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February 21, 2014

Obama, Putin Agree on Importance of Supporting Ukraine Agreement

by Dan Robinson

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone on Friday about the agreement reached in Ukraine to end violence there. The White House welcomed the agreement, ratified by Ukraine's parliament, aimed at ending months of upheaval.

A White House statement said the president initiated the call to Putin to discuss Ukraine and a range of other global issues.

On Ukraine, they exchanged views on the need to quickly implement the political agreement reached in Kyiv, the importance of stabilizing the economic situation and undertaking necessary reforms, and the need for all sides to refrain from further violence.  

The statement said they also spoke about the situation in Syria, including the importance of efforts to advance a political solution, along with concerns over the humanitarian crisis and the necessity of a strong United Nations Security Council resolution on the issue. Also discussed was the need for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to adhere to its commitment to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program.  

Various subjects covered

Additionally, the White House said the two covered U.S.-Russian cooperation in the P5+1 process on Iran, and that Obama congratulated Russia on its hosting of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.  

Before the White House statement was released, a senior State Department official briefed reporters.

Obama and Putin spoke for more than an hour, said the official, who added that the bulk of the discussion focused on Ukraine.

The State Department official said Putin affirmed that Russia wants to remain part of the implementation process and also said the two men spoke of the need to stabilize the Ukrainian economy. They pledged to remain engaged with European nations.

Rejecting Cold War talk

Obama and White House officials have gone out of their way to downplay suggestions that Ukraine represents a front in a new Cold War between Moscow and Washington.

Obama spoke about the issue earlier this week in Mexico following a North American leaders' summit.

"Our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we are in competition with Russia. Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future," said Obama.

Press secretary Jay Carney was pressed Friday by reporters to explain why the Cold War analogy does not apply.

"It is very important to view this not as a tug-of-war between East and West or the United States and Russia, but a discussion that led to confrontation and violence, but hopefully now is retreating, but then will result in progress forward on behalf of a Ukrainian people, a proud people and a great nation that desire the right to determine their own future, and that is something the United States unequivocally supports," he said.
Carney said the United States will closely monitor implementation of the provisions of the agreement and added the U.S. does not rule out economic sanctions against Ukraine if violence continues.

Tense situation remains

The senior State Department official called the Ukraine agreement "very, very fragile," adding it will be a "very difficult complex process" going forward, requiring support from the international community.

The official called it an important signal that Obama and Putin were able to talk positively about implementing the deal, which the official said will continue to be a "tough sell for the opposition to make to those in the streets" because of violence and deaths in recent days.

Ukraine, Russia, the United States and Europe have shared interests, the official said, adding the task now is to move on and ensure that the fragile Ukrainian economy is stabilized.

Asked whether there was any suggestion by Putin that the U.S. has tried to meddle in an issue in Russia's neighborhood, the official said no, adding that the conversation was completely constructive.