White House ponders Ukraine response
By: Jennifer Epstein
March 1, 2014 07:40 AM EST
Deliberations within the Obama administration about a response to Russia’s military intervention in the Ukraine continued Saturday afternoon, several hours after Russia’s parliament granted President Vladimir Putin authority for military action.
The White House hasn’t yet weighed in on the vote by the upper house of the Russian parliament, but top administration officials including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey and senior counselor John Podesta were spotted leaving the West Wing in the early afternoon.
“The president’s national security team met today to receive an update on the situation in Ukraine and discuss potential policy options. We will provide further updates later this afternoon,” a White House official said just before 3:30 p.m. ET. Obama did not attend the meeting but has been briefed by National Security Adviser Susan Rice and others on his national security team. Vice President Joe Biden participated from Phoenix, Ariz., via video conference, his office said.
Obama has also spoken to several foreign leaders throughout the day, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said on Twitter. Hagel spoke Saturday to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, while Secretary of State John Kerry has been in contact with Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s interim president.
In New York, meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council gathered for “informal consultations” on Ukraine, but any formal action against Russia would be impossible given Russia’s veto power on the panel.
Putin has argued that the lives of Russian citizens in the region are at risk and that the deployment of armed forces is Ukraine is likely necessary “pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country,” he said in his request to lawmakers.
The parliament’s vote was enough to draw a condemnation from Turchynov, who said his government considers Russia’s behavior “to be direct aggression against the sovereignty of Ukraine.
President Barack Obama warned Friday that Russia’s military intervention into Ukraine would be just that — “would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine and of international laws.” He also warned Putin that there would “be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
While Obama has not yet spoken out Saturday, a growing chorus of Republican lawmakers have, and are urging a forceful response from the president.
“Russia’s illegal military incursion in the Crimea region in Ukraine is a grave violation of a nation’s sovereignty and cannot go unpunished,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a statement. Among his suggestions for the president: “Speak unequivocally and call this what it is: a military invasion” and send Hagel and Kerry to Kiev to show support for Ukraine’s transitional government.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement Saturday that he is “deeply concerned” that Russia will extend its military intervention in Crimea to eastern Ukraine and called on Obama to outline for Russia the “costs” of sending troops to Ukraine.
“It is now essential for the president to articulate exactly what those costs will be and to take steps urgently to impose them,” he said, and Obama should do so soon. “Every moment that the United States and our allies fail to respond sends the signal to President Putin that he can be even more ambitious and aggressive in his military intervention in Ukraine.”
Ahead of the Security Council’s afternoon meeting, U.N. special adviser Robert Serry, who Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had asked go to Crimea to examine the situation, said in a statement Saturday that he has “come to the conclusion that a visit to Crimea today is not possible” and will instead go to Geneva on Sunday to brief Ban and “consult with him on next steps.”
“It became very clear from yesterday’s council consultations that the unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine is not to be called into question,” Serry said. “This is a time for dialogue and to engage with each other constructively.”