President Obama blasted Russia for a “fundamental breach of international law” on Tuesday night, but told attendees at a Democratic fundraiser that the U.S. “may be able to de-escalate” the brewing conflict in Ukraine.
At the event benefiting the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Obama said the U.S. was looking to “navigate” its ability around the world to “allow people to determine their own destiny.”
The president’s comments came after he spoke with German chancellor Angela Merkel for an hour about developments in the former Soviet republic.
According to the White House, the pair discussed ways to calm the crisis, sparked by Russia’s move over the weekend into the Crimean peninsula, an ethnically Russian region just across the border.
“The leaders expressed their grave concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and agreed on the importance of de-escalating the situation, including through the deployment international observers and human rights monitors, and of initiating direct talks between Russia and Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement.
A senior administration official told the Associated Press that Merkel was looking for a way to construct a so-called “off ramp” that would enable Vladimir Putin to navigate out of the rapidly developing crisis.
Earlier Tuesday, Putin told reporters that while Russia reserves the right to use force in Ukraine to protect Russian nationals, that option would be his “last resort.” He also said Russia did not want to interfere in the situation — indication that Moscow is hesitant to push further in what would likely be a costly and difficult war.
At an elementary school earlier in the day, Obama charged that the Kremlin’s intervention was "not based on actual concern for Russian nationals or Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, but is based on Russia seeking, through force, to exert influence on a neighboring country."
But Obama suggested that the global community was willing to engage with Moscow to set up an international peacekeeping system that would protect the rights of Russians within the Ukraine — an offer Western leaders hope Putin will see as a possible way to resolve the crisis.
"There is the ability for Ukraine to be a friend of the West's and a friend of Russia's, as long as none of us are inside of Ukraine trying to meddle and intervene, certainly not militarily, with decisions that properly belong to the Ukrainian people," Obama said.
The president’s remarks Tuesday night came at the fundraiser event at the home of former Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) and Lynda Robb in McLean, Va. Tickets for the find-raiser range from $10,000 to $32,400, according to a DSCC official, and Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerPanic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Schumer announces Senate-House deal on tax 'framework' for .5T package MORE (D-Va.) and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Panic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (D-Va.) were in attendance.