow had “days, not weeks” to publicly renounce the actions of “malicious and armed” pro-Russian separatists who continue to hold government buildings in eastern Ukraine.
But the president said he was not “overly optimistic” that Russia would encourage separatists to disarm.
“So far the evidence doesn’t make me hopeful,” he continued.
At the same time, Obama acknowledged “that additional sanctions may not change [Russian President Valdimir] Putin’s calculus” when it came to Ukraine.
But he vowed that “over the medium and long term, this is going to hurt Russia as much as it hurts Ukraine.”
The president also stressed that there were “technical” issues that complicated his ability to immediately move forward with sanctions, and said the U.S. wanted to coordinate any additional steps with its allies. He said their effectiveness depended partially “on the cooperation of other countries.”
Obama’s comments came hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the RT network that Moscow would “respond” if its interests were attacked in Ukraine.
"If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in accordance with international law," he said.
Lavrov also accused the U.S. of offering ineffective “ready-made solutions” to the crisis and said Washington was “running the show.”
Earlier in the day, interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered Kiev security forces to resume a crackdown against separatists who had established checkpoints and seized government buildings in the country’s eastern regions.