WASHINGTON— President Barack Obama has expressed hope that a plan to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine, reached Thursday in Geneva, will lead to restoration of peace and security for all citizens of Ukraine. Obama told reporters in Washington that if Russia fails to take steps to defuse the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the United States and Europe will respond with tough measures, but he ruled out a military intervention.
Obama said the sanctions already imposed on Russia have had a documented impact on its economy, and that additional measures could make the situation worse.
"But we don't have an interest in hurting ordinary Russians just for the sake of it. Our strong preference would be for Mr. Putin to follow through on what is a glimmer of hope coming out of these Geneva talks, but we are not going to count on it until we see it," said Obama.
Obama spoke after news from Geneva that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and their European counterpart Catherine Ashton had agreed on a plan to de-escalate tensions and prevent bloodshed between Ukrainian military forces and pro-Russian militias. Lavrov announced after the meeting that the OSCE mission already in Ukraine will monitor the implementation of the plan.
"All illegally armed groups must be disarmed. All illegally seized buildings must be returned to the legitimate owners. All streets, squares and other public spaces in all Ukrainian cities must be vacated. An amnesty must be granted to all protesters, except those found guilty of illegal crimes," said Lavrov.
Armed pro-Russian groups have taken over government buildings in many eastern Ukrainian cities and Russia has amassed forces along its border with Ukraine, sparking fears of a repeat of the Crimea scenario.
Former U.S. permanent representative to NATO Kurt Volker does not put much faith in Thursday's agreement with Moscow.
"It is deliberately misleading about what’s going on in Ukraine and what its own actions are in Ukraine. And when it says it’s agreed to de-escalation, I am convinced that what Russia means is that they expect Ukraine and the West to de-escalate and allow Russia to go about doing what it’s doing. So I don’t see this agreement is really amounting to very much,” said Volker.
Volker said the U.S. and NATO must show strength and resolve to deter Russia from further steps, and that will create stability.
Obama on Thursday promised tough action to deter Russia, but he ruled out any military option.
"Because this is not a situation that would be amenable to a clear military solution. What we have to do is to create an environment in which irregular forces disarm, that the seizing of buildings cease, that a national dialogue by Ukrainians - not by Russian, not by Americans or anybody else but by Ukrainians - takes place," said Obama.
Obama said Ukraine needs to implement reforms that meet the interests of all its various groups, hold elections and start working on its economy.