Obama: We can’t control how Mr. Putin thinks


McClatchy Washington Bureau

President Obama called his Russian counterpart Friday to express “deep concerns” with what the White House says is Russia’s increased support of separatists in Ukraine.

The White House says Obama “reinforced his preference for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine” and he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed “to keep open their channels of communication.”

The call came just days after the U.S. and Europe stepped up sanctions against Russia in a bid to convince Putin to withdraw his support for the pro-Russian separatists.

Putin sounded unconvinced in the Kremlin’s version of the call. He described the sanctions as “counterproductive” and said they are “causing serious damage to bilateral cooperation and international stability overall.”

Defending his foreign policy record on Friday against charges that the U.S. has lost influence in the world, Obama cited Ukraine as a place where it has made progress “in delivering on what we said we would do.

“We can't control how Mr. Putin thinks,” Obama said at the White House, answering reporter’s questions. “But what we can do is say to Mr. Putin, ‘If you continue on the path of arming separatists with heavy armaments that evidence suggests may have resulted in 300 innocent people on a jet dying and that violates international and undermines the integrity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine then you're going to face consequences that will hurt your country.’ "

He noted there was “a lot of skepticism” that the U.S. would be able to persuade Europe to adopt strong sanctions, but that “each time, we have done what we said we would do.”

He acknowledged the sanctions that target Russia’s energy, defense and financial systems haven’t yet convinced Putin to stand down, and said he told Putin this morning that there is still a diplomatic route.

The White House said vice president Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, announcing $8 million in assistance to the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service, including engineering equipment for improving infrastructure along Ukraine's borders and small boats to conduct maritime patrol and interdiction operations.

Poroshenko told Biden that access to the Malaysian Airlines crash site was secured yesterday and today “despite continued separatist attacks in the vicinity,” the White House said. It noted the two “discussed Russia’s deeply destabilizing efforts to continue supplying weapons to its proxies in eastern Ukraine and the increasing prevalence of artillery and rocket fire coming from the Russian side of the border.”

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