Obama ends four-nation trip in diplomatic limbo over Ukraine

RIYADH Sat Mar 29, 2014 12:08pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while presenting the executive director of Saudi Arabia's National Family Safety Program Maha Al Muneef with the U.S. Secretary of State's International Woman of Courage Award in Riyadh March 29, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while presenting the executive director of Saudi Arabia's National Family Safety Program Maha Al Muneef with the U.S. Secretary of State's International Woman of Courage Award in Riyadh March 29, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

Related Topics

RIYADH (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama ended a four-nation foreign trip on Saturday in the same situation as he began it - facing great uncertainty about a diplomatic way out of the Ukraine crisis.

His diplomatic consultations in The Hague, Brussels and Rome over the past week all resulted in a strong show of unity between the United States and Europe that Russia must face consequences should it move against southern or eastern Ukraine.

But it remains an open question whether the European allies would be able to stomach the kind of crippling sanctions required to significantly undermine Russia's economy since some of their own economies would be jolted as well.

A late-night phone call on Friday between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the possibility that Moscow might be willing to negotiate a diplomatic outcome.

But the news was greeted warily by U.S. officials, unconvinced that Putin really wants to cut a deal.

Obama talked to Putin just after a meeting in Riyadh with Saudi King Abdullah, where the civil war in Syria, another major bone of contention between the United States and Russia, was a main topic of conversation.

U.S. officials now will "see whether Russians are serious about diplomacy" on Ukraine, was how one senior Obama administration official described the aftermath of the phone call with Putin.

They recall all too well Russia's earlier assurances to the West that it would make no move against Ukraine's Crimea region - and then it annexed the Black Sea peninsula.

Now, U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about Russian troops, numbering as many as 40,000, massed on Ukraine's eastern border.


A Russian statement on the Putin-Obama phone call also said Putin had raised concerns about Transdniestria, a tiny breakaway territory comprised mainly of Russian-speakers in the ex-Soviet republic of Moldova.

At the heart of subsequent negotiations expected between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is a U.S. diplomatic "off ramp".

Under this plan, international monitors would be deployed to Ukraine to ensure the safety of ethnic Russians - the issue Moscow cited in annexing Crimea -, Russia would pull back its forces from the border and there would be a direct Russia-Ukraine dialogue.

Lavrov and Kerry discussed Ukraine in a telephone call on Saturday as well as the timing of further contact, Russia's Foreign Ministry said. Kerry will travel from Riyadh to Paris before a to-be-scheduled meeting with Lavrov early next week in Europe, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters.

U.S. officials are still puzzling over Putin's intentions. During a visit to The Hague, Obama said Russia was a "regional power" seeking to exert influence in the region.

"I think he's been willing to show a deeply held grievance about what he considers to be the loss of the Soviet Union," Obama told CBS News in an interview on Friday.

"I think there's a strong sense of Russian nationalism and a sense that somehow the West has taken advantage of Russia in the past and that he wants to in some fashion, you know, reverse that or make up for that."

Obama has not only to convince the Europeans of the need for strong action but also to explain to Americans back home why what happens in Ukraine should be of concern to the United States.

A recent CBS News poll showed 56 percent of Americans approve of sanctions enacted thus far by the United States and the European Union, but 65 percent do not think the United States should provide military aid and weapons to Ukraine.

The poll also showed 57 percent did not believe the United States had a responsibility to do something about Ukraine.

Obama himself said he could understand why people "might decide to look the other way", but that the "international order" must be protected.

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Shannon, Ireland, and Katya Golubkova in Moscow; Editing by Gareth Jones)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (29)
paintcan wrote:
U.S. officials now will “see whether Russians are serious about diplomacy”

That sounds so like the Israeli’s for the last 30 years. That “serious about diplomacy” usually only means – you want the other side to give but you don’t want to loose a damned thing and it wasn’t yours to begin with.

It’s negotiating with a fat man over how big a piece of the pie he’ll allow you to eat, and you bought the pizza for him.

Russia has a sizable investment for the last 75 years in Ukraine.

Mar 29, 2014 7:53am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Art16 wrote:
(@paintcan)Of course Russia has has a sizable investment in the Ukraine over the past 75 years, at the point of a gun, and killing millions of them, and stealing them blind. What more can you expect from the Jolly Red Giant?

Junior High Obama and his Pinhead Flotilla cannot seem to grasp the concept that once you let Russia and He-who-would-be-Czar(Ras)Putin get away with anything, it is all over! They have been that way for a very, very long time. What a pathetic situation with out spineless, weak kneed, pansy-in-chief. It brings the old Cold War back to our doorstep. Go duck and cover, folks. Junior High Obama is the kind who would surrender to a monster in the mistaken hope it would save lives. HA!

Mar 29, 2014 8:32am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Trichiurus wrote:
“Limbo” is a good description of Obama and his administration.

Mar 29, 2014 9:45am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.