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The Annotated Obama

7:30 PM, Mar 1, 2014 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Saturday afternoon the White House press office released a "Readout of President Obama's Call with President Putin." Here it is, with interpretative commentary:

Paragraph One:

President Obama spoke for 90 minutes this afternoon with President Putin of Russia about the situation in Ukraine. President Obama expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law, including Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter, and of its 1997 military basing agreement with Ukraine, and which is inconsistent with the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the Helsinki Final Act. The United States condemns Russia’s military intervention into Ukrainian territory.


President Obama told President Putin that Russia had promised repeatedly that if the Ukrainians liked their country, they could keep it. It's bad of President Putin to break this promise.

Paragraphs Two and Three:

The United States calls on Russia to de-escalate tensions by withdrawing its forces back to bases in Crimea and to refrain from any interference elsewhere in Ukraine. We have consistently said that we recognize Russia’s deep historic and cultural ties to Ukraine and the need to protect the rights of ethnic Russian and minority populations within Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has made clear its commitment to protect the rights of all Ukrainians and to abide by Ukraine’s international commitments, and we will continue to urge them to do so.

President Obama told President Putin that, if Russia has concerns about the treatment of ethnic Russian and minority populations in Ukraine, the appropriate way to address them is peacefully through direct engagement with the government of Ukraine and through the dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As a member of both organizations, Russia would be able to participate. President Obama urged an immediate effort to initiate a dialogue between Russia and the Ukrainian government, with international facilitation, as appropriate. The United States is prepared to participate.


It's important to sugar coat the one sentence of condemnation at the end of Paragraph One with two paragraphs of mollification. Make no mistake: President Obama feels President Putin's heartfelt pain about, and appreciates his sincere concern for, the ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

Paragraph Four:

President Obama made clear that Russia’s continued violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia’s standing in the international community. In the coming hours and days, the United States will urgently consult with allies and partners in the UN Security Council, the North Atlantic Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and with the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum. The United States will suspend upcoming participation in preparatory meetings for the G-8. Going forward, Russia’s continued violation of international law will lead to greater political and economic isolation.


President Obama will be doing a lot of consulting about Russia--and a tiny bit of suspending meetings with Russia--over the next few days. But in the fog of diplomacy, he wants to make crystal clear to President Putin something Putin probably hadn't thought of: that invading a neighbor "would negatively impact Russia's standing in the international community."

Paragraph Five:

The people of Ukraine have the right to determine their own future. President Obama has directed his Administration to continue working urgently with international partners to provide support for the Ukrainian government, including urgent technical and financial assistance. Going forward, we will continue consulting closely with allies and partners, the Ukrainian government and the International Monetary Fund, to provide the new government with significant assistance to secure financial stability, to support needed reforms, to allow Ukraine to conduct successful elections, and to support Ukraine as it pursues a democratic future.


President Obama will be doing a lot of consulting with, and some assisting of, Ukraine. But Ukraine can expect no serious assistance in getting Russian troops off Ukraine soil or helping secure Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Nor is President Obama committed to seeing to it that President Putin pay a real price for his actions. It would after all be unfair to treat President Putin worse than President Assad or Ayatollah Khamenei.

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